Heavy horsepower with wheels and sleds

By Ray DiMonda Correspondent
Posted 4/14/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - The Clay County Fair Grounds Cattleman’s Arena normally has Barrel Racing and Bareback Riding to showcase horsepower, but the smell of diesel and plenty of kicked-up dust …

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Heavy horsepower with wheels and sleds

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - The Clay County Fair Grounds Cattleman’s Arena normally has Barrel Racing and Bareback Riding to showcase horsepower, but the smell of diesel and plenty of kicked-up dust filled the air Sunday afternoon in the final Clay County Fair extravaganza with the Mid-Florida Tractor Pull Association’s inclusion into the fair’s entertainment this year.

For the second year, the Mid Florida Tractor Pull Association (MFTPA) made the trip from Ocala and invited friends from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, New York, Vermont, and all over Florida including Mt. Dora, Clermont, Dade City, and Ocala to show off a much different kind of horsepower, somewhere in the range of thousands as the arena was converted into a straight line racetrack. The show brought in over 30 pullers in eight different classes to see who could tow the sled down the 315 foot track.

“It’s unreal how you put a 4,000 horsepower engine in a 2,000 pound chassis. It’s unbelievable, but they do it,” said Event Coordinator for MFTPA, Rodney Swift. ““The sport goes way back to horse days and settling who had a better plow pulling team. The horses would start pulling a flat piece of metal. As it went down, people would step on until it stopped the horses. Then when tractors came around, they took over for the horses, and people on the plate were replaced by concrete blocks every 10 feet until it stopped” and thus was born the sport of tractor pulling.”

From Alcohol, Diesel, to Gas fuels, two wheel drive, four wheel drives, the minis, as well as a different weight class for everything. They are serious about making sure no one has a weight advantage as right on-site, there were a set of electronic scales that every truck and tractor had to go over and ensure they made minimum weight for their class. The top class were the 8,500 pound tractors.

History has that the sport borrows a line from the famous Daytona race mechanic Smokey Yunick, who had on the side of his race day support trailer “So you want to go fast? How much money do you have?”

The same holds true for truck and tractor pulling now. Randy Whiting from Clermont FL, Driver and Owner of The Money Pit Pro Stock four wheel drive Ford Ranger said the sport is very family oriented.

“This is the most family friendly sport I know. Everyone helps one another if they break. We want to win fair, out on the track,” said Whiting. “Mine is just a fun hobby. Some of these guys are real serious about this.”

Whiting pointed out Tyler Martin’s 1992 Ford F-350 with a 408 cubic inch engine that can turn over 10,000 RPM. The truck from Cabot, PA has an engine alone that cost over $30,000.

So what do the tractors and trucks pull you may ask? “The Humiliator” was its name; a sled of dead weight that moves in a transfer box. Just to start, the sled is 4,000 pounds that each team has to get moving to start a pull. The weight box begins to move up a rail system on the sled that is driven and geared to the wheels. The further down the track, the heavier the plate on the front of the sled gets. More weight is added for the larger classes of trucks and tractors.

For a comparison, a Ford Crown Victoria weighs 4,127 pounds. Picture dragging it on dirt with no wheels. Then the weight slides forward until it is right over the tow point of the sled. Once the weight box is fully forward, the puller has to tow up to 60,000 pounds as far as they can, or to the end of the track where they earn a “full-pull”. For comparison, an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet full of fuel, external fuel tanks, and ordnance weighed 60,000 pounds! The sled itself has an operator in a cab, just like rear-steer hook and ladder fire truck used in Jacksonville’s downtown area, and has a self-contained engine that pulls the sled back after a pull, and a variable change gear system to move the weight up the rails faster for the larger classes of tractors. Whiting noted the cost of a new sled: $350,000.

Although Sunday’s crowd had to brave the elements to get into the arena, once inside, that cool, dense air allowed the engines to make much more horsepower, but also allowed the clay track to get moist, creating much more friction than the racers dealt with on Saturday night.

“They are going to have to play with the weights today,” said Swift, meaning the steel plate ballast weight each truck and tractor has hanging on the front and side to make minimum weight as well as shift the weight fore and aft on the vehicle to balance the traction to the track conditions. “The tractors and two wheel drives don’t want to stand up in the air. They have to do some deep reading of the track.”

As the tractors warmed their diesel engines, a light white smoke came out of the stacks. Rookies to the tractor pulls that have diesel engines, went to the top of the stands for a great view. The problem is when these tractors brought the RPMs up to bring the two, three, or four turbochargers online, the white smoke turned to heavy black exhaust, or what diesel truckers like to call rolling coal. All that black smoke was producing 2,000 to 3,000 diesel horsepower. The smoke rose to the roof of the arena, and waited for the nice breeze to clear it out. Fans quickly realized that mid-way up the bleachers was the spot to be, except, that brought you closer to the noise. And how do you steer with the front wheels in the air? Each rear wheel has an independent brake, like brakes on a small airplane. Want to go left? Press the left brake pedal. Yes- there are left and right brake pedals.

If you don’t like loud engines, truck and tractor pulling may not be your sport. If you love to feel engines as they come to life and display raw power, pack your earplugs and come on down, bring the family, and enjoy the show.

Didn’t make it out to see the awesome display of power this year? Good news! Rodney told me they are already in talks for next two years and promised to make it an even bigger show. If the event can come close to equaling or top this year’s truck and tractors, it will be a show to not miss.

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