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Speed's the enemy in slow tractor race

August 26, 1998

Slowest tractor raceBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer [enlarge]




LEETOWN, W.Va. - The object of the race was to finish last.

And for slowpokes, what better vehicle is there than an antique tractor dating back to the turn of the century?

Competitors in the slow tractor race at the Jefferson County Fair Wednesday night dragged out a 1969 International, assorted versions of the popular John Deere and even a steam-powered Peerless.

They whipped around to the starting line, only to inch as slow as they could for 60 feet to be the last in the pack. Using the lowest gear, the tractors had to travel at a certain speed, then drivers used different tricks to slow them even more, trying not to stall.

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The event opened a window back in time to the early versions of the gas-powered tractor.

Most of the ones built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s were geared low to increase horsepower, explained Justin Boyd, who helps run the Viola Boyd Farm near Summit Point, W.Va. They became faster in later years as manufacturers figured out a way to add speed without compromising power, he said.

Better maybe, but there's something about the past that intrigues people. Spectators said they like coming to the race to see the antique tractors in action, their engines popping, clanking and spewing smoke.

"They can do a lot of things to make it slow. It's pretty interesting," said Monte Kidwiler Jr. of Ranson, W.Va.

Drivers can't touch their clutches or brakes during the race, but they can engage the choke to slow the tractor. That's the official rule.

Then drivers use different techniques, like wiggling the steering wheel to strain the engine or pulling a spark plug wire, to slow them down even more.

"They banned that (pulling the spark plug wire)," said Mike Durst, who has competed in past races.

Wednesday's winning trophy went to Mike Heck of Bunker Hill, W.Va., and his 1969 International tractor. Heck, an industrial engineer, totally dismantled the tractor in his home last winter and restored it.

Ironically, it's also one of the fastest tractors. Heck said he was "just clowning around" one night this week at the fair and won a tractor drag race.

The 46th annual Jefferson County Fair continues through Saturday with chicken barbecues, horse-pulling contests, celebrity goat milking and live gospel music.

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