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Tractor pullers say it's a blast

May 30, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

SHARPSBURG -- Swirling puffs of white and gray whirled from shining, silvery chrome stacks.

Engines hollered, and coal black fumes whooshed like furious tornadoes toward the sky.

Tractors took turns jetting down a 300-foot dirt track, a massive weight transfer machine -- or sled -- following behind.

That was the scene Saturday at the Washington County Tractor Pullers Association event at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

"The tractors all start at the same place. The further they go, the more weight they carry," Dale Price said. "The guy who drags the farthest wins and gets all the money."

"It's addicting," said Price, a fomer puller. "That's why guys spend $80,000."

That is the amount, on average, pullers spend on their tractors, said Brian Yeager, an announcer for the association.

Despite the lofty figure, the sport has no shortage of participants.

Yeager said around 60 competitors pulled in Saturday's event. The evening's activities were separated into four classes. The top attraction was a pulling class of souped-up hot rod semi-trucks. Eleven were scheduled to compete. Yeager said competitors came from Southcentral Pennsylvania to Edinburgh, Va.

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Matt Dorty, 28, of Mercersburg, Pa., was among the pullers. He has competed in tractor pulls for about eight years and spent about $90,000 on his tractor.

"(Pulling) is still a blast. It does give you a rush. I love it," Dorty said.

Around 4,000 spectators gathered for the pull, cramming the grandstands and sprawling far across the lawn. Tickets for the event cost $15 each. Children seven and younger were admitted free.

Most tractors in the 8,500-pound modified turbo class arrived at the end of the dirt track unscathed. But, on occasion, the crowd would hear a blast and respond with collective gasps.

"Most of these tractors were designed to run around 2,100 RPMs and produce 150 to 200 horsepower. These guys take the same vehicles and turn 5,000 to 6,000 RPMs and make 1,500 horsepower. Therefore, the bangs and booms," Price said.

He added that a number of safety precautions are in order, including five-point harnesses, firesuits and helmets for the drivers; rollcages; and safety blankets surrounding the transmissions.

Matt Henderson of Boonsboro took his daughter, Nicole, 15, and son, Caleb, 11, to the pull.

"My son had never seen a tractor pull. I thought with the nice weather, it would be a fantastic evening," Henderson said. "It's all about the horsepower, and maybe a little country heritage. And throw in some good clean fun."

Wilmer, 56, and Faye Cross, 52, of Falling Waters, W.Va., attended the pull. Wilmer races cars, and Faye said she has developed an interest in engines, and they both enjoy watching pulling.

"It's such a thrill, just the thrust. To be able to take up an engine like that, to run it and go down the track," Faye Cross said. "It's exhilarating, the robust of it all. Intermingled with all the people, it just brings out that 'Uhh'!"

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