SANDWICH – Terry Blackbourn pulled more than just a tractor at the Sandwich Fair on Saturday. He also helped pull the winner into first place.
Blackbourn finished second behind the Controlled Chaos tractor at the tractor pull, which is a Grand National event. He also designed and built the engine for the winning tractor.
There were four classes in the event: super-stock alcohol, modified alcohol, pro-stock diesel and super-stock diesel, said Dave Schreier, president of the National Tractor Pull Association (NTPA).
The objective is to pull an 8,000-pound sled, which is hooked behind the tractor, as far as the tractor is able to pull. Blackbourn said the method is to start driving slowly to start the weight off.
“You’ve got to get in the throttle at the right time,” he said. “You have to balance the tractor so it just picks the front end off the ground. All your weight transfers to the back wheel so you can pull the most weight. After that, you’ve got to steer it with the brakes.
“There’s good and bad spots on the track. If you figure that out, you can get ahead of people.”
The driver who goes the farthest wins the race. A typical distance is between 200 and 300 feet.
Saturday's was the last pull of the season. Pullers from across the Midwest and as far away as New York participated.
“This is the best there is,” Schreier said. “The best in the world are here.”
Blackbourn participated in the super-stock alcohol class with a tractor named Extremely Armed and Dangerous. The tractors used in the event have up to 5,000 horsepower, he said.
Blackbourn builds parts for pulling tractors in his store in Wisconsin. He said the driver for the Controlled Chaos tractor asked him whether he could build a motor for him.
“He wanted something different,” Blackbourn said. “It took us a few years to get everything ironed out. I put a lot of time and effort into it.”
Blackbourn works with his son at Blackbourn Repair in Shullsburg, Wis. His son also participated in the tractor pull and finished third.
The tractor pull runs on a point system for the pullers. NTPA does about 25 Grand National events each year, Schreier said.
This was the last pull of the season, so the winners were crowned and received a purse of up to $2,000, said Wiley Updike, former president of the Sandwich Fair.
Spectator Will Wittwer sat on the infield side of the track. He goes to about six or seven tractor pulls a year.
“I go to see the competition,” Wittwer said. “I also like the big-time display of horsepower.”
Every time the tractors pulled the weight across the field, they would emit a cloud of smoke and let out a deafening noise.
“I plug my ears because it will hurt,” Wittwer said. “It’s plenty loud.”
Jeremy Klinefelter enjoyed everything about the tractor pull, including watching the clouds of smoke.
“That’s another cool part of it,” he said.
At one point, one of the drivers had his engine explode while he was pulling his tractor. Sparks flew and surprised the crowd, but the driver was OK.
Wittwer said engine blow-ups occur every once in a while at the tractor pulls.
“It’s kind of like the big crash at the Daytona 500,” Klinefelter said.
The tractors have evolved over the years compared to the time tractor pulls first started, Updike said. Previously, farmers would hook up a heavy sheet of metal to their tractor, and people would step on the steel until the tractor came to a stop.
Regular tractors were used, but since the sport has evolved, tractors are now built just for pulling events, Updike said.
“Now they can go as fast as they can pull,” he said.
Blackbourn said tractor pulling is an expensive hobby, and he doesn’t make any money from it.
Updike used to participate but says it’s too expensive nowadays.
“I thank my lucky stars I got out of it,” he said.
Blackbourn makes money from his competitors when he fixes and builds parts for them. He said it feels good to have built the engine for the tractor that beat him in the race.
“It’s really rewarding to be on top, even though I’m not,” he said. “It would have been better if I won it, but I’m really happy for [the winner]. I’m happy that we built something that actually works really well.”