Spring is just around the corner, and with the thaw comes one of my favorite signs of spring: the start of pulling season. I grew up spending my Saturdays at local fairgrounds and tucked-away tracks across the state, basking in the joys of loud engines and greasy fair food. Before long my dad let me take a turn behind the wheel and I snagged a few trophies of my own (thanks to my dad’s excellent mechanics, of course). I was hooked! While we don’t pull as often as we used to, not a summer goes by for my family without taking our tractors out for a spin.
While there’s plenty of fun to be had in the long-term project of custom building a tractor specifically for pulling, you don’t need a special tractor to get started. Many tractor pulling associations offer stock classes for tractors that do not have any engine modifications. With just a few simple tricks, you can have competitive success with a well-restored antique tractor. Old iron has lots of power – here’s how to let it shine.
The first thing to take note of is your hitch. Check out the rules of your pulling association, and modify your stock drawbar accordingly. You want your hitch high off the ground and your drawbar as narrow as allowed. This puts the hitch as close as possible to your tractor’s center of gravity, keeping all four wheels on the ground.
You want as much contact with the ground as you can, so use the biggest tires allowed. If you are allowed 15.5×38, don’t show up with 13.6! Use the widest allowed rims, too. You want as much bar tread on the ground as possible. I’ve never won a pull with little tires. Select tires with deep treads which can really dig into the track. Firestone Field and Road (the old 151s) are my favorite, but any type of hard tire will be to your advantage.
While we’re talking about tires, be sure you pay attention to your air pressure. Contrary to popular belief, you’ll do best with the higher air pressure. Many people believe that lower-pressure tires allow the tractor to “dig in” to the earth because more tire is in contact with the track. While this may be true, any advantage from more tire on the track is outweighed by the drop in hitch height when under-inflated tires are put under pressure. Additionally, under-inflated tires lose their gripping power. When the treads are held rigid by proper inflation, they perform much better.
Read the rules to determine the highest air pressure allowed, but don’t automatically assume that the highest allowed pressure is right for your tires and your tractor. We usually find that 13-15 pounds of pressure is just right. Use a combination of original manufacturer recommendations and your own experimentation to find the right pressure for your tires.
If you are doing things right, your tractor’s front wheels will eventually lift off the ground as you pull. When this happens, you’ll be unable to use your steering wheel. So it is important to make sure that your tractor is ready to pull straight down the track, rather than wasting power veering off in the wrong direction. You can get a nice straight pull by:
– Using a tractor with a narrowed wheel base. Don’t spread the tires as far out on the axles as possible, rather, keep the wheel base narrow.
– Have the exact same air pressure in both rear tires.- Make sure that both rear tires weigh the same. Drive one tire on the scale and weigh it. Then turn around and weigh the other side. Tractors aren’t usually built to be symmetrical – perhaps one side has the ring and pinion, the live power clutch, etc. Add weight to the lighter side so that both sides are even. The lighter your tractor is overall, the more crucial this becomes.
Of course, you can use braking techniques to “steer” your tractor when you are pulling a wheelie, but doing so is a waste of energy (why brake when you are trying to pull?!?) and can be dangerous. It’s better to use these techniques to get your tractor balanced and even so that you don’t have to resort to braking to get down the track.
Be sure your tractor is perfectly tuned. Use a dyno to test your horsepower (a local dealer or vocational school may have one you can use). This will tell you if you should fix the timing and carburetor main jet to get maximum horsepower. You can usually gain 5-6 horsepower by fine tuning, and this can be the difference between first and second place. Similarly, always start the season with fresh spark plugs, fresh gas, and a clean fuel filter.
Finally, get some practice in! Have a friend follow you in a 4×4 pickup connected with a chain. When your friend applies the brakes, you’ll hear the governor kick in under a load. Get used to driving with this drag so that there are no surprises in front of a crowd. Practice driving slowly, too – most associations have a strict speed limit.
With these tips, you’re ready to get started in stock tractor pulling. Spring is just a few months away – get to work tuning things up now, and your old iron will be bringing home trophies in no time.