RANTOUL, Ill. — The tractor pulls at the Half Century of Progress bring the horsepower, but also something else — a sense of family and community.
“Most of the pullers will tell you, they do it for the friendships, the people they’ve gotten to know over the years and the camaraderie,” said Mike Miller.
Miller is the president of the Illinois Tractor Pullers Association, a title he’s held for 30 years.
As a former tractor puller — he’s owned and driven Bad Blood, Bad Blood II and was co-owner of Loudmouth Lime, some well-known pulling tractors on the circuit — Miller knows the feeling.
“Once they get hooked onto that sled, they are out to beat their buddy going down that track, but if their buddy is broke down and needs help, then they’ll pitch in and make sure he gets what he needs to get to the next event. That is the main part of tractor pulling. We’re a pretty close-knit group,” Miller said.
That extends off the track and away from the pulls, as well.
“If somebody has a death in the family, the pullers are right there; those are the people you depend on,” Miller said.
It’s something that Miller knows all too well.
Miller’s good friend and the vice president of the ITPA, John Mumma, was killed in February in a crash in Indiana. Mumma was heading to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, to compete in the tractor pull there.
The Half Century of Progress offers two nights of tractor pulling, with the Illiana Pullers Association bringing the power on Friday night with their NA tractors, pro farm, outlaw and farm stock classes. That pull starts at 4 p.m.
On Saturday night, starting at 4 p.m., the Illinois Tractor Pullers Association takes the track.
“We’ve got 5,500-pound antique tractors, 5,500-pound classic tractors, those are the two older style classes,” Miller said.
The antique classes are tractors 1939 and older, and the classics are 1939 to 1953 model tractors.
Then there is the 6,000-pound superstock class, which includes diesel and alcohol tractors.
This year, fans at Rantoul will get to see a new class that’s coming onto the tractor pulling scene.
“We’ve got a new class, this is only the second year we’ve had it, the 6850 pro farm. They are your older style, 380 cubic inches with a 2.6 inducer bore on the turbocharger, trying to keep them fairly calm. They would be your 560, maybe an 806. We’ve got Minneapolis Molines, we’ve got a 180 Allis Chalmers, a 1600 or 1650 Oliver. There are lots of different colors in that division,” Miller said.
Miller said he expect six or seven tractors in the new class.
“It’s not big numbers, but there is a lot of interest in it,” he said.
The Rantoul pull includes 8,500-pound limited pro stock class, the 9,500-pound pro farm class and the 10,000-pound pro stock class, which is the largest class at the pull in terms of numbers.
Pullers will be from Illinois and surrounding states, including Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.
“Everybody likes to go up there, the pullers really like it,” Miller said.
It’s not only the tractors and drivers who are part of the show. The rigs that bring the tractors to the shows are something to see, as well.
“Even the hauling rigs are expensive. When you go to one of our events, it looks like the NASCAR crews have moved in with their enclosed haulers. It used to be that most of them hauled their tractors with a pickup truck and a gooseneck trailer. It’s rare to see those nowadays, but you still do. Pretty much all of them have a semi and a trailer. Some of the guys have as much invested in their tow rig as the guys used to have in their pulling tractors,” Miller said.
While the tractors pulling the weighted sled may look like grandpa’s tractor, much has changed in the tractor pulling sport over the years, not least of which is the track itself.
“Years ago, all the county fairs had horse races, so you’d run on the hard racetrack. Forty years ago, that was ideal because it was consistent. Nowadays, that’s terrible for the high-horsepower tractors we have. We don’t run on hardly any horse tracks now. We have a few, but they’ll go in and make them where it’s decent. Most of them have built pulling tracks inside their horse racing tracks,” Miller said.