TONICA, Ill. — At the start of April, Mike Sauter, president of the Illini State Pullers tractor and truck pulling association, was optimistic.
The group was looking at its largest schedule of events, 32, in the last half dozen years. Going into the June through early September fair and pulling season, there would be some weeks with three pulls per week.
“We had most everything on the books. We were pretty locked down in the beginning of April,” said Sauter, a farmer from rural Tonica.
That was then. This is now.
“We’ve got 13,” Sauter said.
Groups like Illini State Pullers have been impacted by COVID-19 cancellations as promoters and event planners, including fair boards, have to cancel fairs and festivals due to social distancing and limits on group sizes.
Illini State Pullers is a group of truck and tractor pulling enthusiasts based in northern Illinois. The membership of the group ranges from 200 to 250 people.
Members compete at tractor and truck pulls from Springfield to the Illinois-Wisconsin border and from Rock Island to Morris.
Sauter started hearing concerns in April from event planners with fairs and events scheduled for June.
“The earlier the event was, the earlier they started getting concerned. By the middle of May, everybody started getting a little concerned because this isn’t going away,” Sauter said.
The schedule of 32 events was whittled down to half that and then less than half. The group issued a statement of support for whatever decision the planners of their events chose to make.
“It basically said we are going to be here to support our promoters, no matter what. If they decide they can have an event, we will be there and if they decide it’s not in their best interests, we respect that and we expect everybody else to respect that,” Sauter said.
The group has fared OK financially.
The group is a not-for-profit organization. Sauter said members decided that a season of 15 pulls or more would be considered a full season and 14 or less would be not a true season.
In a regular season, members in each class pull for points that accumulate through the season. At the end of the season, members in each class pull for the championship in their class.
Sponsor dollars support that season and pay for the championship prizes at the end of the season. Prize money at individual events comes from the fee that the group charges to present a pull and from gate receipts that promoters charge for the tractor and truck pull.
“We’re not considering this as an actual season, so all of our sponsorship money that we received, we are rolling over to next year. We figured it wasn’t fair to them to take their money and they only get half the advertising,” Sauter said.
Despite the challenges so far, Sauter said members have their trucks and tractors ready to go. He said he and ISP members are hopeful that the latter part of August, when the bulk of events that have not yet canceled are scheduled to happen, will bring progress on social distancing and a relaxation of crowd size restrictions, as areas move into the later stages of reopening plans.
“We try to find out what our members are thinking and we’ve had calls from members asking, ‘Should I get my tractor out? Should I get my truck ready?’” Sauter said.
The answer was an easy one, even though Sauter’s own pulling tractor is out of commission.
“The answer is ‘yes.’ We are going to go pulling. We are bound and determined to have a pull somewhere. Whatever it takes, we are going to make it work,” Sauter said.