Worthington, Ohio---The 50th season of the National Tractor Pullers Association got underway in Benson, North Carolina on Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1. Arriving with it was the Shell Rotella Cup bonus series, which entered its second year of complete participation by all 13 of the Association's Grand National divisions.
In NTPA Championship Pulling, vehicles drag a 20-ton weight transfer sled along a straight, dirt track as the sled's resistance increases. Within a class of similar vehicles, the puller who achieves the greatest distance is victorious. At events across the United States, elite competitors campaign their specialized machines---which resemble farm tractors, trucks, and dragsters---for chances at purse money and precious points toward end-of-season championships.
In 2019, the Association is proud to complete its first half century as the world's original and number-one sanctioning organization for premier-level truck and tractor pulling contests. Fierce, fair pulling competition and a family-friendly, patriotic atmosphere are hallmarks of NTPA Championship Pulling. If you haven't experienced the rumbles, roars, and rivalries of the heaviest sport on wheels, why not give it a try this summer?
The GALOT Motorsports Park Mule City 300 has been a mainstay on the Shell Rotella Cup tour since it moved to its current late-spring dates in 2015. Just three other events on the expansive NTPA Grand National circuit---the Budweiser Dairyland Super Nationals in Tomah, Wisconsin (June 20-22), the Lions Super Pull of the South in Chapel Hill, Tennessee (July 19-20), and the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio (August 15-17)---incorporate all of their appearing GN-level divisions in the Shell Rotella Cup. These four pulls are designated as "anchor events."
Unfortunately, dating to Benson's second session last year, a decent portion of the "anchors" have found themselves underwater. Only Chapel Hill completely escaped a rain threat in 2018, while Mule City's Session Two was delayed for hours after just one pass, Tomah's Session One was cancelled, and three of Bowling Green's five sessions were significantly impacted, with Session Three wiped out entirely.
It was Mule City's turn again this year. Just after the last of 20 Four-Wheel-Drive Trucks made its Friday night pass and with an unlucky 13th Pro Stock Tractor awaiting its hook, the skies opened and doused the twin tracks with a driving rain. Accompanying high winds led to early hopes that the sudden storm, which broke through 92-degree temperatures, would move quickly enough to allow crews to hold the track and return to competition. But within 45 minutes of the first clouds, it was clear---the night was over.
So, for the Pros and Benson's remaining four GN divisions---Super Stock Open Tractor, Two-Wheel-Drive Truck, Modified Mini, and twin-engine Light Unlimited Modified---the weekend's race for early Shell Rotella Cup supremacy and a chance at the year's first Hardest-Working Puller total distance award would come down to a Saturday night shootout.
In Super Stock Open, three-time division champion John Strickland drew the low pill on his home course, and his "Get a Load of That II" took full advantage by posting a 346.5' to capture his third straight victory on the park's dirt surface. Strickland, who campaigns both the alcohol Super Stock and drag cars for track owner Earl Wells' GALOT Motorsports Team, beat out his teammate and crew chief Brent Payne aboard "Get a Load of That" and Jordan Lustik's "Silver Bullet" in an all-AGCO top three to take the division and Cup-series lead with four hooks to go in each. Next GN/Cup stop for SSO: Tomah.
In Light Unlimited, it was quite a contrast to the Supers as one of the division's new-for-'19 competitors---and the only vehicle of the five in the class making its GALOT debut---took the win in a thrilling pull-off. Doug Theobald, who continues to pull in the Two Wheel Drive division in a team effort with wife Renee, had barely gotten the vibrant purple-and-yellow graphics to adhere to the fenders of the twin-Hemi "Full-Blown Wicked" before he stuck its 30.5" rear tires in the Carolina sod and plowed a 680' patch in two passes to best R.J. Simon's "Simon Sez Show No Mercy." Next GN stop for LT UNL: North Dinwiddie, Virginia (June 7-8); next Cup stop: Tomah.
In Mini, Reese Shelton claimed his first Grand National victory in a two-way showdown with twice-champion Adam Koester and over 14 other 2,500-horsepower, 2,050-lb. vehicles. Shelton, who swept two multi-engine appearances at Kentucky's National Farm Machinery Show this February, had posted several NTPA runner-ups with "Cuttin' Up." Like its trailermates "Sawed-Off" and "Splinter" driven by siblings Grayson and Camille, Reese's piece is an homage to the family's Culp Lumber sawmill business. Koester, whose 2016-champ "Walk the Line" and "Beast of Burden" both sport the corporate colors of Shell Rotella, gave chase in the pull-off round but fell about 20' shy of Shelton. Next GN/Cup stop for MINI: Tomah.
In Two Wheel Drive, Russ Nichols was the 11th of 24 wheelstanders to answer the call, and he cashed in that mid-lineup position for a 319' and the season's first check. Building on his second-place performance in last season's finale in Canfield, Ohio which got him to eighth in the final standings, Nichols slotted his "On the Edge" in the perfect groove to take his first GN win since Bowling Green in '17. "Edge" surpassed Bryan McDonald's "Suffering Sanity," which took a first and a second in last year's 300, and survived a close chave by reigning champion Randy Petro's "Kathy's Komplaint," which pulled last. Next GN/Cup stop for TWD: Tomah.
In Pro Stock, the abbreviation in "D2 Pro Stock Edition" stands for "Dreamin' Too," and Darrin Hunt doesn't want anyone to wake him up. In the 11 months since heartbreaking breakage at hometown Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Hunt's Case IH has swept Chapel Hill, won an NTPC championship ring, and claimed an Enderle Pull-Off Regional National Pro Stock title to match brother Brandon's Super Stock trophy there with "Liv'n a Dream." Darrin's 350-plus run on Friday necessitated a sled reset, and then the rains prevented his return. But the 2012 GN Super Farm champion rested up for Saturday night to put 8' on past champ Kevin Schmucker's "Git-Er-Dun Deere" and nearly 12' on fellow contender Jason Svonavec's "Bootlegger." Next GN/Cup stop for PS: Tomah.
And in Four Wheel Drive, Carmen Foster emerged triumphant for the Hardest-Working Puller award and a one-point division and Shell Rotella Cup lead by virtue of her Friday third and Saturday first. Foster, who finished second to Ben Ellis' "Benjammin" in last year's title chase, stood on the low step of the Session One podium while 2017 champion Peyton Davis straddled the others by placing one-two with "Punisher" and "Young Gun." But Carmen had the top platform all to herself after Session Two, during which she pulled her "Foster Child" Chevrolet into a 324.8' lead early and saw 16 followers---including Davis' pair, Ellis, and second-place Ted Skelton's "Rock"---fall over a truck length short. Next GN stop for FWD: North Dinwiddie; next Cup stop: Tomah.
Remaining events on the season-long Shell Rotella Cup Series tour include the anchors above as well as Hutchinson, Minnesota's Power Pull Nationals (June 28-29 for Super Stock Diesel 4x4 and Super Semi), Rockwell, Iowa's North Iowa Nationals (July 4-6 for Super Farm and Multi-Engine Modified), and Ionia, Michigan's Free Fair Pullsation (July 19-20 for Super Farm, Two Wheel Drive, and Light Unlimited). Watch this space for more Shell Rotella Cup-dates after each event, visit the Standings page at www.NTPAPULL.com for up-to-the-minute Cup standings, and check out The Puller, the NTPA's official publication, for comprehensive Grand National event coverage throughout 2019.
(photos by Tracy Waters/Nitrozilla.com)
About National Tractor Pullers Association
The NTPA is the sport’s oldest and most respected truck and tractor pulling sanctioning organization. Governed by a board of directors, the NTPA is managed by World Pulling International (WPI), an independently owned entity. Headquartered in Worthington, Ohio, the NTPA provides rules and regulations and the infrastructures required for organizations throughout the country to arrange truck and tractor pulls. The 2018 NTPA Championship Pulling Circuit was sponsored in part by Case IH, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Alliance Tire, Enderle Fuel Injection, MAC Trailer, Ag Protect 1, Shell Rotella, STOP-FYRE®, Cen-Pe-Co Lubricants, Columbus Diesel Supply, Heritage Iron, Stainless Diesel, Midwest Wheel Inc., the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio, PowerBore Cylinder Sleeves, Profab Machine Inc., the Budweiser Dairyland Super Nationals in Tomah, Wisconsin, and Riverside Engine Inc.
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