Bill Voreis | 2021
Bill Voreis | 2021
Our next Pulling Hall of Fame inductee captured his first and last championships---to date---30 seasons apart. In fact, when one considers the worthiness of his credentials, the next question becomes, "Which career do you mean? Pro Stock or Unlimited?"
Bill Voreis arrived on the national scene in 1980 with an International 966 that he had purchased at an auction for $7,000. "It had a miss," he notes by way of explaining the availability of the machine, then as now a viable big tractor for a small farm. But as a pulling tractor, that '66 with a miss was a hit. And by virtue of two wins in the state of Ohio (including three full pulls!), he claimed the very first championship at 12,000 lbs. in a division that was rapidly winning the hearts of diesel devotees.
That division was Pro Stock, and 1981 was the dawn of Bill's decade of dominance. In 1982, he followed a win in Louisville by placing third on the circuit in the 12 with a repeat in Bowling Green. The next year, he improved the 966's balance and finished runner-up at both 10- and 12,000 lbs. with a Region II title. He won the 10 GN outright in 1984 by nine points across three hooks, and his "Orient Express," named for the famed Paris-to-Istanbul luxury train, was riding on rails.
But Voreis got off track in 1985 when he attempted to duplicate his success by adding a 1466 to the hauler and went winless on the season. "I felt like a has-been, and I was too young to be a has-been," he told The Puller magazine in 1986, "I was used to people saying that I was the one to beat, but no one was saying it anymore." He returned to form that year as a one-tractor operation and swept through the same events---Columbus' Ohio State Fair and Bowling Green's National Tractor Pulling Championships---that, five years earlier, had put him on top.
The magazine at the time called him "the ultimate builder. He knows enough to be able to combine parts and thinking from the experts to achieve what he's looking for." Cylinder heads came from Hypermax ("Jerry Lagod is a genius, and his stuff always worked."). Turbos from AiResearch. Short blocks from Riverside ("It was never too late to call Phil [Schalk] and run to Tiffin, Ohio"). A transmission by Ron Perry. Sleeve and piston combinations of his own discovery. And assembly with assistance from his late friend Jim Dickey.
All of these "parts and thinking" got hooked together to create the "Orient Express" that its engineer piloted back to the apex of the 10,000-lb. mountain in 1987. This, while tying for second in the 12 and winning a third Farm Show against rivals and friends like Don Masterson, Jon Lorenz and John Wilkins, and the Linder Brothers.
"Fantastic people in Pro Stock. John and Mike Linder had a period where they were unbeatable. I remember staying at their house. I had little kids and was traveling, and they were a great help."
"Everybody knows how much money, how much work it takes. Yeah, they want to beat you, but they don't want you to be broke down. It was competitive, but nobody was mean or nasty. Met a lot of good people."
Runner-up finishes in the 10 and 12 in 1988 preceded a fourth Pro Stock title in 1989. By this time, the "Orient Express"' boxy Harvester tinwork had been replaced with the sleek 7140 Magnum hood and grille, the product of Bret Berg's craftsmanship and a consequence of a rule change that allowed for upgrades. But it was merely the outward appearance that waited so long for revision. All through that decade of dominance, Voreis had been tinkering, enlarging his engines' displacements from 497 cubic inches to a peak of 570.
"A lot of [my building ability] had to do with here on the farm," Voreis reflects. "I rebuilt a 560 International when I was in Little League. We bought a Tractor Supply power block for a John Deere 60, and my dad let me tear it apart and put it back together."
The farm was where Bill Voreis' heart remained even as his young adulthood took him through the Air Force and Purdue University. "My dad was born in my house. [The land] has been in the family since 1837. We were the first settlers in Marshall County, Indiana."
Today, Voreis raises corn and soybeans on over 5,000 acres in the Hoosier State, home of the circuit where the pulling bug bit in Altered Farm. That was the precursor to the single-charger class through which he and his diesel locomotive on 24.5s would run until 1990, even as the organization he supported went through some trying times.
"[I'm proud that] I was very involved in keeping the NTPA going. I called people to get debentures; I bought stock. I wasn't just a person that pulled and took advantage of the organization. I wanted to do what I could to make it strong."
Seeking another challenge after years spent observing legends such as Danny Dean, Jerry Hart, Warren and Ernie Ropp, Dickie Sullivan, and John Klug, he experimented in the early 1990s with a Super Stock John Deere. "It would make one good pass," Bill remembered, "I won a few pulls, but it would never make a second pass. I was just pushing it too hard."
And then? "My kids were getting into high school, and I wanted to coach them, and maybe I just needed a little time off," Voreis recalls, but with a pang of regret. "Instead of selling the Pro Stock, I wish I'd have just parked it. I wish I still had it sitting in the corner. I loved that tractor." It went to Carl Smith, who ran it for several seasons as "Night Moves," and the Deere Super became Roland Barr's "Greenline Fever."
Had the last word of Bill's tractor pulling chapter been written? "I thought so. I did horse shows and coached kids' baseball. When [my daughter] was in high school, I went to all of her cheerleading."
But even away from active competition, Voreis kept his eye on the sport's greatest spectacle. "When the Unlimiteds ran, I always ran out to watch. I just couldn't imagine anyone doing something like that, how they made it work." And then the four-Hemi combination became legal in Modified. A diehard fan of the Chevrolet wedge---at first derisively but later lovingly called the "dump truck motor"---Voreis was determined to prove that the bowtie big block had not seen the last of victory lane.
Then came a fateful one-hour trip from hometown Argos to Lafontaine, Indiana. "I hardly knew Ralph Banter, though he was only 60 miles from me. This was the year after [the Banter Brothers] had quit, and I went to them and said, I'm thinking about building a three-engine Mod, just running around local. So [Ralph] showed me a chassis he had that used to be a 'Mr. Chevy.' and he said, 'It don't look real pretty, but it'll work.' So I bought it.
"Then I said, let's make it four [engines]. And before that first summer was over, I said, Ralph, I'd like to try that Unlimited. And he said, 'I've got a motor I'll let you use. Keep it in good shape.' I put it on, and I won at Fort Recovery, and won a couple more, and then I was hooked on the Unlimited."
"The first year I ran, I won six and Gardner [Stone] won six, and I spun a tire on the rim, which kind of cost me the points. For a couple of years there, Gardner and I would always be in a pull-off in Bowling Green, and dang it, he'd beat me. I kept wanting to get that next Bowling Green win."
"Ralph traveled with me for three years, and he taught me a lot. I used to [change] blowers and pulleys. And Ralph said, 'Get an engine combination, make it match your horsepower to your gear ratio, and go run. It finally sunk in. This is the power I've got, this is all I'm going to have, and I've got to make it work. The nice thing about the Unlimited is, the power's all there. You've just got to know when to use it.
"Ralph's like an older brother to me. I could go somewhere and screw up, and get my butt chewed for 900 miles on the way home. But that was Ralph. And Dave is very quiet. But when Dave would tell me something, I would listen. Dave was always very supportive."
Voreis proved his point about the Chevys with two wins at the European Super Pull. After selling that Modified to Larry Piekarski, he returned briefly to Pro Stock and picked up a couple wins in 2001 before reentering the Modified ranks with a chassis version that was less satisfactory.
But his third attempt? "I bought Dave Archer's engines when he decided he didn't want to run the Big Chiefs anymore." That was 2004, which also happened to be the last year until Dave's daughter Kathy won the 2011 title that a season ended without Bill Voreis holding a champion's plaque.
"2005 was the most shocking, thinking you weren't going to get it and then you do," Voreis said of the first championship of his second Hall-of-Fame-caliber career, conducted under a new banner: "American Thunder." That title was earned with nine wins; the next was propelled by a Bowling Green sweep and the first of Bill's five championship rings over the next six Augusts.
"I never had a year when I ran Unlimited that I didn't win at least one hook," Voreis noted. Astonishingly, there were two years over the entirety of which he only _lost_ one hook. "'07 and '08, it just seemed like no matter where we went, even if you had an engine a little off, it would go. That tractor drove itself."
But that sense of invincibility crashed down, along with a big part of Voreis' world, when his son Joseph passed away in July 2009. "I always did great at Chapel Hill, but I had a horrible Chapel Hill, and I went home, and my son died. And we went through all that.
"I was ready to give up," he admits. "The pulling community has really kept me going. The people who want to beat you every day also want to see you do well."
After laying Joseph to rest just days shy of his 29th birthday, Bill gathered his courage and his teammates for the remainder of that difficult season. "I went to Bowling Green and twisted the pinion shaft off in the rearend on the first day. And as we're walking off the track, I'm just thinking, this ended the year.
"We get back to the pits, and we tear it apart, and Brad and Les Korporal are standing there, and said,'I think we've got stuff to fix this. It'll be close.' Came back the next day and did pretty good, and ended up winning that championship. Brad Korporal has been involved in every championship I've ever had and always went to the pulls with us. A super guy."
"The red Unlimited, the 2010-2011 one with the pretty paint, that was probably my favorite Unlimited of all of them," Voreis said. It won Bill's last title---to date, we feel obliged to add---with sweeps in New Hampton, Iowa and Chapel Hill. "If I'd have come back the next year, we would have been very competitive. But I'd talked myself into [believing], I'd had enough. And I always find out that I don't."
Once again, he didn't. And he returned for one more three-season stint with a black "American Thunder" featuring horsepower by good friend Jeff Fowler and another Modern Machine chassis. "[It] had way too much power. We had to keep detuning it. It had an attitude. But it won a lot of pulls, too." Including, we note, his 14th Bowling Green, tying him with the Banters.
Bill Voreis summarizes his philosophy as follows: "I never wanted to just go buy everything and be the same as everybody else. Because if you're buying the same thing as everybody else and doing the same thing as everybody else, you're going to run the same as everybody else."
It's the listening, the thinking, the building, the tuning, the driving, and the proving that got hooked together to set this Pro Stock and Unlimited engineer apart as a 10-time Grand National champion. And they are what has earned him a place in the Pulling Hall of Fame.