Dave Archer | 2019
Dave Archer | 2019
Our next inductee blazed a trail that spanned every level and category of the sport, and his family’s two Grand National championships attest to the accuracy of his aim.
Years before his debut in Field Stock, Dave Archer had cut his gear teeth on drag racing. “I was 14 and took a 322 Buick and put six carburetors on it, a LaSalle transmission, and slicks. Popped ‘er up in front to the moon.” His quarter-miles, on which he once held the Division 3 record, long preceded his 300’ tours across the Ohio Valley around hometown Marietta.
Dave’s first hook came in 1976, when his Allis-Chalmers D19 reared up while failing to budge the sled. Soon, the man from the Northwest Territory’s first permanent settlement learned to settle down a pulling tractor—no more lunar flights—and his deepening curiosity took him into Modified Stock. “I still have the side shields for the ‘Alley Cat’,” Dave recalled. “A lady up the road painted those for me.”
But the pullers down the road weren’t as accommodating. “Some were putting car engines in Oliver 88s. I knew a lot of cheating went on. If I couldn’t beat them, I’d just work harder.”
Besides those handmade shields, Dave allowed himself a second adornment: a 1980 NTPA buckle. “It’s my good belt. I said I hoped I would live long enough to wear it as an antique.” By decade’s end, Dave had made a more substantive investment: His company, Pioneer Pipe Fabrication, was among the paid pledges that helped to resolve the Association’s six-figure debt.
“NTPA was the best thing we ever did,” Dave asserted. “They’ve made good rules, and you have to go by them.”
Dave’s 1989 move from Modified Stock to Modified—from Allis to Allison—came unexpectedly. “A guy called who owned a D21, and I’d always beat him with my 19. He bought it all. I didn’t charge him enough.” Dave built a chassis, installed the aircraft engine, and later added a supercharged Chevy.
It proved to be an unhappy union: “The Chevy was too fast and the Allison was too slow.” Dave replaced that combination with three blown Chevys and, at the September 1991 pull in Wooster, earned his first Ohio State Tractor Pullers Association victory with “Pioneer.” He won a week later in Ashland and then twice in Raleigh, North Carolina. That autumn was the bow from which Archer launched a barrage of five state championships from 1992 through 1994 across the 5,800- and 7,200-lb. classes.
When ‘95 arrived, Dave stepped up to the GN ranks with four Jeff Fowler-prepared Chevy-style Donovans with Brodix heads. Like his maiden voyage on the Allis, it was a leap into the unfamiliar, but he gained confidence by making the only full pull at Urbana, Ohio’s Mad River Valley spring regional.
After surviving the first GN gauntlet—Tomah, Wisconsin—with a 10th and a sixth, he scored a win in Session One of Arcola, Indiana’s Three Rivers Festival Pull. With a third in Session Two, the GN rookie found himself in the championship conversation. Fourths in Fort Recovery, Ohio and Cassopolis, Michigan preceded an eighth and a fifth in Davenport, Iowa. But looming at the end of July were two circled calendar squares that represented Ionia, Michigan. Trouble was, one was circled twice and labeled “Jill’s wedding.” As in Dave and wife Arlene’s elder daughter.
Would giving Jill away also mean surrendering any chance of a title? Not in the pulling family, it wouldn’t, for Dave Banter agreed to pilot “Pioneer” in addition to his own “Bandit” and “Mr. Chevy” to keep the Archers’ shot alive. In fact, the crafty veteran swept the Free Fair Pullsation with “Pioneer” and vaulted it into the standings lead.
When the series turned to Hamburg, New York, Banter clipped Archer for the win to tighten the race. The same spread at Des Moines, Iowa’s State Fair Pull cut Dave A.’s lead over Dave B. to a single point.
That set up Inwood, Ontario’s Twin Creek Nationals as the decider. There, The Puller reported, “’Mr. Chevy’ hooked third, while ‘Bandit’ hooked sixth ... Banter’s run with ‘Mr. Chevy’ was a solid 290.7’, [and he] took ‘Bandit’ to a full pull ... Meanwhile, Archer ... didn’t look good in the first 100’, but ‘Pioneer’ dug in and finished strong. His pull of 292.6’ was just enough to beat Banter and grab his first Grand National championship.”
Dave became the first competitor to win a title, Puller of the Year, and Rookie of the Year in the same season with a crew consisting of Arlene, son Mike, daughters Jill and Kathy, Ed Tornes, and Paul Wells.
Arlene’s role was critical. “You always seem to forget something,” Dave said in a 1995 feature article. “We have a checklist that Arlene fills out prior to each run, covering everything from plug wires to fueling,” But she became as comfortable with crankshaft journals as with handwritten ones. “Arlene’s put together so many of those Chevy engines,” he reported in a recent interview. “Probably more than I have.”
Honored with the Association’s first Crew Chief Award in 1999, Arlene later swapped roles with Dave when she chased Two Wheel Drive points for five seasons on the state and regional circuits while Kathy was at college. The couple kept the name “Pioneer” in recognition of their historic hometown and their faithful sponsors, Pioneer Chevrolet and Pioneer Pipe. In 2008, she finished ninth with “Pioneer” and 10th with “Wildfire” in the GN standings, posting a win at Mount Sterling’s Western Illinois Grand Nationals.
As for the Archers’ youngest, Kathy started on the state circuit in 1997 with two engines, but by the end of that summer, Dad had supplied a third. Soon thereafter, her “Wagon Master” became a four-horse hitch as she joined her parents full-time on the premier circuit.
Following college and her own stint in Two Wheel Drive, Kathy and her husband Justin Schalitz went all-in with Arlene and Dave in campaigning the five-engine “Black Widow” Unlimited from 2009 through 2011. In the first of those seasons, Kathy won twice in Bowling Green and claimed the ring, while the last culminated in a GN championship.
Kathy and Justin then departed for a life beyond 300’, and Dave installed his old “Pioneer” fenders on the “Widow.” His Mod of that name had finished top-five in three out of its last four seasons, and his comeback maintained that trajectory: in 2012, he won Tomah and Bowling Green; in 2013, Chapel Hill. After those seasons ended with standings fifths, he reached second in 2014 with wins in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Illinois.
“There were times we’d have to stay up a lot later because fans would come around,” Dave admitted, but he instructed his crew to acknowledge every question and autograph request.
His powerplant allegiance helped, too. “In the end, when everybody else ran Hemis, we had a lot of Chevy guys as fans.” From their support of Pullers Against Drugs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Make-A-Wish at home and on the road, admiration for the cordiality and the generosity of the Archer family crossed all boundaries.
As it happened, Mount Sterling produced the last winners circle visits for both Dave and Arlene, as Dave battled through worsening health during the 2015 season. “The last year, I couldn’t get around very well.” But when it came to driving, Dave said, the doctors “told me I can do it if I want to do it.’”
As his physical condition deteriorated before and recuperated after a double-lung transplant in 2016, his creative mind never took a day off. Eventually his stamina caught up with his ambition to repurpose his old D19, which was a Christmas present from Arlene 20 years before.
With the help of their pulling collaborators on another foray into the unknown, a “bound and determined” Dave provided Kathy with one more challenge. On June 2, 2018, she became the world farm tractor land-speed record holder at over 108 miles per hour. Dave’s synthesis of racing and pulling was simultaneously a perfect expression of devotion between husband and wife, father and daughter, and leader and team. Moreover, the racer’s graphics—”Life beyond 15,000 horsepower”—signaled Dave’s exodus from competition like those hand-painted “Alley Cat” shields had heralded its genesis.
Though never to retire, today, says Dave, “I’m only in the office five or six hours a day. The other hours I’m out on real estate development projects.”
For 40 years in pulling, the way of the Archer Family has been straight and true. No competitor can hit the target of a title every season, for as Dave recognized even in that rookie campaign, “The leeway is zilch. The drivers are too experienced, and the equipment is too good.”
But when the adventure itself—defined by preparedness and professionalism, humility and hospitality—is the point, you’ll find Dave, Arlene, and Kathy Archer’s mark at the center of the bull’s-eye.