Ernie Metzger | 2009


Ernie Metzger | 2009

The NTPA Hall of Fame is comprised of a diverse group of individuals. There are members inducted as organizers, executives, officials and announcers. Of course, there are also those members who were competitors in the various NTPA pulling divisions. Ernie Metzger makes history as the first NTPA Hall of Fame inductee coming from the Semi truck ranks.

Metzger’s path to NTPA’s Hall of Fame began in his youth, when his love for trucks broadened to heights he could not have foreseen. It impacted his professional career and helped popularize the use of Semi trucks into various racing categories, as well as competitive semi truck pulling.

As a 13 year-old boy, Ernie bought his first truck, a 1922 Ford pick-up for a mere three dollars. The Silver Lake, Ind. native expanded this love for trucks into the big rig variety, and Ernie built a business for himself called Metzger Trucking. The grain, livestock and fertilizer hauling business saw approximately 100 tractors and 300 trailers populate north central Indiana after starting with just one International K-7 in the 1940s. Metzger and his wife, Bonnie, raised six children and were living the American dream.

Fast forwarding to the 1970s, Ernie and his only son, Mike, were operating Metzger Trucking. Ernie was interested in getting involved in motorsports and saw that Liberty Belle, a Kenworth truck that held 14 national and international motorsports records, was on the auction block. Metzger purchased the truck for just over $46,000, and he was off and running.

Liberty Belle was an impressive truck, setting the land speed record at just over 132 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats; and although Ernie wasn’t behind the wheel when Liberty Belle set the land speed record, Metzger did set a single lap record for semis at 124 mph at the Atlanta International Speedway in 1980.

With Ernie driving and Mike running the pit crew, the Metzgers spent four years racing on the American Truck Series of circle track races. Along the way, Liberty Belle ended up in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit II” with Burt Reynolds.

As the 1970s drew to a close, the Metzgers began setting their sites on a different motorsport - pulling. NTPA did not recognize Semis as a division and point class, but that did not stop promoters from booking Metzger and a few other semi competitors. Ernie Metzger became an influencing force on the semi truck pulling landscape.

By the time the early 80s rolled around, Metzger was appearing at many county fairs across the United States and Canada. During this time, he won dozens of events, and his son, Mike, was campaigning a second semi called General Lee. “Dukes of Hazard” was a popular show, and a promoter of indoor pulling events capitalized on the connection and brought in Sonny Shroyer, who played “Enos,” the Hazard County Deputy, to many events. There was no doubt that the Semi class was popular with the fans.

Ernie Metzger, J.R. Collins, John A. Mann, Ray Carpenter and others were advocates of the semis becoming an NTPA sanctioned class. Their pioneering ways paid off as Metzgerand friends made their way into the Tomah, Wis. event as well as the 1983 Indy Super Pull as an exhibition class. Metzger won the class with Liberty Belle at the 1984 Indy Super Pull. The semi class was growing in numbers and popularity, thanks in part to Metzger’s personality and perseverance. Semi exhibition pulls were sprouting up everywhere on the NTPA landscape. Ernie was at the prime of his pulling glory, preparing for the 1986 season, when at age 68, he passed away.

Ernie’s son, Mike, was able to see the Super Semi division recognized as a fullfledged points class in the 1990s, and won the NTPA Grand National points title in 2000, fittingly with the Liberty Belle. That NTPA Super Semi title and many others would not have been achieved had it not been for the Silver Lake man who took his love of trucks and helped pave the way for current day.

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