Gardner Stone | 2014


Gardner Stone | 2014

Our first inductee into the NTPA Hall of Fame became a popular figure in the sport as his unabashed personality and drive for success by means of being different gained him fans across the country. Similar to his successful business ventures in his hometown of Middlebury, Vermont, Gardner Stone has found success on pulling tracks across the nation.

Gardner had an interesting start to his pulling career. He was familiar with competing as he drag raced locally in Vermont. After watching a local pulling event in Rutland, Vermont, Stone was impressed with what he saw. He also attended an NTPA indoor event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and witnessed for the first time the Modified Tractors, and he decided to get into the sport in time for the 1978 season.

He elected to start small—literally—as he had Pro Trac Engineering build a Mini Rod frame equipped with a 427 carbureted Chevy with aluminum heads producing 500 horsepower. Gardner chose the name “Widow Maker” for the Mini and was eager to see what it could do. Incredibly, Stone had never seen the division compete, so the first Mini class that he entered in Walton, New York was also his first time witnessing the class. Wouldn’t you know, Stone drew the
first hook and watched the class for the first time from the driver’s seat. One full pull later, which led to a pair of wins for the event, and one could say that Stone was “hooked.”

Like most pullers, Stone paid his dues at the state level in Vermont, becoming an officer in the association as well as being part of the group that purchased a pair of sleds to help promote the sport—even organizing exhibition pulls at various locales for the benefit of marketing the Vermont Tractor Pullers.

In time for the 1979 season, Gardner added a second vehicle with a powerplant that made him famous during the ’80s decade on the NTPA National Level: a single Allisonpowered Modified called “The Brigadier” was now in the stable alongside the Mini.

Stone was under the impression through observation and conversation that the Allison aircraft engine was the most reliable engine for dependability and horsepower. It was a steep learning curve, however, as 11 Allison engines were destroyed over the course of that inaugural season. In the offseason, three engines were sent to the Mike Holden shop, and two good ones came back. Gardner was able to keep those engines living for four seasons.

Although “The Brigadier” had modest success on the VTPA state circuit during Stone’s early days, its carbureted Allison was lagging behind what most competitors were running in the heavier-weight Modified classes. So in 1983, Stone debuted the first generation of “The General” with a single turbocharged Allison that could make weight in the 5,000-lb. Modified class. The “Widow Maker” Mini was replaced by “The General,” and Stone’s first success at the NTPA Regional National level was in the history books: a championship in Region I’s 7,000-lb. class.

In 1984, “The General” found additional success in the 5,000-lb. Modified, with a championship in Region I for a second year in a row. Still, Gardner had his eye on the NTPA Grand National schedule for 1985 and was  looking for more power to keep up with the supercharged V-8 competitors including eventual Hall-of-Famers Dave and Ralph Banter, Tim Engler, and Bruce Hutcherson.

Although the V-12 Allison engine was still a top-five viable option for power in the Modified class at the state and regional levels, it had taken a back seat at the NTPA Grand National level as 1985 arrived. However, Stone, ever mindful of being different from the crowd, upped the ante in regards to how Allison power was being utilized. He built a new twin-engine Allison entry named “Mr. LTL” (Loud, Tough, and Lethal) complete with turbochargers, debuting it in the spring of 1985. The new entry retired the dependable “Brigadier,” and Stone found himself in victory lane three times in the 7,200 lb. Modified class at the NTPA Grand National level, winning his first-ever Grand National class in Richmond, Virginia and taking home wins in Tomah, Wisconsin and Bowling Green, Ohio. He netted another Region I title as well.

In 1986, Stone decided that “Mr. LTL” displayed the power needed to compete against the four-supercharged engine combinations of the day, but to have a chance at the heavier Modified weight categories, he would have to find a way to carry three engines in those classes. So, raising the bar once again, Stone had a turbocharged triple-Allisonpowered entry built to win against the five- and six-engine powered machines. Gardner, along with his son Todd, decided it was time to chase the NTPA Grand National Circuit full time with the new and improved “General.”

An Allison aircraft-powered vehicle hadn’t been a consistent threat to win a heavier weight Modified category since the late 1970s, but with Stone’s new reation, he was a top-five finisher all year long in the 9,000-lb. Modified as well as the Unlimited classes. In July of 1986, Stone won the 9,000-lb. Modified in Fort Recovery, Ohio. And so, just as he had done the year before in Bowling Green, Stone won with Allison aircraft-engine power in an NTPA Grand National weight class in which that hadn’t been done for quite a while.

In 1986, Stone garnered the fifth-place point spot in all three heavier Modified categories at the Grand National level, and in 1987, he savored his best points outcomes to date with a runner-up in the 9,000-lb. Modified and a third place in the Unlimited. In 10 years, Gardner had gone from pulling locally in Vermont with a naturally aspirated Mini Rod to being a stalwart on the NTPA Grand National trail.

In the winter of 1988, Stone traveled overseas, making exhibition passes at the European Championships in Holland with “The General” as well as hooking in France. However, Gardner was feeling that he had gone about as far as he could with the Allison engines (as he was pushing them to their limits) and concluded that a new power plant was in order. He spoke with pulling legend Art Arfons about what turbine engine would best suit and then worked with Marv
Kottman to purchase four General Electric T-55 Lycoming turbine engines.

In 1988, the “General Stage IV” was created, and it took a full season to dial in the very powerful jet-turbine configuration. In true Gardner Stone spirit, it was unique in every way. After all, it was the first time that anyone had utilized four turbine engines in one application—including the military, which used a pair in Chinook helicopters—and Stone was admittedly a novice when it came to the turbine, as it was 10 years earlier with the Allison powerplant. But he figured it out.

By 1989, Stone was beginning to find reliability and wins with “The General Stage IV.” And by the end of the 1990 season, he had earned a pair of NTPA Grand National titles in both weight categories that were offered; his first and second titles came in that one magical season. In 1991, Stone ended up a runner-up to the Banter Brothers in the points race.

Business concerns at home left Stone on hiatus for five years, but little did Stone or the pulling world know that the best was yet to come.

After a pair of runner-up point finishes to Rodalyn Knox in 1997 and 1998, he broke through for his third championship in 1999, completing the season 15 points ahead of Bill Voreis in the Unlimited class.

Stone won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004 and was last found in the top 10 for the points title in 2006, finishing seventh. Gardner decided to retire, and still owns “The General Stage IV” just in case the pulling itch needs scratched again.

Besides Gardner Stone’s ontrack success, he was a leader on the business side of the sport. He financially invested in the sport as a shareholder of World Pulling International, Inc. twice: initially during the first stock offering in 1985, and then again several months later when it was realized that the debt amassed by the NTPA was worse than first believed.

Stone lent his business savvy during the early years of WPI, serving a three-year term as WPI vice president. Those early years were the toughest times for the new corporation. Stone’s strong personality and backing of the decisions made were critical to the restructuring of the company. Stone continues to be a shareholder, and many of Stone’s influences from his time served on the WPI Executive Board are felt today.

All told, Gardner Stone earned five NTPA Grand National titles, won classes at all of the major pulling events of his generation, and supported the organization during its tougher days. Many times Stone was heard to say, “Run what ya brung, and hope ya brung enough,” and over the NTPA’s storied history, more times than not, Stone brung enough—enough to place himself among the sport’s best of the best.

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