Jerry VanDorpe | 2011
Jerry VanDorpe | 2011
Jerry VanDorpe is just the second NTPA Hall of Fame inductee hailing from the state of Michigan, joining fellow Super Stock competitor and fellow Charlotte, Michigan-based friend, Max Simpson.
Jerry grew up on a farm like many folks who end up pulling. However, his dad was from the old country and farmed with horses. By age 14, Jerry was hired out to neighboring farmers. These farmers had tractors, and Jerry absolutely loved to drive them.
When Jerry became older, he worked in a factory and farmed. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War in 1953, serving time in Tacoma, Wash., and was honorably discharged two years later. Once getting out, he went back to work at the factory, but since the work only lasted a few months out of the year, he picked up a milk route – toting the milk cans in the morning, and going to his second shift factory job.
Jerry sold the route after three years. He accepted a down payment for it, as the buyer did not have enough money to purchase the route outright. Jerry agreed to hold on to an International “M” the buyer had as collateral until he could sell the tractor and pay Jerry the balance owed. The tractor didn’t sell, and VanDorpe ended up with it. As history would have it, that International M was the catalyst of VanDorpe’s first taste of tractor pulling. Jerry pulled it in competition at his hometown Eaton County Fair event in Charlotte each summer for many years.
Jerry bought a farm in November 1958, and bought his first heifer the next year. He continued to add cows, ending up milking as many as 160 head, and he did so for 40 years. Today, VanDorpe still crop farms with the help of his family, which consists of his wife Corky – the two celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this year – and three grown children, Larry, Doug, and Sandy. They also have eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In 1978, Jerry took ownership of a brand new IH 686 from his IH dealer, J.R. Fueslien, and began turning it into a pulling tractor to compete on the NTPA and the Michigan State Circuits. The tractor never saw a field. Instead, it became a tough competitor right away in the 5,000 and 7,000 pound Super Stock classes.
Jerry called upon pulling guru, neighbor, and long-time friend, Max Simpson to help with developing the new Super Stock tractor. Max helped Jerry prepare his first pulling-only machine, and Fueslien coined the name “Screamin’ Demon” for the IH 686.
During the tractor’s first five seasons under VanDorpe’s hand, it placed in the top 10 four times in NTPA Grand National competition. Simpson’s “Mean Ole Allis” and VanDorpe’s “Screamin’ Demon” continued to duke it out for many years until Max retired from pulling competition. However, Simpson Performance continues to breathe life into VanDorpe’s “Demon” each year, and Jerry is ever thankful to his friend, Max.
In 1983 at the Indy Super Pull, VanDorpe unwittingly helped establish one of pulling’s most important rules for driver safety – the firesuit. Pulling a diesel engine indoors requires a smoke tube extension from the tractor’s exhaust to the sled’s smoke collecting apparatus. The tube on VanDorpe’s “Screamin Demon” kinked and collapsed during its run with Jerry trying to hold it up with his left arm for nearly 50 feet. When the IH came to a stop, the tube had melted Jerry’s nylon jacket to his arm, between his elbow and shoulder, giving him 2nd degree burns. The remaining pullers used nomex jackets and it was the beginning of fire protection in NTPA competition, thanks in part to Jerry.
In 1984, Jerry purchased the Canadian based, IH 986 Super Stock of Jack Grant. The tractor found success under Grant’s hand, and it was VanDorpe’s first attempt into heavier Super Stock weight classes. The tractor was dubbed “Screamin’ Demon II,” and although Jerry and Max put a tremendous amount of work into it, the four charger machine was plagued with quite a bit of breakage. Still, Jerry finished 10th in the NTPA Grand National points that first year.
By 1989, the tractor was really performing, and Jerry found his greatest success. With “Screamin’ Demon II,” Jerry has amassed 12 Wolverine State Titles, 11 top 10 finishes on the NTPA Grand National Circuit (including one runner-up), six NTPA Region II Championships, one NTPA Pro National Title, one Bowling Green ring, one NTPA “Hooker of the Year” award, and countless wins across the Midwest at every major pulling event. Among his on-track highlights, Jerry enjoyed traveling the NTPA Grand National circuit with friend and competitor, Jim Schaendorf.
Besides being a competitor, the soft spoken VanDorpe played a major role with the Wolverine Pullers, serving as the organization’s president for several years beginning in 1988. He was dedicated to both puller and promoter, and Michigan was in capable hands under his watch. His demeanor helped keep those involved in the association, who at one time were divided into three separate groups, working together for the betterment of Michigan pulling.
In 2011, VanDorpe completed his 55th summer of pulling – another amazing achievement in his illustrious career. Jerry VanDorpe is a legend to fellow pullers and fans alike.