Ken & Cindy Lamping | 2016
Ken & Cindy Lamping | 2016
Our first Pulling Hall of Fame inductees are being so honored in large part for the innovations they have brought to the sport. But you won’t see their names punched into castings, painted on side shields, pronounced over loudspeakers, or printed on banners. No, the mark Ken and Cindy Lamping have made on our motorsport has to be studied to be seen.
The Lampings’ relationship with truck and tractor pulling began in 1975 when Ken was asked by a friend to serve as co-chairman of a pull at his home county fair in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Ken hadn’t ever pulled, though then as now Ken notes, “I love motorsports, period.” When the Freeborn County Fair Association signed on with the Gopher State Tractor Pullers the following year, Ken became a director. Cindy helped with entry, and the two operated a pair of scales that they hauled to pulls and stock car races.
Only after experiencing pulling from the administrative side did Ken start his pulling career with a brand new International 1086 in out-of-field classes in Minnesota and across the nearby Iowa state border. Starting in 1977, Ken pulled the 1086 for half a decade before building a 1566 strictly for pulling in 1983. Finding it to be “a good pulling tractor, but very heavy,” Ken switched to a 966 over the winter of 1985-86 for competition in a class exclusive to Gopher State called Modified Stock.
By this time, Ken had assumed the presidency and began to notice what Gopher State didn’t have—an abundance of events or competitors. A little research showed him that the NTPA’s member state entity, the Minnesota Tractor Pullers Contest Corporation from which the 12-county Gopher State club had broken away years before, faced similar challenges. Running a lot of the same classes, the two were in direct competition without enough vehicles to go around, and “it made us weaker,” Ken observed. Unification was the solution, but would the NTPA be receptive?
In December 1987, the NTPA’s national convention and awards banquet in Minneapolis provided the Gophers a golden opportunity to talk about a merger. Or so it seemed. Alas, it was at that meeting that the debt accrued by NTPA was discovered to have been $200,000 more than first thought, and the measures that had to be taken to ensure the Association’s very survival dominated the weekend’s business.
A few days later, Ken called the NTPA office in Columbus. With much of the staff out during the holiday season, answering the phone was World Pulling International President and CEO David P. Schreier. The two talked cordially about Ken’s proposal. By 3 o’clock that afternoon, Schreier had scheduled a meeting between Ken and the president of the Minnesota Contest Corporation, Dennis Christensen, at the January 1988 Minnesota Fair Convention. Two hours into that meeting, the deal was done, and on February 27 in Mankato, the United Pullers of Minnesota was born. Ken was elected president, Doc vice president, and a joint awards banquet that evening was its first official event—one of many, as it turns out. By 1990, the number of state pulls doubled under Ken’s leadership, and UPM was named Member State of the Year.
Good news came out of that stressful 1987 convention, too: Tobacco giant Copenhagen/Skoal signed on to become title sponsor of the entire 1988 NTPA Pulling Circuit, which at that time encompassed nearly 500 events. Looking for someone to coordinate this massive operation about a month after the Minnesota merger, Mr. Schreier thought of Mr. Lamping. Looking for someone to organize the bookkeeping side of what became “hands down, the best sponsorship program that this sport had ever seen,” Mr. Lamping thought of Mrs. Lamping. Cindy had just returned to college as a nontraditional student at Mankato State University double-majoring in business administration and finance, and to help with her coursework, she had purchased a personal computer. It got put to work making rhyme and reason out of reams of requirements. Cindy employed software to generate reports that documented the Association’s compliance with Copenhagen/Skoal’s many demands. The division of labor on this pulling team was thus decided: Kenny made the calls, Cindy did the paperwork. Cindy became UPM’s secretary in 1994, and when Ken was named to the WPI Board a year later, Cindy herself assumed the title of Member State Coordinator, a position she held with the NTPA until 2011.
What about Ken, the competitor? The NTPA had no Modified Stock division, so Ken ran his 966 in the Pro Stock class and won a state championship in that eventful 1988. But after another season of spending over a third of the year on the road, Ken and Cindy knew they had to choose between competition and administration. Ken sold the tractor to a puller in Pennsylvania, glad even now that “It went to a good home.” “Management has always interested me,” explains Ken, and now his involvement could continue exclusively in that vein: As Albert Lea’s promoter, UPM’s president until 1993, NTPA’s sponsorship coordinator until 1995, regional director through 2000, and for over 20 years a member of the WPI Board which he served as vice president from 1998 through 2014.
Even though Ken was no longer literally in the driver’s seat, the Modified Stock class appealed to him from several perspectives. With its restrictions on turbocharger size, maintenance was relatively inexpensive to the competitor. That affordability attracted new pullers and generated memberships for the Association. And reliable numbers of vehicles in an economical class with uniform rules and safety standards benefitted promoters. He proposed that the NTPA adopt the division, renamed Super Farm, as a national class; it was accepted in 1996 and ascended to the Grand National ranks by 2003. “It is a very dependable class to have. Minnesota competitors were so supportive of it,” recalls Ken, who got around 10 tractors to commit to running the region that first year. But soon, he admits, “It went way beyond what I was thinking of,” peaking at almost 400 Super Farms in competition nationwide. It also started the trend toward the limited flavors of Super and Pro Stock that have added variety and vitality to state and regional pulling.
As regional director, Ken identified the three most important contributors to a good event: A good announcer, a good weight transfer, and a good track. Toward meeting the first condition, he hired men from opposite ends of Region III—eastern Wisconsinite Kenny Mack and western Iowan Bill Darrington—to serve as the voices of every event one or the other could reach. Toward the third, he made sure that events featured well built and well maintained power tracks. But on the subject of sleds, Ken knew that UPM had room for improvement. So when Christensen passed along a rumor of a new transfer in Iowa that, as Doc put it, “the natives called a race sled,” he paid a visit. “Sleds are probably my favorite part of pulling,” Ken confessed, and as a connoisseur he could immediately detect that the new machine designed and piloted by Vaughn Bauer—”so neat and so straight”; “the guy has a knack for design”—could put on the safe, solid, and scintillating performances he was looking for. He booked Bauer’s sleds for every UPM and regional pull they could do.
Also arising from the Copenhagen/Skoal-NTPA partnership was the multi-event Minnesota Sweep, founded by Ken and U.S. Tobacco executive Ted Kazanski. “It did a lot of good for us,” said Ken of the program that awarded bonus money and jackets to series champs and raised the prestige of its events. Many a mini points series has been based on the Sweep, which remains a prominent part of Minnesota pulling.
In a 1990 Puller feature, Ken advised other member state presidents that their challenge was to keep and grow—with a sense of urgency—the sponsorships that the NTPA had initiated. “Taking care of the sponsor is what is difficult. You must approach ‘taking care’ of the sponsor as you would ‘take care’ of your job. Extra effort is not one thing you can do. It is the only thing you must do.”
That kind of counsel has made the Lampings a trusted voice throughout their involvement with national pulling. “When I’m looking for advice,” said NTPA General Manager Gregg Randall, “one of the first people I think to call is Ken Lamping.” Dave Schreier concurred: “Ken and Cindy Lamping’s sincere efforts in assisting in the rebuilding and advancement of the WPI/NTPA structure were recognized and accepted by the competitors, promoters, fans, and sponsors. Their dedicated hard work and loyalty to WPI in its formative years in the restructuring and recovery of the NTPA organization was extremely important to its success. I will always value their personal friendship and support.”
In their decades of service, Cindy and Ken have been at the epicenter of developments that have shaped the modern NTPA. But for Ken, one trumps all the others: the implementation of the roll cage specifications in 1999. “There was so much opposition,” Ken reflected. “Member states wouldn’t stay. Competitors wouldn’t join.” That same year, Ken felt Roger Peterson’s Super Stock shake the ground when it overturned in Hutchinson in what he describes as “the most violent incident I’ve ever seen.” The specs had almost certainly saved a life.
Ken is grateful for the close friendships he’s formed with so many families in the sport—the Schreiers, the Bauers, the Enderles—along the path of a journey he never anticipated. “When the UPM was formed,” reflects Ken, “that’s all I ever wanted.” He is thankful for the pullers from a five-state area that supported the UPM, the region, and the programs he helped to implement. And the lady who for many years was behind the scenes agrees that the part of the job she misses most is the people she got to talk to.
So there’s the mark left by Ken and Cindy Lamping. Reconciliation that made a struggling state thrive. Supervision that kept sponsors and states in the fold. A division that has welcomed hundreds of new pullers. Clear vision for what would help the sport expand. And careful administration to ensure that it did just that.
In that Puller feature that focused on the positive impact of sponsorship on state-level pulling, Ken asserted: “It’s worked in Minnesota; it can work anywhere.” Those words ring true when applied to so many of Ken and Cindy Lamping’s lasting contributions to the NTPA, as well as to their service to it, together.