After an historically wet spring and a week of dire weather forecasts, the Shell Rotella Cup gleamed in the bright Tomah, Wisconsin sunshine for all five sessions of the June 20-22 Budweiser Dairyland Super Nationals. Held at Monroe County's Recreation Park for the 44th consecutive year, the Budweiser DSN was the latest stop on the 2019 tour that will reward National Tractor Pullers Association Grand National competitors with over $50,000 in bonus money.
In NTPA Championship Pulling, vehicles drag a 20-ton weight transfer sled along a straight, dirt track as the sled's resistance increases. Within a class of similar vehicles, the puller who achieves the greatest distance is victorious. At events across the United States, elite competitors campaign their specialized machines---which resemble farm tractors, trucks, and dragsters---for chances at purse money and precious points toward end-of-season championships.
In 2019, the Association is proud to complete its first half century as the world's original and number-one sanctioning organization for premier-level truck and tractor pulling contests. Fierce, fair pulling competition and a family-friendly, patriotic atmosphere are hallmarks of NTPA Championship Pulling. If you haven't experienced the rumbles, roars, and rivalries of the heaviest sport on wheels, why not give it a try this summer?
Given the Budweiser Dairyland Super Nationals' dual status as the 2019 season's second Shell Rotella Cup Series anchor event and its first Super National contest, Tomah placed its 12 participating Grand National divisions in two distinct categories. Six divisions---Light Super Stock and Super Stock Diesel Tractors, Super Stock Diesel 4x4 and Super Semi Trucks, and Multi-Engine and Unlimited Modifieds---popped the cap on their NTPA Grand National and Cup campaigns. Six others---Super Stock Open and Pro Stock Tractors, Two-Wheel-Drive and Four-Wheel-Drive Trucks, and Mini and twin-engine Light Unlimited Modifieds---already saw that happen at Benson and are thus now at or beyond the halfway point of their Cup tours.
Let's first visit with the divisions whose series got underway as the calendar swung from May to June at Benson.
In Super Stock Open, John Strickland and "GALOT II" may have met their match; namely, Brent Payne and "GALOT" (I). OK, almost: The paint schemes on Earl Wells' pair of methanol-fueled, multi-turbocharged AGCO DT225s are inverted, after all. "II," the one with the glossy black hood and metallic orange side shields, streaked toward a Cup championship in 2018 after never having fallen out of the lead in that six-hook series. This year through three appearances, Strickland leads Payne, who pilots the orange/black "GALOT," two wins to one after they split at Tomah. On Thursday, it was Payne that brought it with a 17' winning margin over Strickland. Saturday afternoon, it was Strickland's turn: Only the GALOT teammates qualified for the pull-off, but Payne retired due to ignition issues. Though he only needed to bump the weight transfer, Strickland instead took the loaded green "Ironman" sled for a 336' crowd-wowing cruise that clinched the division's Hardest-Working Puller total distance award for the weekend. Next NTPA/Cup stop for SSO: Bowling Green, Ohio.
In Pro Stock, call it a favor for a good friend. On Friday night, devoted John Deere puller Robby Lemke slipped into the seat of fellow competitor Chris Cain's "Aces Wild" to keep Cain's Case IH in the points chase. Then, two tractors later, Lemke climbed onto his own "New Generation Plus" armed with the track knowledge only a competitive drive can provide and authored a class-winning 331'. In his winners circle interview, Lemke joked that it was fun to beat any red tractor, even one that he had just piloted to a top-five finish. On Saturday, Russ Yoder's "Xtra Butter" Minneapolis-Moline popped to the top of the field, but Lemke got a fifth (with his own tractor this time) to take the weekend championship of the Helenville, Wisconsin native's nearest-to-home event as well as the Shell Rotella HWP. Benson victor Darrin Hunt's "D2 Pro Stock Edition" finished second to Lemke and sixth to Yoder to retain his Cup series lead. Next NTPA stop for PS: Hutchinson, Minnesota; next Cup stop: Chapel Hill, Tennessee.
In Two Wheel Drive, Russ Nichols' Ohio-based "On the Edge" arrived in Wisconsin on the pole following his Carolina win. But a pair of Iowans would finish just 2-7/8" apart to top the list of 39 on Friday night in Tomah. Brandon Simon was the victor in the Chevrolet edition of "Simon Sez" after squeaking by newcomer Chaz Fleming's "In 2 Deep," which had led for 15 mid-class hooks. Fleming in turn had topped past Tomah and Cup Series winner Bryan McDonald, who had led for two trucks, and had fended off Nichols, who finished fourth. On Saturday night, it was McDonald's opportunity for a late-class pass. Hailing from the peninsular portion of Maryland that it shares with Delaware, McDonald has to drive the wrong direction for an hour just to cross a bridge on his way to Midwestern events. But he pointed his "Suffering Sanity" the right way on Saturday night to best Simon family patriarch Roger's "Simon Sez Dodge" and capture the (on-track) total-distance award as well as a seven-point Cup lead. Next NTPA stop for TWD: Hagerstown, Maryland; next Cup stop: Ionia, Michigan.
In Four Wheel Drive, you'll recall that only the doorslammers escaped the mud in Mule City to pull on both Friday and Saturday nights. Twenty days later, Carmen Foster's winning ways persisted in Wisconsin on the track she previously conquered in 2018. Her "Foster Child" Chevrolet finished a truck-and-weight-box-length ahead of the field of 37 on Thursday night, with Mark Mangan's "Outlaw" finishing second and John T. Davis' "Young Gun" third. But Davis and his brother Peyton were men on a mission on Saturday afternoon, and after "FC" failed to join "YG" in a pull-off but seven others did, it was Peyton Davis' 2017 champion "Punisher" who would grab the win and wind up best-in-class for the weekend. How close were the Virginians' Chevrolets? After three runs down a 330' track, Peyton's total exceeded John T.'s by 1.08 inches. Next NTPA/Cup appearance: Chapel Hill.
In Modified Mini, the next generation (and the one after that) may be coming on strong, but "old guys do rule." That was the assessment of 60-year motorsports veteran Ken Veney after his "Funny Lil' Farmall" knocked off Bruce Slagh's "Show No Mercy" with the last hook in the class of 22 on Friday. Veney, who drove his first racecar in 1958, read the tricky afternoon dirt track perfectly to fly by Slagh, who had led the whole way after executing an old-school move---an immediate repull after a transfer reset---very rarely seen in the modern era. Adam Koester's "Walk the Line" and Reese Shelton's "Cuttin' Up," which had gone second and first in Carolina, took the third and fourth spots Friday afternoon. Then on Saturday night, Veney and Slagh's son Tyler posted identical distances (to the nearest 0.005') on consecutive passes, while Gert Dingerink's "Lambada" bested Koester by 6' to take the win. Veney claimed the HWP award, but Koester now leads the race for the Cup at the clubhouse turn. Next NTPA appearance: Rockwell, Iowa; next Cup appearance: Chapel Hill.
And in Light Unlimited, after three hooks, we have three winners in a season that may prove to be even more compelling than a 2018 whose championship required a tiebreaker. Benson winner and division rookie Doug Theobald qualified for the Thursday pull-off alongside Keith Wayson and the 2015 champ "Super Bee." But Theobald's "Full-Blown Wicked" suffered engine damage on its fourth-ever pass as the "Bee" graded an "A" in the first Tomah session. Wayson returned on Friday afternoon to make a bit for the sweep but was passed by last year's event- and title-winning "Money Pit Screwed Up" with Steve Bollinger at the wheel. "Super Bee" had, however, banked enough distance in the Thursday pull-off to own the HWP. On both occasions, new class entrant and Bollinger teammate Ashley Corzine earned third-place honors with her Shell Rotella-sponsored "Second-Degree Burn," whose name is a nod to her and husband Craig's former Two Wheel Drive vehicles. Next NTPA appearance: Hagerstown; next Cup appearance: Ionia.
Now, let's take a look at the six divisions that opened their NTPA and Cup seasons at Tomah.
In Light Super Stock, a 30-point performance by "Commander" put Jason Hootman in prime position to take an early lead in both national and Shell Rotella Cup points. But damage incurred in that Thursday night third rendered his vintage Ford 6000 unable to return on Friday. To open that session, Larry Phillips' "Extremely Insane," which had been bested by "The Commander" by just 3/10", announced its presence with a 310' opening pass. Then, Jordan and Adam Speigelberg, separated by 7" in Session One (with Jordan's "Detonator Red" in front), returned in Session Two to take the top two scores (with Adam's "Detonator Black" qualifying for a two-tractor pull-off and claiming the division's Hardest-Working Puller award). The early title contenders departed their home-state Super National with the Spiegelbergs tied and Phillips a point back. Though they are regionally licensed and thus ineligible for Cup points or the HWP award, we must mention the "Red Thunder" Team from Mondovi. Brothers Chris and Bryce Pichler utterly dominated the field to win twice and gave a fine accounting of the strength of the Light Super division within Region III and Wisconsin. Next NTPA appearance: Brandenburg, Kentucky; next Cup appearance: Bowling Green.
In Super Stock Diesel, two-time champion Colin Ross is on what might be called his "revenge tour." Not against his fellow competitors---you won't find a more tight-knit bunch in pulling---but rather against the bitter disappointment that stalled "Triple Bypass"' bid for a three-peat. A 2018 season that began in bewilderment, continued in frustration, and ended in lament for Ross and his dad Jody is now but a memory, and their McCormick swept Tomah to get back to the level of dominance the Rosses expect from their three-turbo titan. On Friday, class stalwart Esdon Lehn and his "Red Line Fever" was second-best, but Lehn had to scratch from Saturday as did title contender Travis Schlabach's "Bone Twister" after it wrung something off in Session Three. Kent Payne's "Super Rooster" belted out a third and a second to pull behind Ross in the early Cup standings. Next NTPA/Cup appearance: Hutchinson.
In Super Stock Diesel 4x4, Don Bowling was rolling. His distinctly pink "Pulling for the Cure" Ford captured its second-ever GN win on the strength of a brilliant 315' Thursday test pass that outdistanced the field by 22'. Bowling returned on Friday to take fourth, but he had already cemented his status as the diesel trucks' first HWP of the season. Meanwhile, Shane Kellogg's "Trump" Dodge, which settled for third behind Bowling and Erik Stacey's all-new "Smok'nya HD" in Session One, put up a late-class 318' in Session Two to spoil class sophomore Jeff Mifek's bid for his first GN victory with "Triple Alpha Process." Defending national and Cup champion Carl Atley took a fifth and a third to sit third in Cup standings behind Kellogg and Bowling with six hooks to go. Next NTPA/Cup appearance: Hutchinson.
In Super Semi, top-two finishes came in tandem over the big rigs' two nighttime appearances. Dean Holicky's "Mother Trucker" Peterbilt held off Pat Eilen's "Just Passin' Thru in Class" in pull-offs in Sessions Three and Five to score a perfect 60 points and take home the long-haul HWP award. Chris Schroeder and Christopher Mlsna took turns at the controls of their "Krazy KW" Kenworth; Schroeder logged 6" more than GN contender Ryan DeBroux's "Playin' with Fire" on Friday, while Mlsna qualified for the second round and finished just behind DeBroux on Saturday. Brian Elithorpe's "Nikki's Nightmare" and Jack Kielmeyer's "Jacked Up" had ill-fated Session Two runs; Elithorpe rebounded to take fifth in the pull-off three frames later, while Kielmeyer was done for the weekend. Next NTPA/Cup appearance: Hutchinson.
In Modified, the combination of multi-engine tractors and back-to-back session appearances can frequently lead to well-shaken finishing orders. That was certainly the case for three-time division winners Doug Lively and Bret Berg. Lively, the reigning champion, reached 314' on Friday night to top the standings for about 16 hours. But then Berg, who most recently won it all in 2016 and finished second last year, settled matters early on Saturday afternoon with a test hook 310.4' while Lively tumbled to fifth. All the while, Bob Jostock, the champion in 1996 and 2007, was Mr. Consistency at Tomah, parlaying two second-place finishes with his "Wild Child" into both the HWP award and a tie with Berg for the Cup lead. Running three engines for the first time, Jeff Rose performed commendably in the seat of dad Ricky's "Giddy Up" by scoring a pair of fourths. Next NTPA/Cup appearance: Rockwell.
And in Unlimited, it was the same song with different singers. Champion Chuck Knapp opened his drive for five with a 328' win aboard "Screamin' D" on Friday afternoon before struggling to a sixth-place finish on Saturday night. Past champ Adam Bauer, who captured last year's Shell Rotella Cup and both the Tomah and Bowling Green weekend awards with the five-engine "Cross Threaded," claimed the W in the finale after finishing fourth on Friday. But it was the twice-second "Polar Air" of Joe Eder that departed with the point lead on the wall and the HWP gift card in the wallet. Wayne Purser's reconfigured "Uncle Sam" began its first full season with a third and a fifth, while the Shelton team's "Ruckus" and "Shel-Shocked" recovered from a sixth and a 10th in the opener to land in third and fourth in the closer. Next NTPA appearance: Rockwell; next Cup appearance: Chapel Hill.
Remaining events on the season-long Shell Rotella Cup Series tour include Hutchinson, Minnesota's Power Pull Nationals (June 28-29 for Super Stock Diesel, Super Stock Diesel 4x4, and Super Semi), Rockwell, Iowa's North Iowa Nationals (July 4-6 for Super Farm and Multi-Engine Modified), Chapel Hill, Tennessee's Lions Super Pull of the South (July 19-20 for Super Stock Diesel, Pro Stock, Four Wheel Drive, Modified Mini, and Unlimited), Ionia, Michigan's Free Fair Pullsation (July 19-20 for Super Farm, Two Wheel Drive, and Light Unlimited), and Bowling Green, Ohio's National Tractor Pulling Championships (August 15-17 for all divisions).
Watch this space for more Shell Rotella Cup-Dates after each event, visit the Standings page at www.NTPAPULL.com for up-to-the-minute Cup standings, and check out The Puller, the NTPA's official publication, for comprehensive Grand National event coverage throughout 2019.
(photos by Tracy Waters/Nitrozilla.com)
About National Tractor Pullers Association
The NTPA is the sport’s oldest and most respected truck and tractor pulling sanctioning organization. Governed by a board of directors, the NTPA is managed by World Pulling International (WPI), an independently owned entity. Headquartered in Worthington, Ohio, the NTPA provides rules and regulations and the infrastructures required for organizations throughout the country to arrange truck and tractor pulls. The 2018 NTPA Championship Pulling Circuit was sponsored in part by Case IH, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Alliance Tire, Enderle Fuel Injection, MAC Trailer, Ag Protect 1, Shell Rotella, STOP-FYRE®, Cen-Pe-Co Lubricants, Columbus Diesel Supply, Heritage Iron, Stainless Diesel, Midwest Wheel Inc., the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio, PowerBore Cylinder Sleeves, Profab Machine Inc., the Budweiser Dairyland Super Nationals in Tomah, Wisconsin, and Riverside Engine Inc.
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