By DOUG GRAVES
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – At last count from the latest U.S. Census, the population of Bowling Green, Ohio, is 30,800. Next week, when the 56th annual National Tractor Pulling Contest comes to town, the population will double that for three consecutive days.
The upcoming National Tractor Pulling Contest (NTPC) will be held in this northwest Ohio city on Aug. 17-19, and more than 65,000 fans from 35 states are expected to converge at the Wood County Fairgrounds. Fans will watch contestants compete for more than $200,000 in purse money and contingency prizes. This event is operated and promoted by the Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers Association (NWOTPA).
“Our event is held each third weekend in August,” said Dave Schultz, the group’s president. “That’s when we turn Bowling Green into ‘Pulltown USA’. That’s the nickname the public has given us. When we first started 55 years ago the contestants were all farmers. Nowadays, the pull involves people from all walks of like, like machinists, mechanics and welders, as well as farmers.”
The NWOTPA was chartered as the Wood County Tractor Pullers in the spring of 1962. There were just 20 members at that time, all residents of Wood County.
That first-ever event was a ‘speed pull’, that included a long flat bottom sled, designed for men to step on as it went by. The tractor that pulled the farthest was declared the winner. There were issues with this method of pulling, however, as men oftentimes left the track during the event and the tractors oftentimes went too fast for men to step on.
In 1964, the club changed its name to the Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers as men from other counties joined. Three years later marked the first year for the National Tractor Pull in Bowling Green. That year three divisions were offered: 5,000-, 9,500- and 14,000-pound mixed and included stock and modified tractors. And by 1969, the 18,000-pound free for all divisions was added. In 1970, the classes were further broken down into stock and modified divisions in respective weight classes. By 1975, the first 12,000-pound open class was added.
In 1978 visitors witnessed the debut of the monsters of the midway, the unlimited modifies. By 1980 the event introduced the pro-stock class and in 1984 the two-wheel drive class was born.
Presently, the NTPC has aligned itself with the National Tractor Pullers Association, TNT Motorsports and the United States Hot Rod Association as different sanctioning bodies. To this day, the NWOTPA boasts a membership limited to 225 led by nine directors.
“We only have members from Ohio, but in the past we’ve had members from Indiana and Michigan,” Schultz said. “Our members actually go to help other organizations put on their pulls. Our group just loves the pulling events.”
While this club is an all-Ohio unit, competitors of the National Tractor Pulling Championships come from across the country. For example, two-time winner Phil Kelley hails from western Pennsylvania. Kelley likens this pulling event to basketball’s March Madness, saying there’s “an aura about it.”
“When you go to Bowling Green, you see all of that hype and excitement literally in a matter of three days,” Kelley said. “The excitement, the thrills….it’s amazing.”
Pullers will compete in different classes based on the type of tractor, type of fuel, amount of weight and other variables. Regardless of competing class, each driver has his or her own strategy.
“When I compete I’m trying to out-setup somebody else, somebody who might have a higher quality tractor than me or more updated equipment than me, and try to beat them,” Kelley said. “With setup it’s things like tire pressures and balance and fuels and things like that, I really like that part of it. And that’s probably the side that people from the stands don’t see as much.”
For many tractor pullers, experience came from their lives on a farm. For others, they learned the technical side of tractors through other motorsports.
“Learning from guys who have done this before me, the camaraderie that we have as a group and challenging each other to be better – those are the coolest parts,” Kelley said.
This three-day extravaganza includes a National Kiddie Tractor Pull contest, a Farm Toy Show and Tractor Museum on the fairgrounds premise as well. Certain to grab the eyes of attendees will be the radio-controlled scale pullers. There is also a main campground with more than 2,100 campsites. Also included will be food, games and local vendors.
“It’s like a gigantic family reunion,” Schultz said.
Wood County Fairgrounds is located at 13800 W. Poe Road in Bowling Green. Admission is $23 for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening sessions. The cost is $46 for all day Friday and $46 for all day Saturday. The admission for all five sessions is $115.