Swirling storms and overcast skies midweek gave way to sunshine and brief periods of 100 plus-degree temperatures in Benson, North Carolina on Friday. On Saturday, the start of the GALOT Motorsports Park Mule City 300 was interrupted after just one competitive pass and delayed by nearly two hours. But the June 1-2 event nonetheless opened the 2018 Grand National season for the National Tractor Pullers Association and the Shell Rotella Cup Series presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts.
In truck and tractor 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 that achieves the greatest distance is victorious. The NTPA is the world's number-one sanctioning organization for premier-level events that feature highly specialized machines resembling farm tractors, trucks, and dragsters and dedicated competitors that battle for purse money and end-of-season championships. No other motorsport offers the diversity of vehicle types, variety of engine combinations, intensity of brand rivalries, and accessibility of competitors. If you're looking for fierce, fair competition in a family-friendly, patriotic atmosphere, give truck and tractor pulling a try in 2018.
Now designated an anchor event in the 10-location series, the Mule City 300 welcomed eight divisions for two nights of smoke, noise, and thunderous power. Each division has two or three more stops on this year's Shell Rotella Cup tour, which has expanded to reward all 13 of the NTPA's Grand National divisions. In addition to precious Cup points, at stake each weekend are Hardest-Working Puller total distance awards and the accompanying $100 O'Reilly Auto Parts gift cards.
All five of the Shell Rotella Cup's traditional divisions were present. In Super Stock Diesel Tractors, class titans Stan Blagrave of Ackerly, Texas (Red Horse, 2015 Cup) and Travis Schlabach of Marengo, Iowa (Bone Twister, 2016 Cup) departed Benson tied for the GN and Cup point lead. Blagrave, the 2002 and 2013 champ alongside his brother Steve, bested Schlabach by 11' in Session One, while Schlabach was the first to figure out a reconditioned Session Two track and returned for a pull-off when Blagrave, who was ultimately the division's Hardest-Working Puller, could not. (Next NTPA event: Hutchinson, Minnesota; next Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
In Two-Wheel-Drive Trucks, good news for 2016 Cup claimant Bryan McDonald of Kennedyville, Maryland (Suffering Sanity) turned to bad news for the rest of the division when reigning champion Jessie Petro of Camden, Ohio (Buckeye Hauler, 2015 Cup) tore through the Mule City clay to claim the Saturday session and the HWP. Petro's path to a title in each of the past six seasons has involved a sluggish start and a furious finish. Off to his best beginning in years, he and Craig Corzine of Assumption, Illinois (Burn Notice, 2017 Cup) trail McDonald by only three points. (Next NTPA/Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
In Four-Wheel-Drive Trucks, Tyler Cobb of Bartow, Georgia (Bandit) celebrated his first Grand National victory as close to home as the Association's schedule allows. His pass on the final hook of the class of 21 and of Session One preceded a sixth place in Session Two, when it was 13-time GN champion Paul Holman of Wauseon, Ohio (4 Play, 2016 Cup) who edged Larry Peterson of Baldwin, Wisconsin (Profab Geared Up) by less than 6". Steady over both nights was "The Rock," piloted by Ted Skelton of Harvard, Illinois, which caught Cobb in the points and passed him for the HWP. (Next NTPA event: Hutchinson, Minnesota; next Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
In Modified Minis, Adam Bauer of Paton, Iowa needed two chances on Friday to get his "Cowboy Up" spurred into action to ride past Netherlander Wim Dingerink's "Lambada," which had led for 10 hooks. But Saturday, "Up" went sideways, and Dingerink danced on to the win, the HWP, and the Shell Rotella Cup lead. Bauer's "Iron Toy" (2009, 2011, 2013 champion) took a pair of thirds to sit three points behind "Lambada"; Phillip Fairbanks of Fitchburg, Massachusetts (Bobcat Jr., -6), among the six drivers who teamed for the 2017 championship, got a seventh and a second. (Next NTPA event: Hutchinson, Minnesota; next Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
And in Unlimited Modifieds, Bauer's five-engine "Cross Threaded" had an eerily similar weekend to its smaller stablemate, as a victorious 363' Session One pass presaged mechanical failure in Session Two. Three-time defending champion Chuck Knapp of Charles City, Iowa (Screamin' D, 2016-2017 Cup) withstood Bauer's onslaught and grabbed a win himself on Saturday to claim the HWP and the point lead by two over Bret Berg's "Money Maker" of Farmington, Minnesota. (Next NTPA event: Hutchinson, Minnesota; next Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
Three other divisions experienced their first Shell Rotella Cup competition. In Super Stock Open Tractors, opening-night nerves plagued the four-tractor field, even in front of a hometown crowd. Defending titlist (and GMP track manager) John Strickland of Clinton, North Carolina (GALOT II, HWP) squeaked by his teammate Brent Payne of Hamilton, Ohio (Get a Load of That, -2) with only 2.5' to spare in Session One. Strickland's and Payne's AGCOs combined to improve by 60' in Session Two---and finished in the same order. (Next NTPA/Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
In Super Farm Tractors, we can forgive Stan Warda of Berrien Springs, Michigan if he is in serious "Hey, I got this" mode. All he and his "Hammerin' Hank" did was win their first two appearances while Grand Nationally licensed after achieving consecutive Region II titles. Positioned six points behind are Chris Weidinger of Attica, Ohio (Black Power) and Brook Ferris of Addison, Michigan (Assorted Nuts). (Next NTPA/Cup event: Rockwell, Iowa)
And in Super Stock Diesel 4x4 Trucks, it was weekend sweep number three as Justin Gearhart of Circleville, Ohio (Cream of the Crop, HWP) won his second and third straight regular-season hooks dating to 2017. Don Bowling of Fostoria, Ohio drove his "Pulling for the Cure" (-2) to two runner-up finishes, while stalwarts Shane Kellogg of Kenton, Ohio (Trump) and Carl Atley of Xenia, Ohio (Lethal Weapon) traded thirds and fourths. (Next NTPA/Cup event: Tomah, Wisconsin)
Five more divisions have yet to make their Shell Rotella Cup Series debuts. Super Semi Trucks will do so at the Power Pull Nationals in Hutchinson, Minnesota on June 15-16, while Light Super Stock and Pro Stock Tractors and Twin-Engine Light Unlimited and Multi-Engine Modifieds will go for those O'Reilly gift cards at the Budweiser Dairyland Super Nationals in Tomah, Wisconsin on June 21-23.
And everyone has August 16-18 circled on their calendars, as the $54,000 Shell Rotella Cup purse will be distributed in the winners circle at the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio. Until then, watch this space for Shell Rotella Cup updates as each event in the series, presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts, wraps.
(photos by Tracy Waters)
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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