With a deafening blast, the engine roars to full power. Smoke belches from the exhaust pipes and rear tires spit out dirt as they try to gain traction.
To the men and women involved the sport of tractor pulling, the high-horsepower spectacle never fails to bring a thrill. But anyone watching for the first time might find it hard to believe that the noise and action comes from farm machinery.
"It definitely opens your eyes and ears," said Richard Klimas, founder of the Brooksville Pulling Association, which will host a statewide, multi-class pull Saturday at the Hernando County Fairgrounds.
Klimas, a builder of competitive garden tractors who has been involved with tractor pulling for nearly 10 years, said the sport has come into its own over the past decade. Florida in particular has emerged as a hotbed of competitive pulling.
"A lot of it has to do with the amount of agriculture we have in the state," Klimas said. "The people involved are mostly guys who work on tractors and trucks all day long during the week. So at night, they're busy building high-performance versions so that they can compete with them on weekends."
Klimas said that while many people have driven a tractor at some point in life, there is something noticeably different about negotiating a 150-foot dirt track pulling a sled that becomes heavier the farther it is pulled.
"It feels different," Klimas said. "The tires are grabbing and a digging in and you can feel the front end pulling up. When I first tried it I was hooked. You wouldn't believe a tractor could do that to you, but it does."
Florida's foray into competitive tractor pulls dates back the early 1970s when Frank Paulhamus and his brother Gene formed the Florida Tractor Pullers Association and began organizing local tractor meets near their farm in Eustis. Within a few years the annual Sunshine State Tractor Pull became one the Southeast's premier two-day pulling events, drawing thousands of spectators and hundreds of competitors. The event is now held annually in Zellwood, in Orange County.
Klimas said that his hope is to establish Brooksville as tractor and truck pulling mecca. Saturday's event has lured some of the state's more notable pullers who will compete in classes like modified 4x4 diesel trucks, modified 4x4 and gas trucks, stock and super modified tractors. Among the competitors will be Chris Beiter, owner of "Reapers Agent," who has racked up a number of impressive wins throughout Florida, and Michael Falconer, whose "Myakka Hooker" Dodge 4x4 truck is a dominant player in the modified diesel class.
This weekend's pull will also feature a pre-event "tractor rodeo," where operators of various classes of farm equipment will compete against one another by navigating an obstacle course. The rodeo will start at noon and is free to the public.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.