Alex loved the colorful machines — he just didn’t enjoy the loud noises.
“I like them all,” said Alex, a Modesto resident, before quickly re-covering his ears.
He wasn’t the only one trying to protect his hearing. Hundreds of people — many wearing ear plugs — cheered as powerful vehicles were forced to pull weighted sleds as far as they could down the dirt track during the Stanislaus County Fair’s Truck and Tractor Pull.
The West Side was well-represented during the competition. Crows Landing resident Albert Mendes III came away with a first-place finish (213.4 feet) in the 4x4 Local Street Diesel Class and also earned a second-place nod (277.8) in the 4x4 Local 8000 Super Stock Class.
Matt Crow, also of Crows Landing, took seventh place (166.3) in the Tractor 7200 Modified Class.
Linda Thompson of Modesto sat in the grandstand covering her ears as the trucks and tractors blasted past.
“It’s just fascinating to me,” she said as a pickup dubbed “Diggin’ It” did a wheelie on the track. “I love to watch them. It’s like the stock car races.”
A little heat, a lot of dust and loud engines — it’s the stuff a successful truck and tractor pull are made of.
“It’s tradition,” said Henry Stocher, a puller from Valley Springs. “This is a nice venue. A lot of the pullers like that, and they look forward to coming here.”
In pulling, drivers of tractors and trucks take turns to see which can pull a sled loaded with weights farthest.
The weight on the attached sled shifts forward as they go, increasing the resistance on the vehicle by simulating a pull of tens of thousands of pounds. A full pull was 300 feet.
“It’s just the power of the trucks, the power of the tractors, just their impressive pull,” said Felipe Sanchez of Hilmar as he and his two young sons cheered on the multicolored vehicles that rumbled with locomotive-like force through the dirt.
Some competitors stopped at 75 feet, and some reached nearly 300 feet. Either way, the lively crowd applauded each driver.
“It’s exciting, and when you have boys, you have to do boy things,” Sanchez said.
Nearly 100 tractors and trucks competed, as clouds of black smoke shot up in the air, and dirt trailed behind vehicles as drivers sped down the course.
“The competition is always stiff,” said Mike Davis of La Grange. “There are a lot of guys out here that have been pulling a long time, and they’ve got it mastered.”
Pulling is more than a game of engine-building and raw horsepower. A driver has to know how to read a track and make adjustments in torque, air pressure and other variables.
What the trucks and tractors lack in speed compared with drag races, they more than make up for in noise, smoke and flying dirt.
“More than anything, this is a friendly competition,” Davis said. “We’re pretty open about what we’ve got. We’ve got a super group of guys that are willing to help each other out.”
The pulling classes vary from stock four-wheel-drive trucks to modified multiengine tractors. Some classes cater to smaller vehicles and races, while the others showcase bigger vehicles, some of which may be outfitted with three engines.
For nearly three hours, a succession of tractors and pickups shot down the dirt course. Many vehicles slewed ominously to one side before straightening themselves and gaining grip; some became stuck barely halfway down the path; and a few burned out their engines and had to be towed back to the pit.
“The drive of trying to one-up each other and trying to outdo your buddies keeps us coming back,” Stocher said. “This is a real family-oriented event, and we just like to come out and have a good time.”