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Local puller hopes to make it big on small screen

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By Glen Jennings

Tractor pulling has always been a niche sport, but thanks to a new reality series currently in production, it will soon gain a much wider platform.  “Hooked on Dirt,” filmed partially in La Grange, will air on NBC in October.  

The goal of a tractor pull is to drag a weighted sled as far along a dirt track as possible.  To accomplish this, local puller Kenny Powell, who will be featured on the show, said competitors need something with more power than the average farm tractor.  

“The tractors that we run now, they’re built strictly just for pulling,” Powell said.  “They’re nothing that you can just start up and drive around.”  

Tractors used for pulling are customized machines with heavily modified bodies and powerful engines.  

“It’s unreal what you see these tractors do,” Powell said.  “We’ll take an 80, maybe 90-horsepower tractor and rebuild it and get 1,500 horsepower out of them.”

In comparison, the Hennessey Venom GT, currently the record holder for fastest production car in the world, produces 1,244 horsepower.  

Tom McConnell, CEO of the Battle of the Bluegrass pulling series and producer and director of “Hooked on Dirt,” said that for most people, tractor pulling is a matter of passion.  

“They don’t do this for a living.  They do this because they want to,” McConnell said.  “It’s their sport and their hobby of choice, but it goes beyond a hobby.  They’re not building model airplanes, they’re building 1,500-horsepower monsters here.”  

McConnell said pullers also have a good relationship with their fans and competitors, a sentiment Powell echoed.

“All the little kids, they want to come up and meet you and have their pictures taken on the tractors,” Powell said.  “All of us do that.  We let all the kids come in and we’ll sit them up there and have their pictures taken.” 

Powell also said that pulling runs in the family.

“The Powell family…We’ve been doing it for over 40 years,” he said.  “There’s a lot of us still involved in it.”

According to Powell, pulls have grown over the years and have begun to pick up larger audiences, but many of his friends prefer to frequent smaller community events.  

“We’re to the point where we can almost pick where we want to go, but we still hang in with all the little fairs,” he said of his family.  “Those people there are the ones who really got us where we are.”

McConnell said he believes tractor pulls interest people due to the sheer excitement they generate.  

“The first thing that draws people is the spectacle,” he said.  “The noise, the smoke, the sound and the look of a cool-looking vehicle.”

He also thought that a hint of familiarity helped generate interest.  

“We feature vehicles that look like vehicles,” McConnell said.  “NASCAR uses stock car bodies.  Indy cars don’t.  Well, what’s more popular?  NASCAR is more popular because people relate to that automobile.  In our sport, people look at the truck and they relate to it.  They look at the tractor, they relate to it…When we were kids, we played with Hot Wheels with big tires and big motors.  This is kind of like the Hot Wheels come to life.”

McConnell said he thinks people will be interested in seeing why competitors get so passionate about pulling.

 “I guess the purpose behind it is to explain why people spend so much time, money, energy and quite frankly dedicate their lives to the sport of truck and tractor pulling,” he said.  “You explore that by the interactions that these individuals have in their daily lives and how everything culminates towards the pull.”

McConnell believes that the community of tractor pulling is perfect for television not just because of the spectacle of the sport itself, but also because of the people who compete in it.  

“You’ve got calm personalities, where people are just really focused on what they’re doing,” he said.  “You [also] have the opposite personalities, the people who are just obsessed with it.  They want to win any way they absolutely can, and they’re not afraid to spend all the money and time and maybe cross the line a time or two to claim those bragging rights…There’s just a lot of passion…The passion comes out not just in the pulling, but in the way they talk and the way they live their lives.”

McConnell said he feels the series will showcase the culture behind tractor pulls and the people who compete in them in a way most have not understood before.

“What you’re going to see on the show is that great, common, Southern camaraderie and the dialogue that you get amongst the people with the different scenarios,” he said.  “The best way to describe it is when you see it, you’re going to go, ‘Okay, this is something different.’”

 

“Hooked on Dirt” will air in October on an NBC station.