Making History at the Championship Tractor Pull
Article taken from the 2008 Championship Tractor Pull Souvenir Program
Officially introduced to the world in 1969
during the fourth National Farm Machinery Show (NFMS), the Championship Tractor
Pull is now celebrating 40 years of making champions. The competition had been a
vision of its originator, Billy Joe Miles, and was so popular in its first year
that 15 drivers signed up to compete in the inaugural pull before it was officially
Today the pull remains a counterpart to the much larger NFMS, but the CTP has since
transformed into a premiere event of its own. For 40 years, Freedom’s Hall’s basketball
court has converted into a championship dirt track to showcase some of the nation’s
best drivers in fierce pulling competition. Each year, a short list of pullers etch
their names in history as they become part of an elite group of drivers earning
a national championship title. With more than 75,000 fans packing Freedom Hall to
experience five pulse-pounding performances in four days, the nation’s oldest indoor
tractor pull has a vivid history to share with its loyal supporters.
- In 1969, Miles (Owesnboro, KY) created the CTP’s tractor pulling organization—WBHM—a
name created from the original member’s initials. The other members were Jerry Baird
(Utica, KY), Carl Mercer (Utica, KY), Donnie Bittel (Owensboro, KY), Joe England
(Madisonville, KY) and Walter Harder II (Whiteville, KY). Those original members
are still active behind the scenes during the pull, but the organization has grown
to include additional members.
- Popular WAVE radio and TV personality, Jack Crowner, was the voice of the CTP from
1969-1986. Lloyd Douglas, a competitor in the first CTP, and Butch Krieger, the
current CTP announcer, later joined Crowner as announcers.
- Sixty-six tractors competed in three classes (5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 pound tractors)
in the first Championship Tractor Pull in 1969.
- In 1970, the pull expanded from one to two days and the classes were reorganized
to include: 5,000, 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 pound tractors. The two-night event
drew an attendance of more than 23,000.
- In just five years, the CTP prize money increased from $5,700 to more than $20,000
for the 1973 pull.
- The first truck class (6,000 lb. 4WD trucks) was added in 1977. This addition helped
the pull sell out for the first time in the CTP’s history, when more than 64,000
fans attended the four-day event.
- In 1978, the pull sold out for the second year in a row; however, this time it sold
out weeks before the competition. The prize money also increased to $64,150.
- Two new classes were added in 1979 (5,500 lb. tractors and 6,500 lb. modified 4WD
gas powered trucks). Multi-engine modifieds were later added, drawing competitors
who use anything and everything to boost power, including Allison Aircraft Engines.
- A Saturday matinee was added in 1980 to offer 4-H and FFA members a better opportunity
to attend a pull.
- In the early 1980’s, Jerry Baird developed a measurement system using laser beams
and a computer program to accurately record the distances pulled.
- In 1980, Dan Cristiani began building, repairing and removing the dirt track for
the CTP. He and his crew are still making and maintaining the championship dirt
- Also, in 1980, Butch Krieger began his work with the CTP as a roving interviewer.
He later became the announcer, a position he still holds today.
- Drivers pulled for a record $111,150 in total prize money in 1981, including as
much as $2,000 in the 14,000-pound Super Stock and 4WD Farm Tractor Classes.
- The first 2WD truck class rolled on the track during the Saturday evening pull in
- Numerous safety changes have taken place throughout the pull’s forty years. The
drivers’ attire now consists of fireproof suits and racing helmets. Freedom Hall
underwent a major renovation in 1984, providing much improved lighting and ventilation
– as well as new scoreboards and additional seating. The chain rope that separated
the first row of seats from the track was replaced with a concrete barrier. Kill
switches were initiated by WBHM at the CTP, and neutral lights, which indicate whether
or not the pulling vehicle is in gear, were also added.
- Other features – including scatter shields on flywheels, wheelie bars and a second
draw bar – are among the many safety precautions used by WBHM. Seat belts were introduced
in the late 1980’s for the sled operators, who were then sitting on the back of
the sled. Today’s operators have a much safer perch on the top of the sleds.
- Since 1993, the top drivers in each class have gone on to compete in the Finals
championship held on Saturday evening.
- The prize money awarded to the winners has also increased. The continued participation
of the CTP’s sponsor, Syngenta (and its predecessors), has allowed the prize money
to balloon from $5,700 in 1969 all the way to $209,700 for this year’s pull.
CTP competition has changed quite a bit since its 1969 introduction, but the raw
power and ground-pounding excitement of these amazing machines continues to bring
enthusiastic crowds to Freedom Hall, the longtime home of the CTP.