MAZON – Sam Halterman is following in the footsteps of his father, Kevin, on the tractor pull circuit, powering his mini rod pulling tractor all over southern Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.
“I love everything about it,” Halterman said. “Once you are out of high school, there isn’t a lot of things that the family can come watch, but my family comes out to see me pull.”
Halterman is in his fifth year of driving the souped-up mini rod he had custom painted pink to support breast cancer awareness.
“My grandma, Marie Wilkinson, had breast cancer,” he said. “We went through it with her twice and I wanted to do something for her. Since then, my girlfriend’s mom was treated for breast cancer, and she’s doing OK now, but it’s still important.”
He built his “Pulling for the Cure” tractor with a purchased chassis and the help of friends, as well as an engine by his dad’s friend Bill Sontag. He said he knows his grandmother would be proud of the bright pink tractor.
It’s a 379 engine blown on alcohol, as loud as it is strong, pulling about 15,000 pounds down a dirt track.
Halterman placed second this week at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, where he pulled 349.23 feet of a 350-foot pull, with the Illinois Tractor Pulling Association. His second-place finish was only about 10 inches short of first place, which was won by Jay Butson, who had a full pull.
His mother, Tammy, said the first time he pulled all she could think was, “I don’t care, as long as he drives stick straight.”
Stick straight is the name of the game when it comes to tractor pulling. Keeping the tractor in a straight line heading down the track is the biggest challenge a driver faces while steering mostly with the brake pedals.
She said that first pull when he was 17 years old taught him a lot. He chose to not accept the first pull, although in hindsight, he should have. Instead, he went for a second pull. The tractor blew an oil line and sent oil and smoke billowing from the engine.
“He didn’t panic, even with the oil and smoke going everywhere,” Tammy Halterman said. “He drove it stick straight.”
She said the announcer gave him a lot of credit and said how nice it was that Sam was spending his time at 17 years old on the track instead of on the streets.
If you ask Halterman why he suits up in a fireproof suit, straps himself into the bright pink tractor with a roaring motor more than 20 times a pulling season, he will tell you, “It’s for the adrenaline rush.”
He said there aren’t words to explain the rush as he gets when the engine starts and he goes all out to haul his load down the track. He participates in both the Illinois Tractor Pulling Association and the Illinois Pullers Association, to compete more.
Kevin Halterman, his dad, was doing the same thing in the 1970s.
“I did it in the ’70s, and then I seen the light and quit,” he said.
He didn’t really quit, not entirely. He’s just behind the scenes now, as he and his wife, Tammy, help haul the mini rod to the next pull, which is sometimes three or four times a week.