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Tractor pulling is a competitive motorsport in which modified farm tractors drag a metal sled down a prescribed course. This sled contains a heavy payload of metal plates which are mechanically winched forward as the sled progresses along the course. Tractors pulling this ever-increasing load eventually lose forward momentum and torque, although a rare few may indeed reach the end of the course. The distance from start to finish is measured in hundredths of an inch and the tractor which pulled the sled the farthest distance is declared the winner. In the event that more than one tractor crosses the end of the course, a run-off is held with heavier weights or a greater distance.
Competition-level tractors may look like standard issue farm equipment, but the similarities stop at the basic body and tires. Tractor pulling is a sport based on horsepower and torque, which means the engine must be modified in order to generate maximum power. Tractors competing in most regional pulls generate 2,000 to 3,000 horsepower, but the elite class may feature tractors capable of 10,000 horsepower or more. Some tractor pull enthusiasts have also been known to modify semi-trucks for high end competitions.
Engines in competition tractors are often modified with parts intended for drag racing and other motorsports. Designers must be careful to balance power with safety, since these engines are intended to run until complete failure. Drivers must follow strict rules in organized tractor pulls, including the use of a rollbar and engine kill switches. If a driver should fall off the tractor, the engine and fuel delivery system must shut down immediately.
During a tractor pull, the driver must keep his or her tractor within marked boundaries. Touching either boundary line results in disqualification. This is a very important safety feature, since spectators may be seated in temporary bleachers near the course. Tractor pulling is often used as a local fundraiser, so protecting the crowd is a vital concern for organizers. There are national and international tractor pulling associations which set guidelines for competitions and oversee the local and regional chapters.
Some spectators find tractor pulling to be a little challenging to watch. Numerous classifications of tractors must race throughout the day and the winning efforts are not always apparent to those in the stands. Competition tractor engines can be extremely loud, so hearing protection is highly recommended for every spectator, especially young children. Occasionally an engine under extreme pressure will explode, sending dangerous shrapnel in all directions. No one except trained professionals should stand near tractors in operation.
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