Out on the farm, a 200 horsepower engine is generally enough to get a tractor to do the jobs it needs to do.

When it comes to tugging a sled at a tractor pull, that same engine won’t cut it.

The light super stock tractors, such as the one that Franklin’s David Esteb will use when he competes at the Johnson County fair later this month, may not look all that different than their agricultural counterparts, but the horsepower gets bumped up to 3,000 or higher.

In the unlimited modified classes, the tractors often are packing more than 10,000 horsepower in their engines.

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“There’s a lot of machine work in the (engine) block,” Esteb says of the tractor he uses in competition. “We change pistons, rods — everything inside the block. The internals are all different.”

All of that additional horsepower helps to make the tractor pull one of the most popular attractions at county fairs across America, especially in the Corn Belt.

The Johnson County fair will feature three nights of pulling this year.

On Tuesday, July 18, the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League will conduct competitions in four different pulling classes, and the Battle of the Bluegrass will host five the following evening. On Thursday, July 20, the Johnson County Antique Machinery Association will put on its antique tractor pull.

All three figure to draw a good deal of attention — but why? What is it about pulling that makes it so enticing, not just for spectators but for the participants?

“The sound and the horsepower,” Esteb said. “The smoke, the fumes. It’s about like drag racing or anything. It’s what you like and what you do.”

Esteb started pulling tractors in the 1970s, following in his father’s footsteps, but he had long desired to move up into the super stocks. He had to put those plans on hold for a bit while his children grew up, but by 2004 he and his wife, Janet, were sitting in an empty nest and decided it was time.

Since then, the Estebs have spent most of their summer weekends traveling around to compete, primarily on the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League Champions Tour. They sleep in the living quarters that David, a retired carpenter, built into the front part of their semi trailer.

The couple spends approximately eight to 10 hours a week working on their tractor in addition to all of the time spent farming. And this isn’t just David’s hobby.

“(Janet) really got into it,” he said. “She really enjoys it. She turns wrenches as much as I do.”

The payoff for all of those hours of labor usually gets packed into about 12 or 13 seconds. The Estebs’ tractor can top out at around 34 or 35 mph while pulling, and its wheels can spin around at speeds of about 90 mph.

That sort of power is what draws people to the sport — but Esteb says that the people themselves are a big part of what keeps him and his wife involved.

He recalls one weekend when their truck broke down in Kentucky and he was able to make a couple calls to friends on the circuit. One worked on the truck, and another loaned the Estebs a car to get home. The couple picked up their truck the following weekend and continued on to another pull in Alabama.

“About anywhere in the country, if you have problems, we can call and get a hold of somebody,” Esteb said. “It’s just a good bunch of people.”

When it comes time to compete, however, those friendships can be momentarily placed on hold.

Like any motorsport, pulling isn’t always cheap. Unlike in auto racing, there isn’t an abundance of shops offering parts on the cheap. Many of the parts used in pulling have to be custom built.

The Estebs do most of the work on their tractor themselves, but they still have to shell out for items on occasion. If they were to pay someone else to do it all, David says, “you could spend anywhere from $100,000 to whatever you want real quick.”

With that much invested in the product, it makes sense that pullers would like to avoid major incidents. David Esteb keeps a picture in his trailer that shows the front of his tractor engulfed in flames during a pull.

That photo, he said, helps remind him to do what he can to avoid such events in the future — even though he’s aware that the crowd enjoys seeing such misfortune.

“Fans love when they blow up,” Esteb said.

When that many horses are running, you never know what might happen.

If you go

There will be three nights of truck and tractor pulling at the Johnson County Fair this month. A look at the lineup:

Tuesday, July 18

Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League Truck and Tractor Pull

Time: 7 p.m.

Classes: Super Farm Tractors, 95 Limited Pro Stock Tractors, Light Super Stock, Limited Pro Stock Diesel Trucks

Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under

Wednesday, July 19

Battle of the Bluegrass Truck & Tractor Pull

Time: 7 p.m.

Classes: Hot Farm Tractors, Light Super Stock, Work Stock Diesel Trucks (2.5), Pro Street Diesel, Super Stock 4WD Trucks

Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under

Thursday, July 20

Johnson County Antique Machinery Association Tractor Pull

Time: 7 p.m.

Classes: Six different percentage classes ranging from 0-3600 to 7501-9000; three distance classes (4500, 5500 and 6500)

Admission: $5 for adults, kids 12 and under free

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.