Where Have all the Cowboys Gone?

Where Have all the Cowboys Gone?

Vermont. Not the state you had in mind after you read the title of this article? Well, I guess that all just depends on what we would categorize as a cowboy. The gunfights have all settled down, and most  of the prairies are fenced in. The ways of the wrangler have been tamed, and beef comes from a packing plant now. But the spirit, the attitude, the independent, do-it-yourself mindset endures. Naturally, this gutsy approach is something that has always gone hand-in-hand with tractor pulling. Most specifically, the fearless ferocity to climb aboard a beast with almost unlimited horsepower: the modified tractor division is arguably the most “cowboy” class of all. And which man over the years exemplifies this attitude the best: none other than the man from Vermont himself, Mr. Gardner Stone. 

Gardner was a bit of a cowboy in his own way. He wore the hat. He talked the talked. He walked the walk. He coined the phrase, “Run what ya brung, and hope ya brung enough.” Inducted into the NTPA hall of fame in 2014, it is obvious that this gunslinger mentality wasn’t just made up of hollow words, but it was proven relentlessly on the track. But it wasn’t the cowboy hat, or his devil-may-care approach that made him a “cowboy” in my mind. It was the willingness to do things his own way. To try something ingenuitive and different. (Heck, the man ran a truck dealership where he sold Fords AND GMC’s for goodness sake). Here was a person who said, convention be darned, I will do it the way I feel is best in my bones, and I’ll live with that mentality. 

What I am mostly referring to here is the setups he used. This was a golden age of modified pulling where diversity wasn’t just a novelty, but a strategy that was wholly embraced. Gardner pulled “The General” over its career with a slew of different setups. This ranged from single Allisons, to multiple Allisons, to its final iteration with quad turbines. And it won! Regularly! This brought about a whole wild west style of building modifieds. Why not try any powerplant setup?! From the late seventies to the early 2000’s we saw such an incredible variety in the class. We saw anywhere from two to seven blown automotive motors which could be either wedge of hemispherical head in style. We saw Allisons that were carbureted, injected, blown, stacked. There were packards. There were diesels. There were turbines and Rolls-Royces. The variety made things wild. It was a cowboy class that seemed like it could never be tamed! How many monsters could you slap on one chassis? Like the westward sunset, your imagination was the limit. 

But, as what happened in the days of the wild west, so too seemed to happen to the modified class. Industry came. Technology. Advancements. And the class was tamed. Four supercharged hemis began winning. And winning. …and winning. If you weren’t running blown hemis, you were getting left behind. The west, it seemed was won. Even the great Wayne Longnecker traded in the V-12 for a pair of V-8’s. The variety was always one of the biggest draws to that class, and the modifieds seemed to have lost that aspect. No one was complaining outwardly. The class was still awesome and making more power than ever. But deep in our hearts, we, the fans, longed to see something wild. We wanted to see the cowboy setups. 

What we needed… was an Outlaw. And that is precisely where the cowboy wild west modified can be found today. The Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulling Association has created a class that generates as much buzz as anything in the pulling world west of the Mississippi River. They call it the Light Limited Modified. Checking in at just 6,000 pounds the rides are guaranteed to be as much like a rodeo as a tractor pull. Embracing and encouraging variety, they limit the class to one, single blown hemi, or two turbo charged automotive motors. The class is dominated by allisons, turbines, alcohol AND diesel agricultural motors. If you want to see the wild west of pulling; if you want to remember what a variety of setups look like; the answer can be found throughout the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, South Dakota, Kansas, and Missouri. They are outlaws pulling for the Outlaws! It is one of the most entertaining classes to be found in the entire world of pulling. And let’s be honest, as a fan, don’t you miss the sound of Allison aircraft engines taking off the starting line? The variety lives on, and like always, the cowboy mindset has endured. 

Green Flags and Tight Chains

Pullin’ is fun.

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