For most, like Harness, pulling is a labor of love or maybe of the ego, but there are now perhaps half a dozen admittedly professional driver-owners. The best known and perhaps most successful of the pros is Art Arfons, the former dragster guru of Akron, who pioneered the use of jet engines in racing cars and set a world land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Arfons has closed his speed shop in Akron and for the past two seasons has concentrated on competitive pulling, hitting nearly all the national circuit events plus some state, county and exhibition pulls as well.
"Why am I doing it?" asks Arfons, a sleepy-eyed, impressively candid man. "I guess I'm doing it for the money."
"Like what kind of money?"
"Well, this season I'm doing about $1,500 a week, which is a lot better than the speed shop was doing."
Though he has not yet won a national championship, Arfons has consistently ranked in the top three in the 7,000- and 9,000-pound modified and 12,000-pound unlimited classes and probably enters more events than any other puller. His tractor, the Green Monster, is certainly the biggest crowd pleaser on the circuit and is routinely featured in pulling advertisements and promotions. The Monster looks more or less like a fat stovepipe attached to a boiler and a set of forestry tires. It is driven by a Lycoming helicopter-jet turbine engine. Whistling and flaming down tracks. Arfons' creation generates up to 2,000 horsepower and something like 20,000 rpms.
"I didn't know a thing about pulling until three years ago when a friend took me to see one of them at a fair," he says. "I got fascinated. I decided to get in and see what I could do with a jet. It's worked out pretty well. The turbine tractor is fairly inexpensive to build, doesn't give you many maintenance problems. It has the horses and it pulls smoothly. The main thing holding me back is I don't know how to drive it yet. That's why I do pretty well in the unlimiteds. You don't need many brains for that class. When I learn how to pull I may be pretty tough."
"If you don't have the horses," says Harness, "it doesn't make any difference how you drive. But given equal equipment, one fellow may do a little better than another. Maybe it would be about 60% tractor, 30% driver and 10% luck—what starting position you draw, what the weather does." (After each tractor pull, the track is scraped and dragged before the next one hitches up, this being a principal reason why pulls tend to be long-drawn-out affairs. However, as the competition progresses, the track surface changes and becomes harder or softer, depending on what the wind, sun and rain are doing.)
At Bowling Green, where there are around 40 competitors in the 5,000 modified class. Harness draws a position halfway down the list. An hour before the class begins he is on the track, walking it slowly, kicking it, patting and testing the surface. "With this sun," he says, "after 20 tractors run over it, this is going to be your real power track. I guess the most important thing is getting the weights balanced right for the kind of track you are going to run on."
Stripped down, the Loud Mouth Lime weighs a bit over 4,800 pounds. To reach this weight, Harness shaved 60 pounds of rubber off the mammoth rear tires, and while doing so adjusted the deck line and angle of the treads to provide what he considers optimum traction. The purpose of this weight reduction is to bring him far enough under the 5,000-pound limit (not including the driver) so that he will have 200 pounds or so that he can add by means of movable weights and thus change the balance and performance of the Lime.
"On a soft track you are thinking about rear weight, so you can bite in," explains Harness, "but on a power track like this you've got a different problem. Because of the power, your front end is going to keep coming up, so you want to weight her to keep her down enough to steer. You want to be balanced so you pull with the front wheels just touching the track, where you are almost, but never quite, cutting a wheelie. A mistake some guys make is that they give a big jerk when they first catch hold of the weight transfer machine. A hundred feet down the track, they are bouncing around like they are on a bronco. They have to come off the power to get her down so they can steer, and when they do they lose headway and spin out. I learned early you want to start as easy as you can, pick yourself a straight shot down the track and keep pushing down on the juice. Never back off until that weight machine grabs you. Then you might dig in and rear up to get a couple of more inches."