This isn’t your quaint John Deere riding lawn mower. Poly Thunder looks more like a dragster going down the track with its front-end 3 feet off the ground.
Cal Poly agriculture students drove the modified tractor to victory past dairy farmers and their own advisers in the West Coast Nationals held at the World Ag Expo in Tulare last week.
Poly Thunder has dominated tractor pulls around the state this year, taking first place in every event entered. Agricultural systems management senior Lindsey Tulloch, said driving the dual 1,300 horsepower tractor is surreal.
“It’s the biggest adrenalin rush; at the end I’m shaking,” Tulloch said.
Her teammates and fellow drivers, Alex Holland and Nick Darr, bioresource and agricultural engineering seniors, said they call her Crazy-Legs because of her shaking when she climbs out at the end of a race. Darr said the 30-second tow seems to last forever. The tractors have to pull weighted sleds 300-feet down the track to attain a ‘full pull’ and place in competitions.
Darr said no one else in the Poly Thunder class was able to get a full pull at the West Coast competition, including club adviser Mark Zohns. The tractor was donated to the school by Wada Farms in Idaho in 2002 and requires regular upkeep and a lot of money, Holland said.
The student club works to raise funds to keep the tractor racing and hosts events at Poly Royal and Open House. Holland said they depend completely on sponsors to maintain the tractors. Tulloch said some of that money comes from their family members, some of whom were previously on the pull team at Cal Poly.
“They support our bad tractor habit,” Tulloch said of the donors.
Darr is also the president of the club and said it has a dedicated group of students working on the tractors this year. Drivers are chosen by the effort put in, including working sponsors. Holland said they tease Darr about the tractor being his other girlfriend, because of how much time he dedicates to the project.
Holland said students have the choice to be a part of either the team or the club, but most are part of both. The club acts as a booster to the team raising funds, holding events and doing much of the legwork involved in the projects. Poly Thunder isn’t their only tractor placing in events around California.
Mustang Fever won fourth place at the WCN race and was built by students from the ground up in 1999. Tulloch said four students built the race tractor in a quarter. Students can see the tractors race in upcoming events on campus.
The club will hold an event with statewide competitors at this year’s open house April 17 at 1 p.m. across from the crops unit. Holland also said all students are welcome to be a part of the club, which meets every Tuesday in the Agricultural Engineering Building, room 122 at 7 p.m.
Holland, Darr and Tulloch all said that being part of the team and club has made for great learning and amazing friendships.
“You get scary close with people when you spend this much time working together,” Holland said.