LISBON-The refurbished gradstands at the Columbiana County Fair were filled to the brim on a perfect summer evening as fans took in the National Tractor Pullers Association "Smoker Series" Truck and Tractor pull.
"This is all you could ask for," Mike Conny of Beloit, who ran his John Deere 8410 in the Pro Stock/Super Stock series. "It's a great night, there's some great tractors here, it's a big crowd and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves."
The night offered a glimpse at opposite ends of the truck and tractor pulling spectrum.
On one end there was Conny who has been a professional for two years and competes regularly on the National Tractor Pulling Association with his daughter Julia. Conny has enjoyed great success on the national circuit with a pair of third place finishes and one second. He lost in a pull-off to local standout Carlton Cope of Salem last year at the national championships in Bowling Green, Ohio.
"Our tractor has run really well," Conny said. "We're working to keep getting better. We are building for Bowling Green later this month, hopefully we can get first this time."
Conny owns MAC Trailer which helps finance his tractor pulling. He recently donated $50,000 for the new retaining wall at the bottom of the grandstand.
"It's nice to come back around this area and race locally, The track looks great," Conny said. "I really believe that we have some of the best tractor pullers within a 50 mile radius here. It's a great area for tractor pulling."
When it came time for Conny's run in the Pro Stock/Super Stock series he had trouble getting off the starting line, only going about 50 feet initially as the packed crowd let out an audible groan.
"I could not build up enough boost to get off the starting line," Conny said. "It's a delicate balance, and I didn't have enough."
As per the rules, Conny was allowed to back up and give it another try. This time he roared off the line and finished with a pull of 317 feet, good for second place.
"Considering how everything started, I'm very satisfied with second place," Conny said. "It could have turned out a lot worse."
Also fielding a top-notch vehicle was Jeff Mitchell of Salem who took second place in the Super Street Gasoline 4x4 truck series division with a pull of 324 feet. Mitchell is currently the Eastern Seaboard points leader on the Super Street Gasoline circuit. He was beaten out by Mark Petros of Greensburg, Pennsylvania - one of his main rivals on the circuit.
"I race all over Ohio and Pennsylvania, but this is probably my favorite event of the year," Mitchell said. "It's great to put on a good show in front of the local fans. mark and I have gone back and forth all year."
Mitchell-who owns J.M. Pool and has competed on the circuit for eight years-raced his '77 Ford nicknamed "Tragic Magic."
"I bought it in Wisconsin eight years ago," Mitchell said. "I found it in a classic car magazine. My sons pushed me to buy it so I did. The name 'Tragic Magic' was already on the truck and my sons really wanted me to keep it."
At the opposite end of the spectrum was 15-year-old Jesse Madison of Salineville who is just getting his start in truck pulling.
Madison-who just recently received his drivers permit-entered his '84 Chevy Scottsdale in the Super Street Gasoline division. However, a transmission problem limited his run to 80 feet.
"This was only was second race ever," Madison said as he popped his hood. "It's disappointing to burn out that quickly. I was ready for a good run, my adrenaline was really going."
Madison knows he is at the ground floor of the sport and lacks the money for improvements that his competitors have.
"We were able to get together enough money to buy the truck a couple of years ago, and I put about $4,000 into the motor," Madison said. "My uncle helped me out and I'm laying cement for him right now to help make it up."
Madison's truck was named "Broke A$$ Pullers," which said it all.
"I'm just getting started," Madison said. "It's a fun thing for me right now. As I graduate and hopefully get some more money together, I want to race on the points circuit like these other guys."