SHIPSHEWANA, Ind. — Lynn Grove’s Mike Dixon has only been involved in the sport of tractor pulling for three years, having started at the age of 60.
However, he is showing that he is a quick study when it comes to competition. Last weekend, Dixon and his 1976 International tractor he calls Wheelin’ and Dealin’ took first place in the Midwest Winter Nationals at the Michiana Event Center in Shipshewana, Indiana in the 10,000-pound pro farm division.
“I’ve always been one of those people to try new things, pretty much all of my life, so I got into this,” Dixon said of how he and his red machine came to enter the world of competitive tractor pulling.
“I’ve always been around tractors. I remember being on a farm with my dad. So I decided to give this a try.”
However, those days on the farm involved leisurely cruising fields, while making sure to carefully follow specific lines so as not to damage fledgling crops. This activity is altogether different as tractors are equipped with big engines that allow for speeds of up to 30 mph or higher and that creates enough horsepower to pull a large object, known as a “sled,” but resembling a semi trailer, hundreds of feet on a dirt track.
Adding to the challenge is the sled is loaded with thousands of pounds of weights that shift from the rear of the trailer to the front, which eventually slows the tractor and makes it harder to continue going forward. Sometimes, this process has been known to destroy the wheel axel, due to the amount of force being placed on the machine, especially at the end of a run as driver tries to gain every possible inch.
But in Shipshewana, Dixon was up to the challenge as he and his International pulled the sled more than 300 feet to win by three feet in the finals.
“They don’t have my class in Louisville,” Dixon said, referring to the annual National Farm Machinery Show at Freedom Hall in Louisville, which includes one of the most anticipated truck and tractor pulling events in the country. “This event, for my class, was our Super Bowl. We had 16 tractors that came from different states.
“And this one was canceled back in January because of (the COVID-19 pandemic). They were able to reschedule it and I was glad they did.”
Dixon said the pandemic has been quite the obstacle for not just him but everyone else in his sport the past year. He said, in 2020, he was only able to compete in seven events.
“And I’m not sure where I’ll be going next. There just aren’t a whole lot out there right now. Everybody is shut down because of this thing,” he said. “There’s supposed to be one in Lexington in March but, now it’s been canceled.”
Dixon said the name of his tractor was inspired by the nature of his day job. He sells farm equipment at Murray’s Dixon Farm Equipment and he said the pulling tractor provides valuable advertising.
“That’s what I do. I’m always dealing equipment,” he said, “Plus I’m also spinning my wheels. But I’ve got a good tractor.
“The guy that designs my engine (Luke Miller of Arthur, Illinois) was feeling good about this last (event). As I went to pick it up, he said, ‘Most people never get a chance to use an engine like this.’ Then he said, ‘It all depends on the driver.’ Another guy told me that before I went up to Lexington in my first year. That time ended with me blowing the engine halfway down the track, so I guess I’m 1-for-2 with having engine guys saying that it depends on me.”
During 2020, he said he and his tractor unexpectedly became subject matter for a music video. During one of his rare outings of that year near Nashville, Tennessee, country artist Craig Campbell featured Dixon’s tractor and many others in the video for his song “Flyin’ My Country Flag.”
“I didn’t even know about it (before the event),” Dixon said. “That one kind of surprised me, but, you know what? What we do kind of goes along with that song. We go out and drive trucks and tractors and have fun.”