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© 2000 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

If it has wheels, it can be raced.

Midland International Raceway

Tractor race: Sunday, February 6, 2000

Slowly our tractor made its way through the half-foot of snow. We'd run it about two yards, then it'd get stuck; we'd back it up, then race forward to pound down another couple yards before getting stuck again.

The tractor is a 1972 International Harvester Cub Cadet 149, so it's not a fullsize. It's a midsize, or a really big small one, generally referred to as a "garden tractor" because apparently in Tractorland you need a bigger tractor to till your three rows of vegetables than you need to mow your three acres of lawn.

The IH has Hydrostatic drive, which is an interesting drivetrain that we can't really explain. It is some sort of constant-velocity transmission. All we know is that it is way, way faster than the neighbor's modern six-speed lawn tractor. But it's not fast today, not in the snow. The tires must be optimized for gardens or something not at all related to snow because the tractor lost traction very quickly.

Still, we slowly plodded it in an oval around the paddock, cutting two deep tracks through the snow. At last we rolled back into our "pits", a small clear spot sheltered by some trees.

Let the races begin!

Josh and I took turns of three laps apiece. With no suspension to speak of, three laps bouncing over ice and rocks at 25 mph was plenty. These early laps were quite exciting -- the rear wheels were spraying snow everywhere, including all over the driver; the front wheels found little to grab so steering was an approximation at best.

Our first discovery: Turn 2 was too tight! There was just no way to successfully power through that corner. Each time around we skidded into the fluff and spent a minute trying to find enough traction to get back on course. Slowing down didn't help any either. The Hydrostatic was showing its age and jerked on decel, throwing off the tractor's delicate balance and usually putting us into the fluff again.

Pretty soon the constant off-course excursions took its toll on Turn 2. It more closely resembled a skidpad than a turn. Each time we hit what was supposed to be the apex and the tractor flew
further out. On the plus side, the extra packed runoff allowed us to get a little sideways and power out without having to do the stop-reverse-forward drill that so dampened the moment.

As our racetrack continued to wear, Turn 1 took on a new life. What had started as a smooth and slippery straightaway leading into the turn became a smooth and slippery straightaway leading to a huge bump on the left side the instant before turn-in. We were catching air on some laps! It turned out we had made the course over a stump hidden by the snow which revealed itself as we wore through the ice.

That was fun for a while but as the bump got more severe we moved the course over a few inches to get around it. This, in turn, changed our setup for Turn 2 just a little and that combined with the larger packed area meant we could finally power through Turn 2! And power through Turn 2 meant more speed down the back straight, which meant more trouble navigating Turn 3 and Turn 4.

Now that we were going too fast through Turn 3 and Turn 4 (our pit area), the front straight went from being the most relaxed part of the course to a real handful as the Cub tried to regain its bearings after sliding through the pits. It sloshed from side to side as the front wheels bump- steered over every block of ice in their path. We accidentally widened the track on several occasions.

Alas, nothing lasts forever. The back straight was the first part of our course to hit bare dirt, which we quickly churned to mud. One track wore faster than the other, and while it was interesting trying to drive a tractor with one wheel in mud and one on ice, we got a bit concerned with turf damage. Winter doesn't last forever either; soon enough spring would be here and we'd be trying to get grass to grow where our racetrack lay.

With some reluctance, we slowed for some cool-down laps. Our great race came to a close with a half-hour spent trying to get the tractor through the snow to the barn.

It may have been built for the backyard, but our little IH has the heart of the Brickyard in it.