BOWLING GREEN — From their workshop on wheels in the infield of the Wood County Fairgrounds, Jacob Ohl and his father, Jim, likely could hear the music and the oftentimes raucous partying going on in the sprawling campground that sits just north of the facility.
Interested or not, they couldn’t join in the fun since they had 12,000 horses to tame and an alcohol-fired beast of a machine to ready for the next round of competition at the National Tractor Pulling Championships. The Ohls compete in the Unlimited division, and the rig they put on the nearby track had to have all four of its motors meticulously checked and tuned for each run.
“I hear the nightlife in the campgrounds gets pretty entertaining, but normally we’re stuck being up half the night wrenching,” 23-year-old Jacob Ohl said as his MX AG Performance team readied for this most important event on their summer calendar, the 52nd annual national championship that packed the Wood County Fairgrounds all weekend.
“We first came to BG in 2015, just to get the Bowling Green experience we’d heard so much about, and we kind of fell in love with the place,” Jacob continued. “It’s the level of competition, it’s the setup here and the camaraderie, as well as the fan aspect of it. It all kind of sucks you in.”
The three-day event, which had the first of its five shows abbreviated Thursday night because of rain, was expected to draw upwards of 70,000 fans by Saturday night’s finale.
The most recent economic impact study estimated that the annual tractor pull extravaganza results in just under $40 million in commerce in the area.
Jacob said that is why MX AG was here, because this is the Super Bowl of the tractor pull circuit. The MX AG team, which includes an uncle and a cousin, usually competes with its Unlimited unit only once or twice each season because the family also runs a large grain farming operation back home in Illinois, where he also raises pure-bred Angus beef cattle.
“We stay pretty busy with the farm and, if we can’t be 100 percent prepared, dedicated, and committed to an event, we’re not going to go,” Jacob said Thursday morning. “It is important to come here at the top of your game, because here at Bowling Green you are not running against average Joes — you are pulling against some of the best, brightest, and smartest people at this in the world. Some of these guys have been doing this twice as long as I’ve been alive.”
The sheer size, power, cost, and decibel production of the MX AG Performance machine is much to process. Jacob estimated if they had their equipment built elsewhere, it would carry a $400,000 to $500,000 price tag. Since they do the majority of the work themselves, from welding together the chassis to building the four motors, the actual cost is about half of that amount.
“It’s an expensive hobby any way you look at it,” he said. He added that sponsorship help from agriculture seed producer Pioneer allows the family to compete for purses and championship titles at the highest level of the sport.
“They are the reason we are even able to do this, so we’re very thankful for Pioneer Seed. They are the lifeblood of our operation. Without them, none of this would be possible.”
Jacob said the team makes a number of promotional appearances on behalf of Pioneer, and he has grown to enjoy that person-to-person contact aspect of the tractor pull culture.
“We get to meet a lot of people and, when we’re handing out team T-shirts, it’s a real feel-good moment,” he said. “These fans are great people and, if you can make their day by handing them a cool shirt, that kinda makes my day too.”
The four motors that power the MX AG unit produce 12,000 horsepower. Just for comparison, a fully-tricked out 2018 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 produces 650 horsepower. The motors that power the MX AG Performance rig run on pure alcohol and, in a run that might last about 13 seconds, they will burn 20 gallons of the fuel.
The fuel gives the rig its name, Alcoholic.
Jacob estimated that with the mechanical work and other race prep, loading the machine and all of the extra parts and equipment into the trailer, and getting it all ready for competition, the team will have had 300 to 400 hours invested before pulling in their first scheduled event in BG. Their total competition time for the entire weekend will be in the neighborhood of 30 seconds.
“It might sound a bit crazy, but a Bowling Green ring lasts a lifetime, and that’s what you are shooting for,” he said, referencing the unique reward the champion in each division will receive.
Jacob said the pull to go pulling hit him early after hearing about Jim and his uncle competing in tractor pulls in the late 1980s. With his interest in the sport raging, his team put together his first competition tractor when Jacob was 15, but racing was nothing new to him.
“I started racing four-wheelers when I was younger and I went all over to compete, in New York, Texas, and everywhere. I’ve had the racing bug for a long time,” he said. “As I got better and better at it, you start to see that you can compete, and being a motorhead in the first place, it kind of sinks into you.”
He soon became a full-fledged part of the construction team, helping build competition tractors from scratch. “I got a little older and started to understand the motors and how they worked, and I got more into the wrenching aspect of this,” Jacob said.
“And if you sit there at a buffing table at age 15 and spend hundreds of hours buffing out aluminum, and then you see the finished product out there on the track and it turns people’s heads, it makes your chest puff out a little bit. Our tractors are not only built from scratch, but they’re really polished, shiny, and fancy. We not only want to perform, but be proud of our tractors too.”
Jacob, who received his degree in animal science from Southern Illinois University in 2017, said this is the first year he will not have to rush back home after the Bowling Green pull to start classes.
“I’m able to be all-in and give this my full attention now, and that’s important,” he said. “We spend all winter working on these motors, trying to get the most out of them, and I want to see all of that effort and hard work pay off here. The motivation is different for everyone but, for me, if we can go win, then it is just about making my family proud. That is a pretty awesome thing for me.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.
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