A tractor may be a farmer's best friend, but are they that exciting to the general public?
For Donnie Fagundes, the answer is an enthusiastic "Yes!" In fact, he calls competitive tractor pulls probably "the loudest, most exciting thing you can watch."
He hopes to prove it Saturday at the first Southern California National Tractor Pulls, part of this weekend's 37th annual Sportsmen's Boat, RV & Outdoor Living show.
In a pull competition, tractors haul a machine, called a sled. More weight is added the farther down the track they go. A full pull, what competitors strive for, is 300 feet. If more than one tractor pulls that distance, weight is added -- tractors can pull up to 65,000 pounds -- and the competitors engage in a pull-off. Eight prizes are awarded -- one for each class -- totaling $10,000.
Pullers compete in a variety of classes, including mini tractors, tractors, diesel tractors and four-wheelers. Most of have been modified and are not street legal. Competitors can modify their tractors' tires and turbo size, and for some classes, they can even add engines.
Through Maxx Kakl Powersports, Fagundes, of Hanford, organizes around a dozen tractor pulls a year. He got into tractor pulling when he was 16, starting with a mini modified tractor. He was working part time for a man who pulled and encouraged him to try it. More than 20 years later, tractor pulling has become a major part of Fagundes' life. In addition to the mini tractor he started out with, Fagundes now also competes with a four-engine tractor.
The appearance at the Boat, RV, & Outdoor Living Show marks the first tractor pull in Bakersfield in about 15 years, Fagundes said. A pull in Oildale several years ago yielded a full house, and Fagundes is optimistic about the turnout this weekend.
"I'd be surprised if it's not full in Bakersfield," Fagundes said of Saturday's event, which will feature around 70 competitors.
Mike Hatcher, organizer of the three-day outdoor living show, agrees. After seeing the Maxx Kakl competitors at a show in Tulare last year, Hatcher knew he had to connect with Fagundes and organize a tractor pull here.
"Bakersfield being a racing town, we thought it'd be a perfect fit," he said.
But it's not all about tractor pulls at the Boat, RV, & Outdoor Living Show, which Hatcher promises will be the biggest yet in its 37 years.
What started out as a hunting show grew into something much bigger over the years, with boats, RVs, vendors, fishing, lectures and events like this year's tractor pull, Bako Sand Drags and the Super Cruise Car Show.
Attendance is up quite a bit from the 3,000 people who went to the first event: Hatcher estimates the show now brings in about 18,000 people.
"The amount of things offered -- it's not just a guy show," Hatcher said. "There's something for every age group and gender."
A free kids' land will offer rock wall climbing, laser tag and bounce houses. Children can fish from the trout pond or channel their inner Hawkeye or Katniss Everdeen in the youth archery booth.
In addition to vendors like DC's RV Center, Alaska Sportfishing Expeditions and the National Rifle Association, local artisans will be selling their wares at the Krafters Korner.
Spending all day checking out vendors and shows is sure to work up an appetite, and Hatcher has that covered. Food vendors will sell jerky, kettle corn, barbecue and more.
"We have a lot of repeat vendors," Hatcher said. "We enjoy seeing our friends -- we call them family."
Fagundes and Maxx Kakl Powersports plan on joining that family. He expects to return to the show next year. But it's not too late for anyone interested in competing to join this year's event. Fagundes will continue to accept new competitors until 4 p.m. the day of the show.