Sunday, September 13, 2015

 

As Fast as a Speeding Tractor

I’ve read remarkable stories in the world news over the years about fast running humans who have competed against horses, trains and even race cars. Apparently, it is even possible to race the wind and race against time. But one example I’ve never heard tossed around as admirable is racing against a tractor. Yet, that is exactly what I did during the Lockwood Festival back in 1983.

My brother and I grew up in Ash Grove. We paid a visit to the Lockwood Festival that year to participate in a community cross country race at the Lockwood golf course. The first-annual race was set up by some of the local men who, based on appearance, where local farmers.

We arrived at the Lockwood golf course in our running uniforms and our fashionable 1980s style Gortex running suits. We were greeted by the race officials – all in their overalls – at the sign-in desk.  From what I recall, about 40 runners showed up at the golf course. I remember warming up and being eager to begin. You could sense the anxiousness in the crowd of runners as we surveyed the golf course.  One question that arose in our minds was, “Where exactly is the course?”  The golf course was not marked in any way (traditionally, a lime mark is used on the grass and runners follow the line).  No line existed on the Lockwood golf course that year. How were we supposed to know where to run?

Our question was soon answered when an old Ford tractor was backed out of the equipment shed and driven on to the golf course by an elderly gentleman in overalls. A race official stepped toward the group and explained the rules of the race.  The man, in all seriousness, told us that we were to follow the tractor after he blew the whistle.  The grass was wet with dew and he assured us that the tires would leave tracks that we could easily follow.  I flashed a glance, and a small smirk, at my brother. Using today’s lingo, I was actually thinking, “What the heck?”

The old man on the tractor -- clad in a ball cap, flannel shirt and overalls -- sat only 20 yards in front of the runners. He started the tractor again. He put the tractor in gear.  Then the race official blew the whistle and 40 runners took off straight down the fairway right past the tractor.

As I recall, there was a lot of confusion until the old man on the tractor got it in a high gear. Then as he sped toward the front of the pack he started yelling at us to turn around and follow him.  The pack of runners slowed to a trot and the driver made a quick corner around some trees and got the tractor in high gear. He now had the tractor opened up as much as it would go.  My brother ran directly behind the tractor for the entire two mile race.  Occasionally the man would turn around on the tractor, see him just a few yards behind, and shake his head.

After the race, the tractor driver was obviously amazed that my brother had been able to run as fast as his speeding tractor.  When we talked with the tractor driver and the race official two things became apparent. One, they didn’t really understand why anyone would want to run all of the time “just for fun.” But two, they also admitted to not believing anyone could run as fast as a speeding tractor.



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