COLUMBIA — The sweet smell of engine coolant hangs over the grass field at the north end of the Boone County Fairgrounds. Pitch black exhaust spews into the night air, the revving of engines can be heard from more than a mile away. It's Saturday night at the Boone County Fair, and it's time for the truck and tractor pull.
To the viewer, pulling is simple. The truck or tractor hooks on and tries to pull the weighted sled. As the sled advances down the track, the weight shifts, making it harder to tow. The best trucks and tractors can do a "full pull" of 300 feet. Others die trying. That's when the hard work that the crowd doesn't see comes in.
Ed Scott, from Troy, was one of the competitors whose truck died trying on Saturday. In his first "hook" this year, Scott's modified, candy apple red Chevy truck nicknamed Empty Pockets gave out after only 100 feet.
Scott's son Eric Scott then rode his truck, Instigator, more than 300 feet for the win. The younger Scott has become the driver to beat in the Central Missouri Pulling Association. He and the Instigator have won the points championship the past two years.
Inside the Scotts' trailer the mixed emotions of winning and losing turned to general concern as the Scotts looked at the Empty Pocket's back axle, which locked up on the track forcing the truck to be towed off with the help of a backhoe.
Ed Scott's truck has a broken universal joint, and Eric Scott thinks this is the least of his dad's problems.
"When you break a u-joint, something else probably broke as well," Eric Scott said. "I hope that's not the case, but more often than not, it is."
Ed Scott is disappointed that his first hook of the season went so poorly. Ed Scott said he was sick all winter and was only able to get his truck into pull condition in the last week.
"It's all part of the silly game we play," Ed Scott said. "No use getting upset about it, things have broken before and they'll break again."
Eric Scott, who is a heavy equipment operator by day, estimates that he spends $30,000 dollars a year on the Instigator, not including the price of countless hours of labor that goes along with owning a champion truck. Scott is concerned that his dad's truck will cost too much to repair, making Empty Pockets a prophetic nickname.
The Scotts lay out a tarp and get to work on the bottom of Empty Pockets. They have some parts in the trailer, and both are hoping the damage is minimal. Both planned on pulling in the next stop in the Central Missouri Pulling Association's season, scheduled for Sunday night in Auxvasse, and now that's in jeopardy.
A few trailers down, Chris Meyer can understand what Ed Scott is going through. Meyer's team, which operates the truck Foolish Pleasure, also had to be towed off the track.
This is the second time this year that the Foolish Pleasure has given out. The first time, a gear broke. Meyer, who wears overalls over his 350-plus pound body, suspects the same thing has happened again.
"We're pretty disappointed," said Meyer, a truck driver from Wellsville. "Were right in the middle of the points race, and we don't want to miss tomorrow. So we're going to work on it all night and try to get her ready to pull."
Justin Edwards is done with trucks and the small problems that can ail them. Edwards also competed at the Boone County Fair Saturday, but now he has moved to pulling with a tractor.
Edwards, from Paris, was a champion in the diesel truck division, but wanted a new challenge. This is his first year with his John Deere tractor. Edwards sold his diesel truck on the Internet. The first day he listed it, it was purchased by a puller in Wisconsin. Now in the tractor division, Edwards has kept up his winning ways, securing first in the division on Saturday, his third victory of the season.
"Every pass is an experiment, but we've had great success," Edwards said. "We're getting along pretty good. I don't want to say too much, I might jinx it."
The challenge of money never changes, no matter what division or caliber of puller. Edwards stopped counting how much it cost him to switch to tractors after it reached the $60,000 dollar mark. Prizes for winning don't come close to recouping upkeep costs. But Edwards is undeterred. He says he's more than happy to put in the work, even if he only pulls 20 seconds a night.
"When you grow up in farm country and go to tractor pulls as a kid, this is what you want to do," Edwards said. "This is strictly for fun. It's so expensive, you have to be addicted to keep doing it."
In the end, there's no way of telling if a competitor's truck or tractor will win or have it's final piston fire when it hooks onto the sled. But, Eric Scott thinks he has it all figured out.
"We've got a lot of good trucks in our class," Scott said. "But the only way to win is to be lucky."