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Smokin’ Iron wows crowd in Ottertail

Joe Bowen/FOCUS Pro stock tractor owners and drivers, Eric and McKenzie Gregory, stand in front of their tractor, “Vintage Red,” which they lovingly refer to as their “summer boat.”

Forty-two participants spread across five vehicle classes competed in the 11th annual Smokin’ Iron Truck and Tractor Pull this past weekend in Ottertail. 

“The pull was wonderful, the weather was awesome.  Attendance was down just a bit from what it was last year, but other than that it was a great show,” said organizer Terry Wagenman.

Friday night was Veterans Appreciation Night, which featured a presentation by an honor guard from Detroit Lakes, who “put on a nice show” and “displayed the colors really nicely,” Wagenman said.

He estimates that 1,000 people attended the pull on Friday night, and 2,000 on Saturday.

Three of those attendees were Kobe Snyder and his parents, Delvin and Cathy Salathe from Eagle Bend, Minn., who have been going to Smokin’ Iron since the first event in 2003.

Their favorite parts are “watching the pull and gathering with friends and family,” Cathy said, adding with a smile, “And the mini donuts.”

The spectators weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves .

Eric and McKenzie Gregory have been pro stock tractor drivers and owners ever since friends persuaded them to give the sport a try six years ago.

“Other people go to the lake, we go tractor pulling,” McKenzie said a few minutes after Eric finished his pull on their tractor, Vintage Red.

A lot of work goes into getting Vintage Red ready for the summer pulling season, Eric explained, such as taking the motor completely apart and making several expensive, but necessary, upgrades.

Both have full-time jobs outside of pulling – Eric is a welder and farmer and McKenzie teaches first grade – and consider participating in tractor pulls to be a fun summer hobby.

“This is our summer ‘boat,’” McKenzie said of their tractor.

“Everyone turns into one big family” she added, referring to the other teams of drivers and mechanics at Smokin’ Iron, who will often grill out together before and after pulls.

Julie Haekenkamp has been a part of that informal family since the 1970s. 

“It’s a fun-filled family event,” she said. “We always take our kids and grandkids.  It’s a good family time.”

Haekenkamp drove her truck, Chances, to victory in the modified four-wheel-drive truck category on Friday, with a distance of 294.58 feet.

She has pulled for a number of different companies over the years, but this was her first regional win – and her first win in the National Tractor Pullers Association.

She characterized the win, which earned her $600 in cash and a jacket provided by local sponsors in Ottertail, as “pretty darn exciting.”

Haekenkamp, along with her family and team, who are one in the same, popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.