Hot rod tractors

Sassy Racing Engines powers victory.

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By John Knox
Owner, Sassy Engines Weare, N.H.,

Brian and John Knox show off a new motor.
Powered by Sassy engines, Bruce Slagh's tractor takes second place at a competition in Ionia, Mich.

I was managing a farm equipment dealership in Weare, N.H., when my son, Brian, and I became interested in competitive tractor pulling. During a race participants pull a sled weighted with 5,000 to 80,000 pounds of steel-encased slabs. The sled creates more drag the farther it travels, and the tractor that pulls its sled the greatest distance wins.

My wife, Rodalyn, and I raced cars on drag strips in the '70s, so this kind of thing was in our blood. Brian and I built a 1,200-horsepower engine for a Massey Ferguson tractor chassis and named it "The Sassy Massey."

Then my farm equipment company began to have financial difficulties, so I sold my share in 1990, and Brian and I dedicated our time to building our engines and competing. We sold 13 in the first two years. By the end of the second season our annual income was about $90,000, minus $50,000 in expenses.

In 1998 we decided to focus on building engines full-time. Today we produce about 15 a year. Most of our customers are from the Midwest, but we've sold to pullers in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden. We just sold one to someone in Nova Scotia for $61,000. Sales in 2006 totaled $1.3 million.

We work with only one engine - the supercharged Chrysler 426 Hemi - which we sell to drag racers, monster-truck owners, and tractor pullers. It's difficult to build our motors for less than $25,000; each takes about 40 hours to assemble. We order all the parts to spec, depending on how much power a customer wants. When you build for tractor pullers, you're trying to come up with a design that burns as much fuel as possible. Our biggest motor will burn 18 gallons of methanol a minute. There's no muffler. You've never heard anything so loud.

The 41st Annual National Tractor Pulling Championships were held in August in Bowling Green, Ohio. Sassy motors powered seven of the winning tractors and trucks, taking three first-place victories.

- AS TOLD TO SCOTT BOWEN To top of page

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