International Champions: The Pack Pullers Steer their Way to Victory

By Olivia Rogers 

Photos by Kirsten Coyne (kacoyne2@ncsu.edu)

 

Peoria, Illinois is home to the annual American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) International Quarter Scale Tractor Competition. Teams from the US and Canada travel to compete each year. NC State’s student team, the Pack Pullers, has competed for 20 years. The team had only ever reached third place, until this year, when they were named overall champion.

On May 29, the team headed to Peoria to compete in the 2024 competition. 

Gearing Up for the Competition 

Preparing for this competition is a feat in itself. The Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Department is where all the preparation takes place.

 Silver Hyatt is a rising junior majoring in biological engineering with an agricultural concentration. She has been on the Pack Pullers since her freshman year. 

Thomas Bartholomew giving a mock presentation before the 2024 competition.

“I originally wanted to join the team to make connections with students and faculty within the [BAE] department, says Hyatt. “Then, I fell in love with the team and the design process.” This year she stepped up to be captain of the team. 

 The Pack Pullers are the only team that does all of their tractor fabrication in house. The BAE Research Shop helps make this possible. Hyatt says, “Many other teams send off parts to be made but our members do 90% of the fabrication, and our research shop takes care of the rest.”

The team spends an average of 15-20 hours a week working on the tractor throughout the year. The month before the competition, students spent around 10 hours a day working on the machine.

Silver Hyatt tests the tractor’s durability before the 2024 competition.

Grant Ellington, Pack Pullers team advisor and BAE extension associate professor, says this year the team focused on making small improvements to all the critical mechanical systems. 

“We have been very close in the past, but soft skills are approximately 40% of the scorable events, and you have to do well in all phases to finish first overall,” says Ellington. 

Hyatt says this year the team worked on improving their soft skills by a few points and getting a few more feet in the tractor pulls. They added more gears to go the distance and worked on the report and presentation to gain extra points that would make a world of difference.

 

The Ins and Outs of Competition 

“This competition is indescribably competitive,” explains Hyatt. “Being one of three schools from the southeast, it’s our goal to outperform the power schools from the Midwest.” This year there were 21 teams that traveled to compete. 

Silver Hyatt waiting for the next event with advisor Tommy Stephenson.

During the competition, each team has to complete a technical inspection, submit a written design, defend their design, give a team presentation and compete in several tractor pulls. The competition ends with the durability and maneuverability courses. In Peoria, there are many early mornings and late nights. 

Jackson Vargo runs the tractor through the durability course.

Hyatt says her favorite part of the competition is its diversity. She says the presentation, written report and defense of designs are soft skills that help round out the performance aspects of the competition. She believes that soft skills and performance both help make the team well-rounded. Hyatt says, “It also opens the door to a wide variety of students because there’s something for everyone to work on regardless of whether you like machinery or prefer the marketing side.” 

Thomas Bartholomew moves through the maneuverability course.

This year it was important to have a job for everyone because the club has had a recent increase in members. Hyatt says, “It was awesome to see new members enjoying all of the events for the first time.” 

Hard Work Pays Off

This year the team adopted the Dale Earnhardt mindset. “We named this year’s tractor “Intimidator” because we were number three and Dale Earnhardt, who is from North Carolina, had a car with the number three named Intimidator,” says Hyatt. 

“We’ve been knocking on the door of first place for the last 3 years, and the work from previous years set us up for success.”

The Pack Pullers and club advisors celebrate their win.

Last year their machine, “Ole Red”, won third place. Hyatt says it was very rewarding to place third because it was the highest they had ever placed. The team was determined to do even better this year. “There were a few designs we knew we needed to refine with the general platform being tried and true,” explains Hyatt. “We made the necessary changes and they were certainly validated at competition this year.”

The Pack Pullers won the Overall Champion title as well as first place in the Team Presentation category.

“The Intimidator took 20 years to win the Daytona 500, the biggest race in NASCAR,” says Hyatt. “Our team has been competing consecutively for 20 years, and our Intimidator won after 20 years of trying just like Earnhardt’s.”  

The team’s hard work paid off. “It was awesome to see all of our work and theoretical improvements validated this year,” says Hyatt. “We’ve been knocking on the door of first place for the last three years, and the work from previous years has set us up for success.”

Ellington says, “This team has certainly been able to utilize the past team successes and was able to put it all together and tie a nice bow around it.” He explains that the students will enjoy this win “for the rest of their lives.”

The next step is “to repeat the results in 2025,” says Ellington.