How The Pros Build A Great Pulling Surface

They are the unsung heroes of the truck and tractor pulling world. The equipment operators, the track crew, the worker bees—the people tasked with building the perfect pulling surface, but that also work feverishly to keep the track preserved once the show starts. Days (sometimes even weeks) before spectators show up to sit in the grand stand, they’re working the ground that will be expected to support repeatable passes from 4,000hp machines. If things go according to plan, the track will yield the kind of consistency that allows every competitor in each class—from the first hook to the last—a shot at winning.

To get an idea what it takes to build a championship-caliber pulling track, we contacted Randy Koenig, an Indiana farmer who offered his equipment and services pro bono in building the track for the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, and Dan Cristiani, owner of Dan Cristiani Excavating Co. In addition to overseeing the track at the Extravaganza, Cristiani and his team are trusted with building and maintaining the pulling surface used for the coveted indoor Championship Tractor Pull at the National Farm Machinery Show. Though the aforementioned pros make it look easy, from the logistics involved with getting all the track-building equipment on site, to hauling in dirt and working ground, to the science behind water usage, a lot more goes into a good pulling surface than you might think.

Prior to Wagler Motorsports Park becoming the new home for the annual Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, the pulling track was just another section of corn field. In a stroke of luck, Randy Koenig, who used to farm this ground, volunteered his track building services when Jeremy Wagler approached him about building a track. For the Extravaganza, Randy would supply Wagler and Dan Scheid with nearly every piece of equipment required to erect a top-notch pulling surface. The best part? Koenig volunteered his time and equipment completely free of charge.
Thanks to its ability to retain water, clay soil is the universally accepted way for constructing pulling tracks. When Wagler broke ground on the track that now hosts the pullers of the Extravaganza, Randy Koenig helped it take shape. “That ground is real sandy, so Jeremy had to haul in 6 to 8 inches of clay, which helped,” he told us. “That initial buildup of clay provided a good sand/clay mix, but once you got down to the sand it was a problem. So the next year, he brought in more clay and lengthened the track. We widened it, too.”
The perfect pulling track begins with the right equipment. Tractors (including a big four-wheel drive to handle the ripping), a ripper, a tilling or finishing disc, box scraper, water wagons, V-drag attachments, a sheep’s foot roller, self-propelled or pull behind wobble wheel roller, and even a dozer and motor grader are must-have items in some of the larger operations.
Typically, the order of events for prepping a pulling surface begins with deep-ripping the dirt, followed by water, a tillage disc (to break up the large clumps), more water, a scraper, and then compaction. Of course, every pulling surface is different and may require its own method(s) of preparation.
Well before the tractors ever take to the dirt, competent track builders arrive, unload and begin working the track. For most, two days is enough to shape an ideal pulling surface. “For the Extravaganza pull, we work it two days ahead of time,” Randy Koenig said. “We do everything like we’re gonna have a pull. And then we seal it up and come back the next day and do it all over again.”
According to Randy Koenig, the dual lane track at the Extravaganza was ripped 8 to 10 inches deep, treated to 5,000 gallons of water, and allowed to sit roughly one hour. This step of adding moisture is critical, as too much water will lead to mud and too little will dry out the soil, produceing dust. “We want it ripped up so all the dirt is loose and you can get water in it deep,” Randy Koenig explained. “Mixing in water gives you holding capacity. So when a class goes three or four hours the moisture stays in there. The track has to hold water yet be able to be finished.”
Here, Scheid Diesel’s Brad Ingram (left), who campaigns the company’s Pro Stock truck, visits with Randy Koenig (right) trackside just before the kick off for Friday’s Limited Pro Stock qualifying session. According to Randy, “you get a lot of opinions, mostly from the pullers,” when it comes to track building. He then went on to say that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “They [the pullers] are just trying to get the track consistent. They tip us off as to where some holes are at and ask us to fill them, things like that.”
As stated, if the track crew succeeds, pulling fans are treated to a track with great consistency. You know it when you see it: only inches will separate the top finishers in any given class. Case in point, Ronnie Hall’s Pro Street Duramax finished third at the 2021 Scheid Diesel Extravaganza with a 298.18-foot distance. The Second Place truck went 299.05 feet and the fourth, fifth, and sixth place finishers all went 295 feet or better. In a class of just 12 trucks, that’s pretty tight grouping—and a sign of a good, consistent track from start to finish.
It’s a fine balance as to how much water to use on a given pulling surface. The perfect amount of water produces a track that bites but isn’t muddy, but that can also be pulled on without drying out. Then there is competitor preference. According to Randy Koenig, “the truck pullers like the track drier, but the tractor guys want it wetter, typically.” As you can imagine, finding the perfect mix at the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, where both the best PPL trucks and tractors in the nation go down the track, is anything but easy…
No matter how much planning goes into building a track, sometimes Mother Nature has the final say. In cases like these, where the chance of heavy rainfall is virtually guaranteed, it pays for track builders to seal the track up after working it. Many times, a crown will even be shaped in the middle of the track to provide adequate drainage. This photo obviously illustrates what a rainout looks like, but careful track planning before the rain hit allowed the crew to work the track the next morning and have it in full operation by early afternoon.

“Days (sometimes even weeks) before spectators show up to sit in the grand stand, they’re working the ground that will be expected to support repeatable passes from 4,000hp machines.”

The biggest goal in track building is consistency. From the starting line to beyond the full-pull mark, moisture consistency and levelness needs to be striven for. The last thing competitors (and fans) want is a track that dries out half way through the show, or (worse) one where vehicles bounce. “We try to work it in a straight line, too,” Randy told us. “Working the dirt cross ways is a major problem.”
When the sled pulling action is underway, the smaller equipment takes over. A tractor with a V-drag attachment (and potentially a water sprayer), a box scraper, and a wobble wheel all combine to restore the track. For quick finishing work, a tracked Bobcat fitted with a Rake-N-Ator attachment like what’s shown here is also sometimes used to fill holes and level off low spots between hooks.
You’ll never go to a truck and tractor pull and not find one of these covering ground. A box scraper is used to keep the track uniform and also help to fill in low spots between vehicles.
For more than four decades, Dan Cristiani and his crew show up in the Kentucky Exposition Center’s Freedom Hall on Monday morning and have a world-class pulling surface built by Wednesday afternoon. “We bring in about 60 to 65 loads of clay,” Dan says. All of it distributed and built up on the arena’s concrete floor.
With big horsepower comes big ruts, and all of them have to be fixed in a matter of seconds between hooks. This is where the operator tasked with filling holes and leveling off the track is so important. Once the dirt is back in place, it’s compacted back down for what is (hopefully) a fresh start for the next competitor.
Dan Cristiani’s company, Dan Cristiani Excavating, is behind the track at the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza (and has been for a number of years), but has also been tasked with handling the prestigious indoor championship tractor pull at the National Farm Machinery Show since 1980.
Having the track in Louisville all but down to a science at this point, this is how Dan Cristiani goes about prepping one of the most revered indoor pulling tracks in the world. “Monday, we get it ripped up and put the right consistency of water into it,” he explains. “If it’s dry, we want water down deep, so it comes up later on. Then we’ll rip it all back up again to get the same consistency. We add 500 to 1,000 gallons of water to it each day.” And, stressing the need to continuously work the dirt, “we never want a dry spot and a wet spot. We use a big tiller on it, too. So we rip it, till it, rip it, till it, add water, and bring in the road grader, then finally the scraper and bobcat for backfilling.”
Working with good old Kentucky clay, the track in Louisville can be packed tight. And, out of necessity, it has to be. “That’s a very short track in Louisville,” Dan admits. “Being a short track, we have to make it where the tractors can hook up quickly.” If you’ve ever taken in the action in Louisville for yourself, it’s safe to say that Dan and his crew always build a tough, hard-biting track.
Believe it or not, Dan Cristiani believes the biggest chore involved with prepping Freedom Hall for championship tractor pulling revolves around the use of the elaborate smoke extraction tube. Dan and his team designed and built the system that’s responsible for keeping the air breathable in the arena. Reinforced with cable, the extraction tube itself is extremely robust (no wonder why it holds up so well). “The competitors are actually pulling on a cable not a pipe,” Dan told us. “Most people don’t know that.”
If you’ve attended any major truck and tractor pulling event in recent memory in the Midwest, you’ve seen this man aboard one of the tractors tethered to the V-drag. He’s the one speeding around, leveling off the track between hooks, and he’s also the man behind some of the best pulling tracks in existence. His name is Dan Cristiani and he lives for this stuff.
Fans attending the 2021 Scheid Diesel Extravaganza might remember that a slew of breakage halted all Limited Pro Stock truck action on the opening night of the show. Some may even recall that competitor CW Cartmell ripped his entire hitch assembly off of the frame during some hard bouncing. Randy Koenig, realizing the dirt that’d been hauled in hadn’t been mixed in well enough with the existing soil, helped spearhead a solution the following day. He and his team would rip the track a foot deep in order to make sure the old and new soils were adequately mixed.
One man you’ll see maintaining the track at both the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza and the Championship Tractor Pull in Louisville is Mike Whitt. You may even spot him jumping from machine to machine when he has to. Mike has been a tractor pull committee member at the National Farm Machinery Show for years, a title that allows him to both work the track but also help decide which classes run, and on which night.
It’s hard to argue with success, and the combination of Dan Cristiani working alongside Mike Whitt (and everyone else involved in Louisville) has produced year after year of top-notch tractor pulling action inside Freedom Hall. Spectators and competitors alike expect to see truck and tractor pulling at its best inside these walls, and Cristiani and Whitt ensure that is always the case.
It’s no secret that a hard-biting, clay track can find a truck’s weak link. Combine that with 1,000 or more horsepower and an aggressive set of tires and the casualties can begin to mount.

SOURCES

Dan Cristiani Excavating Co.
812.282.9866
dcexc.com

Scheid Diesel
812.466.7202
scheiddiesel.com

Wagler Motorsports Park

812.636.0391

waglermotorsportspark.com

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