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Sarah ploughs her own furrow in a male-dominated world

Sarah Sudell with her tractor at her Woodplumpton home

Sarah Sudell with her tractor at her Woodplumpton home

The adrenaline rush when I did it for the first time was unbelievable, nothing compares to it.

When Sarah Sudell says she’s going out on the pull, she doesn’t mean she’s planning to wear her slinkiest outfit and hit the nightclubs.

Sarah, 28, who lives in Woodplumpton, near Preston, has been hooked on tractor pulling since she was a youngster – and inadvertently, she even “pulled” her husband Mark through her unconventional hobby.

Sarah, an accountant, is secretary for the North West Tractor Pulling Club and this year, she became the only woman in England to compete in tractor pulling.

Sarah first became hooked on the unusual hobby as a child, as her parents would take her and her sister to watch from a young age.

She recalls: “Tractor pulling is a great tradition in Great Eccleston, and my parents used to take me and my sister Hannah to watch.

“Even from a young age, I absolutely loved it. I loved the noise, the flames and the diesel smoke.

“Some of the big tractors make a tremendous noise and make the ground tremble, and you can hear them from miles around.

“As a child in particular, the sound seemed so exciting and made my heart rattle.”

Tractor pulling is a competition using tractors to pull a heavy sled along a track. There are many different classes, from factory tractors to custom-built vehicles with multiple engines.

Competitions take place on a 100m track, and involve the machines pulling a weight transfer sledge, which gets heavier to pull as it is pulled down the track.

This is achieved by increasing the weight on the pan of the sledge by moving the weight box from the rear to the front of the sledge as the sledge is pulled forward.

The winner is the machine that can pull the sledge the furthest.

Sarah explains: “The machines consist of big tractors with lots of weight and horsepower. They range from 300hp to 9,000hp.

“I grew up watching tractor pulling and as I grew older, it became a real social thing.

“The Saturday night tractor pull tends to be late, with floodlights on and music playing, and there is a beer tent and a great atmosphere.

“There are two main pulling events in the year. There is the Great Eccleston Show in July and then in August, the main tractor pulling event is held over the Bank Holiday weekend.

“As teenagers, going to tractor pulling events was a great and messy night out.”

Sarah met her husband Mark through tractor pulling, as he had also been a spectator at the events since he was a child and was fascinated by it.

Sarah remembers: “Mark was a spectator at a tractor pulling event among a large group of us, and we met at a few other events too.

“Mark is a mechanic so he was fascinated by the machinery of tractor pulling.

“Then at one particular event, we were just sat drinking and chatting together about our shared hobby and we really hit it off.”

After a few years of being together, Mark decided he wanted to buy a tractor to go tractor pulling with himself. He bought the tractor puller from Scotland, but it needed a lot of work doing to it.

Around the same time, the couple decided they wanted to get married, but Mark did not want to get married until the tractor was ready.

Sarah and Mark tied the knot in July last year, and Mark drove his tractor to church with his best man standing on the platform.

Sarah jokes: “I did not fancy getting dirty that day, so I arrived in a horse-drawn carriage instead, as my other hobby is horses.”

After getting married, Sarah decided she would like to compete in tractor pulling herself, and Mark was very supportive.

Sarah explains: “I just wanted to prove to everyone a girl can take part in tractor pulling, and you don’t have to be a lad to have a messy hobby.

“Tractor pulling is traditionally a male orientated sport, but I saw no reason why I shouldn’t take part too.”

However, Sarah admits her first attempt at tractor pulling was disastrous.

“We went to a raceway at Stratford-upon-Avon, where there is a drag strip as well as a tractor pulling track. No one can explain how to drive when you’re tractor pulling. You actually have to drive the machines to experience what it is like.

“It is not like driving a car or a standard tractor.

“They are very specialised machines and the engines are more powerful.

“Mark gave me some instructions on what to do, but no matter what people tell you, you don’t know what to expect.

“The machines have specialised resting clutches in them and it takes experience to learn how to slip them.

“With a normal car, you have to put your foot down on the clutch. But in these machines, you have to hold the clutch in until you have built your revs up and the turbos have boosted.

“Even then, you can’t let go of the clutch. You have to slowly release it as you build your revs.

“It is an art you have to learn. People make it look easy, but even experienced tractor pullers still have the odd day when they get on the line and it all goes wrong.

“On my first attempt at tractor pulling, I tried three times, but nothing happened.

“The engine revved, but I didn’t move.

“The engine revs have to be at the right balance with your turbo to get it going.

“I felt really frustrated as I realised how hard it was.

“But I was determined I was going to master it.”

Sarah tried again in July at Kirkbride in Carlisle. A friend, Mike Simmons, an experienced tractor puller who competes all over Europe, gave her lessons which helped her get off the starting line.

Sarah recalls: “The adrenaline rush I got when I did it for the first time was unbelievable, and nothing compares to it.

“I ended up coming third and getting a trophy.”

Sarah then competed at Great Eccleston in July and was nervous at competing in front of friends and family. However, she ended up coming fourth.

Sarah says: “By this point, I was totally hooked.

“There is a skill and art to tractor pulling, rather than strength being needed. But you do need strength for the clutch and by the end of it, your clutch leg aches.”

Sarah took part in the main tractor pulling event at August Bank Holiday in Great Eccleston in the Championship round, and came third both on the Saturday and the Sunday, and received a trophy on both days.

Laughing, she says: “Mark is tweaking his new tractor, but we are part of a team.

“However, I have not got more trophies than him!

“I am also not bad with a spanner and if I am needed, I muck in and help fix and build the tractors.”

Sarah says her unusual hobby often has people raising their eyebrows but she absolutely loves it.

She says: “It is a great sport and the social side to it is good.

“People who have never watched it before come down once, and end up enjoying it so much that they end up coming back every year.

“Our club meets regularly, and we have lots of events throughout the year and raise money for charity too. Tractor pulling is a hobby with a difference and it is an expensive hobby.

“I am the only woman who competes in England, although quite a few women compete in Holland.

“We sometimes go to Holland to watch the tractor pulling out there, and next year, we are hoping to compete over there.

“We love tractor pulling so much that even when we have children, we will carry on. We’ll just take them with us!”

 

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