PITTSBURG — Trucks, cars and tractors with high-powered engines pulling heavy sleds down a muddy track might not be appealing to many young girls, but local hot-rod tractor driver Abby Sullivan isn’t a typical teenager.
At 14-years-old, Sullivan uses her free time outside of school traveling around the country with her parents to compete against adults in competitive tractor pulls.
“The opportunity to go out there and meet a lot of new people is cool,” Sullivan said. “You get to travel to a lot of places and sometimes there are a lot of neat animals if I’m pulling at a fair. It’s just cool to go out and meet new people and do something that you love to do.”
Being young has never been a disadvantage for Sullivan, as she started in the family sport when she was five.
“My parents were doing it and they found out about the competition for kids where they ride lawn mowers, so they decided to get one for me,” Abby Sullivan said. “I’ve just really enjoyed it and have been doing it ever since.”
By competing in tractor pulls, Sullivan lives out the dream of her father Robert, who was an accomplished driver before an injury ended his career.
“We had to stop because Robert had neck surgery and we had a lot of things going on,” her mother Tammie Sullivan said. “Seeing her pull and to watch her succeed makes it worth it. If that means sitting on the sidelines and watching, then that’s what we’re going to do. I just want to see her succeed.”
Abby Sullivan’s parents are with her for every step of the way, from the initial building phases to the day of the pull.
“It definitely makes me feel safer when he helps me before I pull, and knowing that I have my dad right there if anything goes wrong is comforting,” Abby Sullivan said. “Plus, my cousins always hang out at the end of the track and they can help me out. It makes me feel good to have family around me and it helps bring us all closer together.”
Safety is taken seriously in tractor pulling, but few worry more than Tammie and Robert Sullivan, watching their daughter go down the track.
“I get nervous and excited, but I’m also proud of her,” Tammie Sullivan said. “I know it takes a lot, because I’ve done it and it’s not easy. I’m proud that she has the strength and confidence to do it without fear. I’m very proud that she’s such a strong individual.”
Although problems have occurred in the past, Abby Sullivan said she remains positive before each pull.
“There’s always the danger aspect of pulling,” she said. “Anything can happen. Your motor could blow up, you can wreck, a fire could break out, you could lose your steering or something could even go wrong with the sled. You just have to know what you’re doing and my dad taught me how to handle any problems. He taught me everything I need to know.”
Murphy’s Law is always a possibility, but Abby Sullivan keeps a positive attitude.
“I always get a little stressed before I go because I always think that I’m going to mess up somehow or wreck,” Abby Sullivan said. “I just focus on going down the track and doing my best. Before the pulls, they go through a prayer, so that helps calm me down too.”
Despite the potential of malfunctions, Abby Sullivan is determined to achieve her dream of driving professionally.
“I’m hoping to go professional and pull with the Outlaws,” Abby Sullivan said. “I want to be able to do it with some of the best in the world and travel around. I don’t really like any other sports, so the only thing I could really look forward to doing in the future is pulling.”
Abby Sullivan has a good head start, as she’s already built an impressive resume.
“It makes me feel even better when I beat adults,” Abby Sullivan said. “The fact that I’m going up against older people and can compete with them makes me feel really good and confident. It’s also a lot more pressure because they’re a lot more experienced.”
In addition to challenges on the track, making it professionally means getting sponsors on board.
“It’s hard to get sponsorships, because I don’t think people understand exactly what it is and I don’t think they take the time to learn that it would benefit them,” Tammie Sullivan said.
“A sponsorship not only benefits the driver, but also benefits the company because an advertisement for them is going to be all over the place. It’s not just one town that they would be represented in, but several towns every weekend.”
Sponsorships remain the key to the sport, as building powerful engines and putting together specialty vehicles comes at a high price.
“It’s also really important to get sponsors to continue the sport in the future,” Tammie Sullivan said. “We need to get sponsorships and support so the younger kids can do it and get into it. A lot of companies sponsor youth baseball or softball, but it’s harder to get them to sponsor a sport like this because they don’t always understand it. Pulling is just as important as any other sport, so it’s important to continue it.”
Regardless of the financial situation, Abby Sullivan’s parents are willing to do everything they can to make it happen.
“I’m there to support her 100 percent along the way,” Tammie Sullivan said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get her there, but it will also take help from sponsors to get there. Right now, we’re just focusing on getting her to all of the pulls to get her name out there and show them that it would be worth it to sponsor her.”