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INTERESTING IRON

What’s it like being Farm Show rookie puller?

Author

Ryan Roossinck

February 29, 2024

farm show rookie

What’s it like to be a Farm Show rookie?

Regardless whether you’re a fan, a competitive puller (or somewhere in between), on Saturday night during the finals, I’ll bet you’ve thought about it a time or two. I know I have, and the only time I’ve ever been down the track was 15 years ago when I rode shotgun with my buddy Jeff! He needed somebody to hold the laptop on a shakedown pass in his Duramax back when the 2.8 class was a thing. I’ve never even ridden in the sled!

Anyway, this year I went to the National Farm Machinery Show and I was determined to find out. There were quite a few rookies this year, so I picked a couple that I knew reasonably well and watched them a little closer than I normally would.

Let’s meet ’em, shall we?

Farm Show rookie: Jamie Janke

Farm Show rookie - Jamie Janke
Jamie was the first hook in her class on Thursday night. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Jamie Janke is a young woman from Pilger, NE who puts heart and soul into three things.

  1. Teaching kids about the importance of agriculture and the role it plays in our daily lives. She’s nearly finished with her Ag Education degree at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and she’ll have her own classroom soon!
  2. Being a positive role model for women in agriculture and motorsports. Through her involvement with tractor pulling, she’s had many opportunities to be an encouragement to young fans. I’ve watched it happen on multiple occasions.
  3. Raising high-quality Simmental cattle. While she finishes her degree, she’s keeping the herd fairly small, but I suspect that she’ll expand the operation before long.

Jamie’s one of those kids who I’ve watched grow up. When I met her, she was just a little kid running around the pits stealing the keys to Mom & Dad’s side by side. Now she’s all growed up and it’s been fun to be able to watch that!

Pulling is in her blood…

Jamie’s been ate up with tractor pulling pretty much since she could walk. It’s a family thing; she’s the third generation of Jankes to drive a pulling tractor. Her great uncle pulled an IH 966 diesel super called Movin’ On in the glory days in the 70s and 80s with the NTPA. Uncle Randy was a Farm Show rookie too, in 1977. Jamie’s family pulled garden tractors in Nebraska, and Mom & Dad had her on one by the time her feet were long enough to reach the pedals!

Jamie Janke pulling a garden tractor
Jamie couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 when this photo was taken. That’s Craig (her dad) in the red hat, and Dave Novak in the white one. The Janke family and the Novak family have been longtime friends, and Dave becomes important to the story in a minute! (Photo: The Janke family)

Movin’ On – The 4.1 Limited Pro Stock

In 2011, Craig Janke (her dad) built a 1066 for the 4.1 Limited Pro Stock class. When it came time to name it, the family felt like “Movin’ On” was a good way to honor Uncle Randy…so it stuck! Craig has pulled primarily with the Outlaws for quite a few years, but he knew his days behind the wheel were numbered.

Randy Janke 966
Randy Janke campaigned the Movin’ On 966 as a diesel super for close to two decades. The family got the tractor out of the shed a year or two ago to display at the Wayne County Fair’s Outlaw tractor pull! (Photo: The Janke family)

When Jamie turned 16 in August of 2020, it only took her about three days to kick Dad out of the seat. Her birthday fell on a Monday and she was behind the wheel by Thursday of that same week! He still drives once in a while, but Jamie’s pretty well taken over now.

jamie janke marengo iowa 2020
I wasn’t there for Jamie’s first pass, but I was there for her second. She came out swingin’, too. She finished 2nd in a stout class of 4.1 Limited Pros that night in Marengo, IA! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Farm Show 2024

For Jamie, Christmas came early last year. December 18th, to be exact. She’d hounded the postman for what seemed like months, looking for the envelope from the Farm Show selection committee. She knew what she was looking for, too – the big envelope means you’re in, the little one means you’re out. It would’ve been fun to have been a fly on the wall when she laid eyes on that big envelope!

However, while it was a big deal and cause for celebration, it also meant that the Jankes had some work ahead of them. Jamie pulled in the Thursday night session, so they couldn’t let much grass grow under their feet. They spent a lot of time turning wrenches with Denny Healey, their engine builder in Marengo, IA. Getting dialed in wasn’t easy; they dealt with some headaches on the dyno. At the end of the day, though, it did come together…

Just in time to get loaded up and pointed east with a great big cheering section in tow!

Janke cheering section
Two of the most important members of Jamie’s cheering section – Mom on the right, and her boyfriend Harrison on the left. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Nerves of steel…sorta.

I don’t think the nerves really started kicking in until late Thursday morning in Broadbent Arena (where they stage the tractors). Broadbent is kind of a weird place. For most of the day, it’s a pretty laid-back place where people mill around and meet their favorite drivers and catch up with old friends. For drivers, though, there are interviews, photo sessions, tech inspections and stuff like that they have to do, too. As a rookie, sometimes it’s hard to juggle all of that! However, once you’re done with that, you’ve often got a lot of time to just sit on your hands…and that was hard on this rookie’s nerves!

When I saw her late on Thursday afternoon, I could tell Broadbent had gotten to her. She was a ball of nervous energy. She told me that her stomach was tied in knots, too. I tried to reassure her that she was going to be fine, and that she had a mean hot rod, and that it was just another tractor pull. She heard me, but I have a feeling that it went over like a lead balloon.

However, I think that after I left, Dave Novak gave her a pep talk. He’s competed at the Farm Show before, and I’m sure that was the magic touch.

Pro Tip: If you’re a Farm Show rookie, take somebody with you who’s been there before.

Go time…

Typically at about 615PM, the drivers all start lining up on the track for driver introductions. Jamie was the first hook in the class, and when Miles Krieger introduced her to the crowd, you could see her face light up. She later told me, “Ryan, it was the craziest thing. Down on the track you really can’t hear much of anything; it all kinda sounds like background noise. But when Miles said my name and I walked forward, I could hear the fans cheering for me. It blew my mind that people actually knew my name!”

After that, it was back to Broadbent to wait until her class was up.

Staging in Freedom Hall
The ramp into Freedom Hall. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

I got there about 30 seconds too late to catch Jamie on the ramp into Freedom Hall, which is normally where Farm Show rookies have that “heart in your throat” moment. That’s where you can see the crowd, the guy on the hook about to make a pass, and it dawns on you that “Whoa…we’re really doin’ this…”

For Jamie, though, it didn’t happen until they parked her in the starting line corner. She looked around and saw the crowd (which was nearly a sell-out), and that’s when she needed a minute to compose herself. The emotion of realizing a dream that she’d had since she was a little kid, the atmosphere, the competitors, the crowd…it got overwhelming.

Farm Show rookie - Jamie Janke
When your nerves start to get the better of you, you lean on your pulling family for support. That’s Dave Novak in his signature bibs, and fellow Outlaw competitor Gary Behrendt with the hat on. Pretty sure Dave kept them both – as well as Craig – from overthinking it and coming unglued! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

The pass and the aftermath…

Here’s a few photos of Jamie’s pass.

Farm Show rookie - Jamie Janke
Next on the hook…Jamie Janke from Pilger, NE driving the IH 1066 she calls “Movin’ On!” Breathe, kiddo. Don’t forget to breathe. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)
farm show rookie - Jamie Janke
Jamie got a good hole shot. Check out the look of determination on her face! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)
Farm Show rookie - Jamie Janke
I missed the quintessential photo with “Louisville KY” in the background; hopefully she’ll forgive me! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)
farm show rookie - Jamie Janke
When it was all said and done, Jamie made a great pass at almost 228 feet! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Ultimately, Jamie ended up finishing in the sixth spot that night. She set a pretty good distance to beat, though, and she was in the winner’s circle corner for at least 7 or 8 hooks that night. “Ryan,” she told me, “I wouldn’t change anything about that pass; I couldn’t have done anything different to finish in a better spot. The gear was right, the way I drove it was right, the front end held up the way it should, and the tractor did exactly what I wanted it to.”

Pretty hard to argue with that, kiddo. You represented yourself, the Outlaws, women in ag, and women in motorsports really well!

Now, that said, let’s switch gears and go 2WD pulling with my buddy Russell Phipps and get his take on the Farm Show.

Farm Show rookie #2: Russell Phipps

farm show rookie - russell phipps
This is my buddy Russell Phipps, and he took a pretty sweet hot rod T-Bucket to the Farm Show this year. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Russell Phipps is a farmer and input salesman from the Jerseyville, IL area, and he’s been pulling tractors since he was a kid, too. We got to know each other back when the Midwest Winter Nationals were still being held in Gordyville, IL. At the time, he was pulling a pair of blown small-block mini rods called the Cornfield Cruisers 1&2 with the Illinois Tractor Pullers Association. He was having fun, but really wanted to try something different. Not long after I met him, the minis went down the road and he bought a T-bucket 2WD chassis from the Simon family in Farley, IA.

Russell Mini
The Cornfield Cruiser was fun, but he wanted to be able to get out and about and compete out of his region. So, when RJ Simon told him he had a nice 2WD chassis for sale, Russell jumped on it. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Since 2020, Russell’s been having fun in the 2WD class with his son Mitchell. They’ve both learned a LOT about how to drive and they’ve gotten pretty darn good at it, too! In 2023, they won a points championship with the Pro Pulling League’s Western Series. And just like Jamie, they got their big envelope from the Farm Show about a week before Christmas!

For Russell, though, I think there was more to it than just the honor of being invited…

mitchell phipps - rock valley 2023
Russell and his son Mitchell have had a lot of fun traveling with the Cornfield Cruiser Blackout Edition. I caught this one of Mitchell driving at the Outlaw event in Rock Valley, IA in 2023! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

“Nobody loved the Farm Show more than my dad…”

For Russell, I think the invite was kind of an emotional thing – more so than he let on when we talked. See, Russell grew up pulling garden tractors, then four-wheelers, and then minis with his dad Ronnie. “Nobody loved the Farm Show more than my dad, Ryan,” he told me on the phone the other day, “and I didn’t realize it until this year when we found an old program, but in 1976, he pulled his garden tractor there in Freedom Hall! I couldn’t believe it!”

To be honest, I didn’t realize that they’d ever pulled garden tractors as part of the Farm Show either!

“Man, he would’ve loved this. I remember thinking to myself as we were loading the truck in Steve Bollinger’s hauler a few days before the Farm Show, ‘Boy, I sure wish Dad could’ve seen this. He’d have been over the moon!'”

So there was a little something extra special about being a Farm Show rookie for Russell. His dad had only ever competed there once as far as we know, so he’d have been a rookie too.

Farm Show 2024

Farm Show rookie - Russell Phipps
The staging area can get a little crowded at the Farm Show, and unfortunately, it made it tough to get some of the photos I wanted. Still, Russell and the Cornfield Cruiser looked pretty darn good on the track! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Russell and Mitchell went to the Farm Show with two major goals in mind.

  1. Make a respectable pass, and show the fans why the selection committee invited him.
  2. Soak it all in, and have fun!

From where I’m sitting, they did both.

When I asked Russell about being nervous, he said that he was more excited than anything. Two weeks before the pull, he and I were chatting back and forth one afternoon and he said, “Y’know Ryan, the things that really keep me up at night about this whole deal is the logistics. Getting the truck down there safe, making sure we haven’t forgotten anything super-critical, and not doing anything really boneheaded because we’re first-timers and we don’t know any better. That’s one of the reasons I’m so thankful to have a guy like Steve Bollinger guiding me through that stuff. It takes a huge load off of my mind knowing that he’s there, and that he’s done the Farm Show thing plenty of times.”

As it turned out, Russell was right. They were both a big help to each other that week.

It wasn’t all roses and cupcakes, though. Mother Nature had a say in it all, too.

Mother Nature falls off her rocker…

The weather had been beautiful in Louisville all week. Sunshine, mid-50s or better temps…y’know, early spring weather. Then on Friday, when Russell was pulling, Mother Nature woke up in a foul mood. It got cold, windy, and rainy – and in the afternoon, it all changed over to snow.

That definitely added some stress for both Russell and Mitchell, because a bunch of their friends and family were coming across on I-64 that afternoon to watch them pull that night! It was awful slow going, and several carloads missed the first few tractors in the Friday night session because of it! However, they all got there safely, and in time to watch Russell take the T-bucket down the track.

Russell’s Moment…

Like I’ve said before, Broadbent can be a very chaotic place during warmups – which is one reason why they clear everybody out. It gets real loud, vehicles are getting moved over to Freedom Hall, other teams are firing motors to build heat, etc. I’ve been in there plenty of times and it definitely gets to be sensory overload.

It’s even worse for a Farm Show rookie, because most likely, they’ve never been present for it before.

Anyway, Russell knew he needed to get out of there and clear his head, so he left the team and the truck to do their thing. He was needed in Freedom Hall for driver intros anyway, and he really needed to find out what was going on with the family.

Walking down the ramp was when it hit him. “Holy moley (trust me, he didn’t say ‘moley’) this is really happening. We’re really here,” he thought to himself. It kind of dazed him a little bit, too. I was on the phone with one of his competitors tonight and he told me, “I went lookin’ for him, and found him sorta leaning on the wall with this real strange look on his face. He snapped out of it right quick, but Russell and I have gotten to know each other pretty well and it was definitely a little outta character for him.”

And just like that, Russell did snap out of it, because I saw talked to him just a minute or two later. Aside from having a little bit of a deer in the headlights look, it was good ol’ Phippsy. I snapped a couple of photos, fist bumped him for luck, and then we both went about our way.

The pass and the aftermath…

Russell was the 8th hook in the class, which was okay with him. It gave him a few trucks to watch and see what the track was doing before he had to strap in and go. One of many pieces of advice he’d been given that week by competitors and friends was to find a way to slow it down. Block out all of the clutter, trust your team to be on their game and focused, and run your routine just like you would anywhere else.

It was all going fine until one of their competitors had a battery pack short out.

For me, it would’ve thrown me out of my routine. Not Mitchell. He’d been taught from an early age that when a competitor needs help, you help them. You don’t beat ’em because something went on the fritz.

So that’s what they did. Mitchell calmly unhooked everything from their truck and brought it over to help fire their competitors’ trucks (they had two in the class, and Russell’s pass was basically right in between them). Once the first truck had been fired, they went right back to the game plan. Get the Cornfield Cruiser ready to rock, and make things happen.

That’s exactly what Russell did, too. He made a solid, respectable pass and finished seventh in a tough group of two-wheelers.

Farm Show rookies - Russell Phipps
The only thing Russell told me he’d have changed was that he should’ve gone up a gear. Still, finishing at just under 224′, he was very happy. “Just being there was enough, Ryan,” he told me, “and I know Dad would’ve been proud of us.” (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Everybody’s got advice to give…

…whether they’ve ever been a Farm Show rookie or not. Everybody’s got a hot take.

I asked the question, “What’s the best advice anybody gave you about pulling at the Farm Show?” on my personal social media the other day, and got a littany of responses. They were all pretty solid, too; a good mix of practical, tried and true responses coupled with a few that were pretty hilarious.

Earlier today, I also compared my notes on Jamie and Russell. Although the advice came from very different people and was worded a little differently, the top five were all essentially the same. Interestingly enough, though, most of it doesn’t have as much to do with pulling as it does everyday life.

So, without further ado, here’s the list. The first five are the ones that were common to both of them. The rest are ones I’ve heard in the past, and a few that I got when I asked on social media.

Pro Tips for Farm Show Rookies.

  1. The Farm Show pull is a big deal, and competing is an honor. Soak that in!
  2. Don’t overthink it. Take it serious, but don’t stress out about it. This is just another lap on a pulling track. This one weekend will not define who you are.
  3. Bring somebody who’s been there before – even if they’ve only been there once. They’ll help you remember the oddball stuff that you’ll forget, they’ll help you stick to Rule #2.
  4. The atmosphere will be loud and fast-paced. Block it out however you need to.
  5. Slow your roll. Keep your composure, and stick to the game plan.
  6. Don’t make big setup changes leading up to the pull. Farm Show isn’t a great place to gamble.
  7. Thank the Farm Show selection committee.
  8. If you’re first hook, don’t turn it down unless you absolutely have to.
  9. Touch the dirt, and take a little chunk of it home with you. (If Mike Whitt and Dan Cristiani are reading this, they’re cringing right now and I’ll probably hear about it!)
  10. If you hit the sand pile, save some of it and take it home with you. The sand is its own trophy.
  11. Don’t take the right side. There’s never anything there.
  12. No matter what you do, the track will try to pull you to the left. Make sure your brakes work – especially the right one!
  13. The sled will hit you hard and fast. Plant the tires and send it!
  14. Bring hero cards and a few new Sharpies. You’re a hero to somebody, and they’ll want an autograph.
  15. Put kiddos in the seat. Seeing the smile on a kid’s face as they climb in the seat of your hot rod is 10,000 times more rewarding than any pull you could possibly win.

Wrapping up…

The last question I asked both of these two Farm Show rookies was this.

“If you could change something for the next trip to the Farm Show, what would it be?”

Jamie told me that she’ll bring Stormy, her Australian Shepherd and crew chief. She’s been there every time they rolled the tractor out of the trailer except for this one, and Jamie felt guilty for leaving her home. I get that. Pets are family, and pulling is a family sport. Heck, Esdon Lehn’s two cats still ride shotgun with him everywhere he goes! (True story!)

Then there was Russell’s answer…

Russell, on the other hand…well, he let me in on a little secret that I didn’t see coming. He chuckled and said, “Ryan, next time we come to the Farm Show, we’re bringin’ a few more motors with us.”

I said, “Mmmkay…why?”

He said, “Check your text messages! I sent you a picture!” and as he started laughing, he hung up on me.

So I checked. This is what he sent me.

Phipps Mod Chassis Copy
Ladies and gentlemen, it would appear that the Cornfield Cruiser has hit the gym… (Photo: Russell Phipps)

After a minute, he called me back…still laughing.

“Yep,” he said, “we’re partnering up with my good friend Steve Hood on a two-engine mod for now. Steve was in the process of building his own truck and we were going to trailer together. And then one night after a few cold ones in the shop, we got to thinkin’, ‘Why not get a little crazy and build a mod?'”

After he explained it a little further, it made sense, too. A mod takes up less space in a hauler than two trucks, and it’s easier to run a mod on a shoestring crew (theoretically) than two trucks. Furthermore, it’s more power and a whole different challenge as far as driving. What’s not to love?

For now, the new mod remains nameless, but it’ll have one before it makes its first pass. If you follow NTPA and ITPA mod pulling, you’ll see it out this summer. Go tell him I sent you and that you want to sit in the seat and make tractor noises…

Hope to see you at a tractor pull somewhere down the road!

‘Til next time, make it a great week!

 

 

 

 

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