There's more than one Kentucky team that recently won a championship 14 years in the making. UK's tractor-pulling team joined the ranks of Wildcat basketball by winning the international quarter-scale tractor competition in Peoria, Ill.
After coming up short over the years since first competing in 1998 — the year the basketball team previously won a title — the tractor team swept the judging categories and earned 16 trophies in early June. Team captain John Evans said it was a long time coming.
"It was gratification that we had truly designed and built an award-winning machine and our hard work had paid off."
Team advisers Tim Smith and Christian Lyvers oversaw the design process that began in September.
"We've learned over the years that consistency in all the judging categories is what it takes to do well in the overall scoring, but this year it all came together," Smith said.
Designing the tractor was no quarter-size task. The nine-student team began the season with a lengthy rule book, a set of tires and an engine. By year's end, they had transformed those items into a fully functioning "lawn tractor on steroids."
"The dedication put forth by students on this team is astonishing; they set out with a goal at the beginning of the year to win the competition and worked hard on all aspects of the competition," said Lyvers, who also had been on the team as a student.
In addition to putting the machine to the test in a series of tractor pulls, the team was evaluated on a written design report, a design inspection and a formal presentation where they tried to "sell" their tractor to industry experts playing the role of a corporate management team. Team member Chance Corum said the event is unique in that it allows students to network with the leading engineers in their field.
"When you present the tractor to these judges, you're meeting your future employers," he said.
As a result, Smith said, students gain valuable real-life experience. "Not only do they benefit from the hands-on experience of designing, building and testing the tractor, but they work firsthand with outside suppliers through tough production schedules to acquire component parts needed to build the tractor."
The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers competition is a popular recruiting event for sponsors such as John Deere. Many have even hired engineers from among the participating teams. But mostly, these college students say the competition is a labor of love.
"Winning has been a dream and a goal of mine for a long time, and I'm so glad to be a part of it," Corum said.
Also on the team of freshmen through graduate students were Jordon Cook, Nick Rhea, Eric Varner, Catie Lester, Michael Blum, Angela Lyvers and Cody Rakes. Michael Sama and Carl King also served as advisers.