Rustic Roots: Two Puller’s Common Path to Freedom Hall

Published: February 13, 2023 Updated: December 6, 2023
Ask any truck or tractor puller about their memories in competition, and they’re likely to have many stories. Most can offer vivid memories about their first hook, their first time down the track. For some it was on a Farm Stock tractor that they unhooked from a round baler to take to the local county fair; for others, it may have been an invitation to drive a friend’s machine. Ultimately those pullers were “hooked” and dove into the sport and continue today. For two pullers, Brad Begeman and Adrian Cox, their road to Freedom Hall was an incremental rise in speed and power and collecting national titles before they let the clutch out in Championship Tractor Pull competition. Begeman’s roots are in antiques, pulling an F20 Farmall in 1989-90 as a teenager that squeezed out 70hp. Initially competing locally from his home base in Mendon, Illinois, Brad would become a competitor on the burgeoning national circuit with the formation of the NATPA (National Antique Tractor Pullers Association) in the mid-Nineties. Begeman would compete with several tractors in NATPA competition, collecting multiple points titles in different divisions. By 2015, with the encouragement of the late Daryl Stoll, Mendon got the urge to “blow smoke” and purchased a Pro Farm International from Kenneth Hiser out of Kentucky. The tractor quickly transitioned into an 8500 pound Limited Pro Stock, but not for long. Begeman commented, “(after) standing on the starting line, the difference in the roar (of a 9500 pound Limited Pro Stock) of a big engine, the difference in the roar of the turbo, we made the decision to go to 640 (the 9500 Limited Pro Stock cubic inch limit) for the next season.” With the encouragement of Missouri puller Leon Hellebusch, Begeman contacted Rodney Schnitker to transition to the 9500 Limited Pro Stock division. “Rodney’s and my relationship has been the same as the relationship I had with Ron Shipman (Begeman’s antique engine builder) was: whatever the best is, is the parts we want. When we pulled antiques, we had that phrase ‘if you do like everyone else, you’re going to pull like everyone else’…so let’s try this piston design…or let’s try that…sometimes you would hit a home run, sometimes you don’t and you have to punt and go back and try again.” That persistent journey to be innovative and different with the tractor known as Change of Pace (paying homage to those antique roots) has paid off, sporting multiple points titles now in the 9500 Limited Pro Stock class with the XCaliber Pulling Association and a second place finish in the Champion Seed Western Series points race with the Pro Pulling League in 2022. Also gratifying for Begeman is also playing crew chief part of the time to his son Brennan who will have driving duties at the CTP this year. “It’s been a lot more fun having him involved now. At his age, I was sitting on 70-plus horsepower and he started in Pro Farm with a 1300-horse tractor…he’s in his early twenties sitting on something at his age I didn’t, and he’s doing a really good job of driving it. One reason why he’s driving is because the same weekend as Louisville, the girls’ basketball team I coach (Begemans alma mater Unity High School), is in playoff contention, ranked number two in our class in Illinois.” Adrian Cox has a similar tale and his path intertwined with Begeman’s for many years. Cox started on a 3020 John Deere at a pull in Tindall, Missouri in 1983 at 13 years old. “I didn’t know anything about pulling, I just farmed, so I figured it took quite a bit of power to pull so I asked the wrong guy what gear to put the 3020 in…I found out he didn’t know what he was talking about and it died real early…I got beat by a 70 John Deere and a Super 90 Massey…but the bug bit me there, I really liked the idea of the competition. My dad was a hunter and was good at it, but I didn’t share that passion, but I enjoyed mechanics. When I was 14 an old buddy of mine and I drug an old Farmall M out of some brush, had to cut some trees to get it out, and bought it for 400 dollars. I didn’t know anything about overhauling an engine so my buddy helped me out. I wasn’t old enough to drive so I had to have someone haul it for me in the back of an old grain truck. We would go to pulls around home (Trenton, Missouri) and if there were 5 in the class or 400 in the class, and they gave trophies to the top three, I would get fourth. I was becoming competitive, but I just didn’t have enough power. So I saved my money…we raised a lot of hogs back then, and in 1989 when I graduated from high school we built a hand-cranked GM John Deere that was 475 cubic inches, and, at that time, it was way ahead of it’s time. I took that tractor to the Missouri State Fair four years in a row and won. I’d heard about several pullers (locally) travelling and pulling on a national level but I really figured I’d never have anything to do with that.” Adrian would move on from that two-cylinder GM, finding an opportunity to build and sell two-cylinder Deere pulling tractors, in addition to farming and running a bulldozer. In the quest for more power and speed, Cox would move on to Oliver tractors and joined the NATPA circuit in the late 1990s, competing in those sanctioned events initially in Columbia, Missouri and then running a full national schedule that could find him in Colorado one weekend, Wyoming the next, and a pull in Florida following that. Cox would win points titles with his 88 Oliver and 460 Farmall machines in NATPA’s Division 5 that was a limited rpm, open speed class. He was the first to get a 460 Farmall into a 3500 pound class. “That thing was pretty tough back then, we had a lot of fun with that thing,” Adrian noted. In the late 2000’s, Adrian and his teammate Alan Tolson were in conversation to move up to a diesel tractor. “One year we went out to Gordyville (Midwest Winter Nationals) and was introduced to Brandon Hart (Hart’s Diesel) by Rodney Knott. Alan and I, we didn’t know anything about the diesel world, we’d both been in the sparkplug world since we started pulling, so Brandon and Dustin Hart kinda took us in and we bought the Mr. Bone International from Kevin Hulsebus out of Iowa. I had engine experience, so Brandon basically taught me the diesel end of things when we built the engine for that tractor. It became the original Hickory Hooker (running 8500 Limited Pro Stock). Alan wanted his own tractor so we purchased a tractor from Justin Hopkins that became the Chief’s Hooker. We started running points with the Pro Pulling League in 2013 and won the Renze Seeds Sweep the first year in 8500 Limited Pro Stock. I sold that tractor to Otto Peterson and built the current Hickory Hooker and ran it for a couple years in the 8500.” Adrian’s engine business would grow, eventually purchasing a dyno from Hart’s Diesel and moving into the 9500 Limited Pro Stock class in recent years as well. Cox has garnered points titles on the Champion Seed Western Series in that class in 2019, 2021, and 2022. Begeman and Cox would share thoughts about their beginnings in the antique and classic world. “Some people have always looked down on the antique world in my opinion,” mentioned Begeman. “There’s a lot more technology going on in antiques and stuff than many people realize. (Fellow puller) Chris Pfeiffer noted that sometime the best pullers are guys who started out in antiques. Some guys may go all summer and not move any weight but we are moving (as little as) 30 or 40 pounds from one spot to the other…yes, that doesn’t sound like much versus a 3500 pound or 5500 pound antique, but we’re still trying to dial everything in to the decimal, on weighting, on watching the track…a lot of it (success) still comes down to the small details.” Cox offered, “When you see an old antique puller pulling in the big classes, you can about bet they’re gonna be really good seasoned pullers…the reason I think that is, is because if you’re going down the track on a G John Deere or an M Farmall, going down the track at 3.5 or 4 miles per hour, you don’t have momentum in your favor, so you have to maximize that pass any way you can, and if you have the horsepower, the trick is keeping the tires stuck, and handling the front end. You learn to correct things at 3.5 mph that you can’t think about at 30mph, but those instincts from 3.5mph become second nature; you’ll use the brake, you’ll point it somewhere, you’ll feather the throttle to maximize the pass…antique pullers are really good about getting power to the ground, and I’ve always said that about bulldozer guys, people who move earth, can ‘feel’ their tractors really well and they are in tune (with the track).” Both gentleman offer another important factor on their paths of success: recordkeeping. Begeman and Cox noted that they have compiled notebooks of data over the years dating back to their antique days from each event, noting track conditions, weight placement, tire pressure, and other factors. They also noted the friendships and sportsmanship they have experienced, one such moment that Begeman and Cox shared in Louisville at the Championship Tractor Pull a few years ago. Adrian said, “He (Brad) looked at me right before they were going to do driver introductions and we were both kinda like, little kids, like kindergartners standing at a Senior Prom. Brad said, ‘did you ever figure that we’d ever be here?’ and I said no, not in my wildest dreams.” Both teams are scheduled to compete Thursday evening in the 9500 Limited Pro Stock class, looking for a berth into the Saturday finals, with Brennan Begeman at the wheel of the Change of Pace 66-Series International and Cox wheeling his Hickory Hooker 1256 Farmall. Cheer them on with along with all the other competitors, no matter their path into Freedom Hall!