Race to Add Feature – Speedy Women
Throughout the existence of the World Championship Rotary Tiller Race,
there’s been a restriction.
Women have never been allowed to race in the modified tiller division,
where souped-up garden tillers can approach speeds of 20 miles-per-hour.
That’s about to change.
The Weyerhaeuser 200 World Championship Rotary Tiller Race, a race
of garden tillers, is the main attraction of the PurpleHull Pea Festival, held
each year in Emerson, Arkansas, on the last Saturday in June.
This year’s event will begin at 3:30 p.m., June 29.
Emerson, population 359, is located in Columbia County, just six miles
north of the Louisiana state line.
Bowing to pressure from a number of women wishing to compete using the
speedy tillers, officials of the World Tiller Racing Federation - an entity the
festival created in 1993 to run the race after finding itself embroiled in a
number of tiller racing controversies – have decided to create a new category
for the ladies: The Powder Puff Modified Division.
In previous years, women have raced using only unmodified, or “stock”
tillers, which are not allowed any significant changes to the tiller to increase
Tiller racer Juli Morris is credited with instigating the push for women
competing with modified tillers. Morris,
who began competing in the Powder Puff stock category in 2000, approached former
world champion tiller racer Ricky Waller, who, in turn, contacted race
“It’s going to be different than any tiller race we ever had,” says
Morris. “It’s going to make
Morris, who was a track star and basketball player during her high school
days, will be piloting “Digger II,” an alcohol burning tiller that held the
world record from 1994 to 1998.
“It’s probably going to be one of our biggest attractions,” says
Commissioner of Tiller Racing David Cunningham, referring to the new category
for women. “It’s going to be
Cunningham, in his first year at the helm of the tiller competition, has
concentrated on developing new tiller racing divisions to increase
There will also be two other new categories this year.
One is the “Rip Roaring Tillers of the ‘90s.”
This division will require certain parts of the tiller, such as the
gearbox, to be an actual tiller component.
Most of today’s fastest modified tillers were constructed totally from
“These are what we call our ‘true tillers’ in the modified
class,” says Cunningham. “Tiller
racing was created for garden tillers, and that’s why we’re going to go back
and push getting more modified tillers in this class.”
Another new category is the “Flower Bed Tiller Division,” which is
for competitors aged 10-years-old and under, using only the small, 2-horsepower
or less tillers.
“This is part of what we want to do to promote the PurpleHull Pea
Festival as a family fun event,” said Cunningham.
“It involves our children 10 and under, and they will be our racers for
By creating the new divisions, Cunningham also hopes to level the playing
field, which, in the case of tiller racing, is a 200-foot length of plowed
ground. The world record is 7.21
seconds – an average speed of almost 19 miles-per-hour – set in a semi-final
heat in 1998 by Ronnie Hughey of Stephens, Arkansas, racing his modified tiller Dirt
Tiller racing tends to be a sport under constant revision.
Since its beginning at the first PurpleHull Pea Festival in 1990, race
officials have been refining the rules, tinkering with the categories, modifying
the track’s surface and length.
However, officials of the World Tiller Racing Federation agree that
creating a class of modified tillers for women is a one of the sports most
But being on the forefront of social change is nothing new to the
PurpleHull Pea Festival according to festival spokesman Bill Dailey.
“In 1991 we began having the Pea-Stompin’ Street Dance as the
festival’s finale,” said Dailey. “To the best of anyone’s memory, that was the first
organized dance in Emerson. We were
certainly pushing the envelope there.”
Indeed, prior to that time, there had never been a prom at Emerson High
School. Now there is.
Dailey also notes that Baylor University followed the festival’s lead
and began allowing dancing some five years later.
This year’s Pea-Stompin’ Street Dance will be from 8:00 p.m. until
midnight Saturday, June 29.
A group from the Arkansas Department of Correction, The Cummins Prison
Band, will entertain.
Whether it was due to the festival’s tendency to champion the cause for
social change, or just the fact it puts on a good show, in February the Arkansas
Festival Association awarded the festival the title of “Arkansas Festival of
“We were extremely happy,” says Dailey.
“Most Festival of the Year winners are from much bigger towns.”
The PurpleHull Pea Festival will be a two-day event this year, June 28
and 29, on and near the grounds of Emerson High School.
The Weyerhaeuser 200 World Championship Rotary Tiller Race, will
be Saturday, June 29, at 3:30 p.m
More information can be obtained by going to the festival’s Web site,
www.purplehull.com, or phoning (870) 547-2707.
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