Feb. 26, 2007

It's truck pulls during the week and church music on Sunday

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

It is easy to picture Kay Michaletz Gueningsman of Winsted playing the organ for church services, but much harder to imagine this petite woman in competition with her truck, Earthshaker 2, in a truck and tractor pull.

She talks about music and her modified truck with the same amount of enthusiasm. It is easy to tell they are two of her favorite topics of conversation, second only to her husband, Jeff, who she met 24 years ago through mutual friends, and her 18-month-old daughter, Annie.

This is the Gueningsmans’ 20th year participating in truck pulling competition. Kay and Jeff belong to the United Pullers of Minnesota (UPM), which is part of the National Tractor Pullers Association, which has its headquarters in Worthington, Ohio.

The Hollywood Sports Complex was where the Gueningsmans first began their interest in truck pulling.

“I always liked cars and trucks,” Kay said. “Just the whole competition. Meeting different people, it just kind of evolved. Both of us liked it.”

They began running in competition called super stock, which allows smaller motors, and the tires are stock tires that can be seen on the road.

Those first few years, the Gueningsmans competed in the same class. In fact, Jeff’s brother was also in the same class and all three Gueningsman were competing against each other.

“I am kind of glad that we are not in that situation anymore because it kind of got a little intense,” Kay said. “Yes, I won when Winsted had its last truck pull. I have beaten Jeff before, but it always seemed like he would do better than me.”

Jeff owns and operates Gueningsman Automotive Specialists in Winsted, where they are able to custom build pulling vehicles which they put together much like a small plastic model.

They start with a frame, and build around it adding a cab, doors, front end, and the most important part, the engine.

Each year their pulling vehicle, truck or tractor, has gotten bigger and better.

This year, Kay is getting a new engine for her Earthshaker 2 truck, and it is coming from Virginia.

“There are a lot of other people that have this type of motor and they are the ones that are doing really well and winning,” Kay said. “It is important to keep up. Last year I did really well. Every year you have a choice to either park the truck and not pull, or do something to make it better.”

Kay explained that it is important when entering competition to have a certain confidence in your truck, “to always be able to think ‘I could win this.’”

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The Gueningsmans have a semi that has living space in the front of the trailer with a shower, bathroom, a living room, and storage space. It also has enough room to hold their pulling vehicles.

Kay admits it is an expensive hobby, and most of their winnings are just enough to cover the gas to and from the different competitions.

Jeff’s pulling vehicle is a three-engine, modified tractor called Aftermath. Each of the engines is 1500 horsepower and he runs alcohol in the tractor to give it additional power. He gets quite a ride for the 10-12 seconds that he is on the 300-foot track.

“It takes the front end right off of the ground,” Kay said.

Kay’s truck runs in a class called four-wheel drive modified and will run this year with a 650-cubic-inch GMC engine, 1450 horsepower. She also uses alcohol in her truck for additional power.

Her first truck was called Tremors.

“Tremors was a truck you could drive uptown and it had a lot of power. You could squeal the tires, but it was nothing like the ones we drive now,” Kay said.

Then Jeff built a new truck called Aftershock, and he told Kay she was going to drive Earthshaker, the truck he had been driving previously. At first Kay said no. Then, she decided to try it.

“I was so nervous. We had gas pedals back then and my foot was just shaking. I don’t even remember if I won,” she said.

Today, all of the Gueningsman vehicles have hand throttles to control the accelerator.

Earthshaker was Kay’s until they had a fire six years ago in May that took their entire shed and completely destroyed both of Kay’s trucks.

“Everything was gone from the fire. We had nothing left. We had the gas tank in the front and the hitch was all we could save off of my trucks. Most everything was melted,” Kay said. “I was so bummed out. It was just a stupid truck, but it was kind of our life and we didn’t have any kids.”

The Gueningsmans learned what great friends they had made over the years, when everybody showed up to help them clean up after the fire and get parts for another truck. In three weeks, Earthshaker 2 was built.

“We missed the first pulling competition, but three weeks later, we pulled in to Clear Lake, Wis. for its first event. My truck didn’t have side windows yet, and it wasn’t painted, but we ran my new truck in two classes that day and got two first-place wins,” Kay said.

Truck pulling competitions begin June 1 and run until the middle of September, every weekend. A lot of times in July and August it is three or four times a week.

The Gueningsmans’ first competition for 2007 will be the Smokin’ Hot Iron Truck and Tractor Pull in Ottertail, Minn. the first weekend in June.

If truck pulling competition isn’t enough to keep her busy, Kay also works part-time for three different businesses, Gueningsman Automotive Specialists, Lester Buildings in Lester Prairie, and H&R Block in Winsted.

Church music on Sunday

Kay has been playing the organ at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie for 26 years. She also plays at St. John’s in Plato once a month.

Music is something that she has always enjoyed, and she had even considered going to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa to study music, when she graduated from high school.

Kay began taking organ lessons when she was nine years old. “Every week, for years, my mom took me to lessons.”

Now Kay is thinking about possibly teaching Annie how to play the organ when she is older.

“Annie seems to like music. When I was pregnant, I read that babies hear music before they are born,” Kay said.

Kay is just as serious about teaching Annie all about truck pulls and possibly supporting her with her own truck when she is old enough.

When it comes to truck and tractor competition, Annie does not get left behind. She has been going along since she was eight weeks old.

“We got earmuffs for her, and started her out young. The noise doesn’t bother her. Sometimes we bring someone along to take care of her. There are other little kids that she can be with at the truck pulls,” Kay said.

“It is just so fun with Annie. She has a couple of little boyfriends out there. Friends of ours that pull, and they have some three year olds, that are just a year older.

“I think about what it will be like 15 years from now. A lot of these kids just grow up with this from a baby on. It will be a totally different generation out there,” Kay said.

NTPA Thunder & Shaker Truck and Tractor Pull

For the 12th year, Gueningsman Automotive Specialists and other area businesses will sponsor the NTPA Thunder & Shaker Truck & Tractor Pull, in New Germany at FWR Auction Center, Friday, Aug. 3. It is one day only.

This pull in New Germany is the only local pull for four-wheel drive modified trucks this year, as the promoters in Waconia and Hutchinson decided not to have that class this year.

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