June 18, 2002
For Immediate Release
Contact person:  Bill Dailey (501) 315-7373 or
Commissioner of Tiller Racing David Cunningham
     home: (870) 547-2975
     work:  (870) 234-5972
Email: purplehull@juno.com
Web site: www.purplehull.com

 Tiller 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 speed.

   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 officials.

   “It’s going to be different than any tiller race we ever had,” says Morris.  “It’s going to make history.”

   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 very special.”

   Cunningham, in his first year at the helm of the tiller competition, has concentrated on developing new tiller racing divisions to increase participation.

   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 non-tiller parts.

   “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 the future.” 

   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 Devil.

   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 significant changes. 

   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 the Year.”

   “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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