The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 24, 2013

Tanner Tractor Pull: Event held for the first time without pioneer, Shirley Haney

By Jonathan Deal

— The Tanner Truck and Tractor Pull will return to Tanner Friday night. It will attract thousands of people. Dozens of competitors will travel to Limestone County for the annual event.

The 37th annual event will take place as it does every year, but without one of its founding fathers, Shirley Haney. The Tanner native passed away in February at age 73.

Haney and his friend, Johnny Malone, decided to create the Alabama Championship Tractor & Truck Pull after attending a similar event in the mid-1970s in Columbia, Tenn.

The initial pull was well timed. It helped unite a community still recovering from the 1974 tornadoes, Malone told the News Courier in February.

“It allowed us to all come together for a common cause,” he said.

The purse for the tractor pull was $2,500 in ’76 and today has grown to nearly $40,000. The event, on average, draws 5,000 people each night for two nights.

Haney was able to attend last year’s tractor pull. And, with his health deteriorating, relished every moment, according to his wife Charlotte.

“He loved tractor pulling better than anybody in this world,” said Charlotte. “He wasn’t doing well at that time, but he knew everything that was going on once he got there. That was our last time at the tractor pull.”

It was a memorable final appearance for several reasons. Haney was named the Grand Marshall of the event, the first time such an honor was bestowed upon anyone at the event.

Shirley and Charlotte entered the track in front of a sellout crowd to be recognized for three decades of contributions.

“Johnny Malone introduced them,” remembers Keith Haney, Shirley’s son. “He was crying and got everybody else to crying. Once they (Shirley and Charlotte) pulled out on the track and stopped, the radiator hose blew off and looked like it was on fire.

“I just remember the guy singing the national anthem, Bryce Mitchell, never missed a lick. He kept on singing and we pushed them off the track.”

Charlotte had a different point of view from inside the vehicle.

“They told me, ‘Don’t you get out of this car for anything,’” said Charlotte. “When that thing blew up, you know what I did? I got out of that car. You’ve never seen so many people come running after us. They had to come out there and push it off the track.”

The Haneys have helped Tanner’s athletic clubs raise more than $1 million in funds over the past 30 years through their contributions to the event. In 2007, proceeds were used to buy approximately five acres for youth sports fields.

Haney was well known across the Southeast in the tractor pull circuit. After helping create the first Tanner pull, it was only fitting he was the first one to compete in the event.

“He was the very first puller at Tanner’s very first tractor pull,” said Keith. “He was just lucky that way — him and Johnny Malone just decided they were going to put on a tractor pull. It was kind of ironic that he was the first one at the very first tractor pull.”

Haney was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1985, but always looked forward to the Tanner pull each July. Charlotte was diagnosed with cancer several years ago. The mother of the Tanner tractor pull continues to fight the disease from her Tanner home.

“We’re just hanging in there and taking it one day at a time,” said Charlotte. “Everyone in the community has been so nice. We’re just appreciative of everything they’ve done.”