All good things come to an end
It may be fair to say there is no greater fan of the sport of truck and tractor pulling than David P. Schreier. Having been a competitor himself, Schreier is a former NTPA Grand National Champion who bleeds green and yellow as his love of John Deere runs deep.
Schreier came from a modest beginning. Growing up as one of eight children, Schreier’s parents farmed and ran a tavern and restaurant in Norwalk. Being raised in the Catholic Church, Schreier attended high school at a Catholic Seminary for four years but found that would not be his path in life.
In 1965, he joined his brother Dick in the John Deere Implement business.
The Norwalk native at one time or another has been a promoter and a puller. But most notably, Schreier is the longest-tenured leader the motorsport has ever had.
On Dec. 1, at the 48th Annual National Tractor Pullers Association Convention and Awards Banquet in Columbus, Ohio, Schreier announced his upcoming retirement from World Pulling International, Inc. (WPI) after 34 years as its President and Chief Executive Officer.
The National Tractor Pullers Association (NTPA) was established in 1969 to bring structure to the sport; setting the standards in the industry for safety and competition rules. WPI has managed the NTPA for more than 30 years.
As Schreier looks toward turning 80-years-old this year, he reflects back on his lifetime career chalked full of memories and it is obvious how fond he is of the motorsport and his pride in his achievements.
“I got the disease in the fall of ‘66, Labor Day Weekend,” he joked.
At the age of 27, Schreier attended his first pull in Kendall that year. As he watched the pullers maneuvering their tractors on a concrete slab pulling an old stone boat, he was amazed. “I thought, well there must be something to this and that’s when I got hooked.”
Schreier quite literally hooked for his first pull in Kendall with a 4020 series John Deere the following season in the summer of 1967.
In the winter of 1967, Schreier approached the Norwalk Lions Club proposing to start a tractor pull in Norwalk as a fundraiser for the organization.
“That was a long time ago and it wasn’t very popular but I kept at it,” he said. “I got it organized and we had just oodles of tractors come in. We had the first pull making several thousands of dollars.”
The Norwalk pull was a success and it has grown into an NTPA National Event that continues to this day.
“We had a lot of fun in those days. It was for entertainment and sport,” he said.
Schreier continued to pull locally until 1973, when he purchased the powerhouse John Deere 4320 dubbed “Cajun Queen.” He began preparations for the 1974 season, when he joined the national circuit renaming the tractor “Green Power Special.”
Schreier developed a water injection system that was built with parts from a John Deere high-powered washer. It was innovative back then, as an on/off switch was attached to the throttle to control the flow of the water injection.
In 1975, with a little help from Schreier’s shop foreman, Mike Linehan, Schreier began building a new John Deere tractor dubbed “Green Power Special II.” It featured twin turbochargers generating over 1,000 horsepower.
According to Schreier, the larger series branded tractors of the day began getting lighter to make weight in the 7,000-pound Super Stock class. Stock components were exchanged for lighter, aluminum-crafted parts, and a narrow front end was installed.
By the time his tractor hit the track in 1976, Schreier had 300 pounds of moveable weight in the 7,000-pound class, which was astounding for that era.
Schreier won quite a bit with the new tractor. As he had a pair of tough-running Super Stockers, his son Christopher began driving for the team.
In 1980, Schreier made history when he won the NTPA Grand National title in the 7,000-pound Super Stock class with the first John Deere ever to do so. Schreier continued pulling into the mid 1980s leaving a mark during his competition days.
“That was an exciting year. They told me I wouldn’t have a chance. I didn’t even go to the last two pulls because I had such a lead,” he said. “The I-Hs had more power than me, I know they did. But you have to know the track and where to put the weight and tire pressure. There’s so much more to it than power.”
In 1976, Schreier became president of the Monroe County Fair Board. He once again proposed a fundraiser and along with Treasurer Don Kortbein, convinced the board to take the risk of having a national tractor pull.
The initial event in Tomah was held in September on the weekend preceding Farm Fest ’76 in Minnesota. Schreier figured all of the eastern United States pullers would come through Tomah on their way to that event and he was right.
That first pull was held on a single track at the local fairgrounds and drew a crowd of 15,000 fans to watch two classes of Modified Minis and four classes each of Super Stocks and Modifieds.
Over the years, the event developed into the Budweiser Dairyland Supernational Truck and Tractor Pull and it is a premier event on the NTPA Championship Pulling Circuit each and every year.
When rival sanctioning bodies began buying existing NTPA events in the 1980s, Schreier stepped forward with a pair of partners, Jayson Promotions and the Promotion Company, to promote events that assisted in giving the NTPA pullers and sponsors a platform.
Schreier spent his early years in the Wisconsin Tractor Pullers Association, sitting as a state delegate to the NTPA Full Board of Directors in the 70s to early 80s. He enjoyed serving on both the state and national boards, but he could see the need for changes in the motorsport.
He felt the sport had an opportunity to grow, but he sensed that the structure of the NTPA and its overall level of expertise were antiquated.
According to Schreier, in 1985 the NTPA was approximately $400,000 in debt. He hung up his helmet to step forward along with 39 other concerned competitors, member states and promoters to capitalize WPI as the management member to the NTPA.
“I realized there was no way I could do that and pull too so I quit pulling,” he said. “The fact that I stayed so involved, it didn’t really bother me much. But it was difficult.”
With hard work and determination, Schreier, along with several others, brought the company back to solvency. He said there was a lot of progress as well as frustration in the early years of WPI and NTPA learning to work together.
“I never wavered and I always tried to base my decisions on doing what was right for the company and the sport as a whole,” he said. "There were some rough years early on and there were a lot of people who didn't agree with a lot of things. But we just kept doing what we felt was right.”
Whether it involved a tough decision on a safety item or transitioning through the years to make the sport work for the common good, the WPI/NTPA is thriving because of Schreier’s efforts.
When Schreier started, the NTPA put on 34 events, now the NTPA sanctions nearly 200 sessions of national and state-level competition each season.
In 2015, Schreier was recognized for his accomplishments when he was inducted into the NTPA Hall of Fame.
Anyone who meets him would agree that Schreier has a leadership presence that very few can command. He attributes it to a strong work ethic, a structured education, common sense and strong family values.
Throughout his career, Schreier has depended on several individuals in the organization as well as the support of his wife, Christine, their seven children, 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.
“This is a family-centered sport. In pulling, the families pull and the families come to the events,” he said, adding that he is now starting to see third generation pullers. “I think that’s why it continues, because the whole family can be involved.”
Schreier looks forward to his retirement as CEO on June 1 and he plans to remain on as a Monroe County Ag. Society board member.
“I’ll stay on in Tomah for as long as they’ll have me,” he said.