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Tractor event promotes safe driving

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Only 1 young driver shows up to compete

By Cameron Koch

 Think of it like a driver’s test, except for tractors.

Participants from the ages of 12 to 19 were invited to gather at Shelby County High School early Wednesday morning to prove their skill, precision, and concern for safety in a tractor driving competition sponsored by the Shelby County Cooperative Extension offices.

Only one participant actually accepted the invitation – Buck Blankenship, 13, who will now by default represent Shelby County at the district level tractor driving competition that will include winners from Spencer, Henry and other surrounding counties.

The event in theory if not in practice this year consisted of two separate contests: a junior division and a senior division. Each competition involved a written test of 50 questions on tractor safety, tractor components, hypothetical situations and afterwards an actual driving course. Juniors use lawn tractors, and those in the senior division use both the large and the small tractors. Buck “competed” in the junior division.

Winners at both the local and district levels can move onto the 4-H tractor driving competition at the Kentucky State Fair, on Aug. 15-25. Winners at the state level can participate and compete in the National 4-H Engineering Challenge held each fall in West Lafayette, Ind., at Purdue University, a national event that includes a variety of competitions and demonstrations, ranging from tractor driving to robotics.

A youth development organization serving more than 6.5 million young people across the United States, 4-H provides youth development programs focusing on science, health, and citizenship.

Tractor driving is one of the traditional 4-H programs, said Regina Browning, a 4-H youth development agent.

“It’s a chance for them to show the skills they’ve learned,” Browning said.

Jonathan Scott, an intern at the Shelby County Cooperative Extension office who helped organize this year’s competition, said he was hoping for a better turnout. The event had been more publicized this year than in years past, he said. Attendance for the past several years has been around 8-10 competitors, Scott said.

Scott said the Shelby County Cooperative Extension office is planning a farm equipment safety event for the near future, most likely to take place after the Shelby County Fair.

Both Scott and Browning placed the majority of the blame for the low attendance on the timing, as many in the area are using the week as an opportunity to pick up hay.

Buck’s mother, Heather Blankenship, said it was her son’s idea to enter the competition after they received a flyer about the event in the mail. Buck drives farm equipment at home regularly, she said, but believes the competition and its emphasis on safety still serve an important purpose.

“I wish more kids would be interested.…With so many kids mowing and using equipment over the summer, it’s important for them to know how to operate it all safely,” Blankenship said. “Even though he uses equipment every day, it seems silly to say it, but it’s possible you may have skipped over something fundamental.”

Despite the lack of competition, there was one positive to come out of the event. Scott said Buck’s written test score was the best he has seen in years.

“Don’t get a big head,” Scott said to Buck, with a laugh