The shirt off his back

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KENSINGTON, Ohio — Dan McKarns says he isn’t a die-hard NASCAR fan, but he sure likes what the late Dale Earnhardt stood for.

Earnhardt worked hard, was original, creative, and a great marketer of himself and his sport.

He also happened to be a North Carolina farmer who had a penchant for John Deere tractors.

The NASCAR legend paid homage to his two loves — fast cars and green paint — in an old television commercial.

The JD 4020 he drove pulled a plow, but when the cameras zoomed overhead, Earnhardt’s trickery was apparent: He’d dug an oval racetrack into the field.

McKarns laughs when he thinks of that commercial. In a way, it describes what this Carroll County farmer is doing.

He’s putting farmers and tractor pulls and marketing together for one end result: philanthropy.

Turning heads

The Intimidadeere sits in a one-bay farm shop on McKarns’ property in northeastern Carroll County.

He says he turned a lot of heads last fall with the John Deere 8410.

“This is a pulling tractor that thinks it’s NASCAR,” he said.

It’s modeled after the late Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Intimidator. Think NASCAR-style numbering, sponsor logos, the whole package.

“Fans miss seeing the No. 3 competing. I figured what better way to bring it back than this,” said McKarns.

The tractor is popular at pulls, and draws a crowd when he shows it at the Rural King Ohio store in Wooster.

Reactions

McKarns is taking the super farm stock tractor’s 2005 season seriously.

There’s a lot on the line. It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, but none of that rides on getting past the 300-foot mark for a full pull.

Last August, shortly after McKarns took off from the line in Bowling Green, Ohio — the National Tractor Pullers Association championship pull, the world’s largest outdoor pull, the Intimidadeere’s first pull — his tractor shut down.

There he was, in the Mecca of tractor pulling, and his tractor couldn’t perform.

But the trip there from his beef farm just south of Kensington wasn’t a complete waste.

While at the pull, he was invited to stop by the Make A Wish Foundation’s tent to sign autographs. He took the tractor along.

The foundation grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“We let the kids go wild, climbing on the tractor for pictures. You see all those kids with missing eyes, limbs, chunks of skull missing. It really put a smile on my face to see them enjoying it,” McKarns said.

Let me help

The visit made such a strong impression that he dreamed up a special project to raise funds for the foundation this year.

“All those kids have something really wrong with them, and if I can help make them a little happier in some way, then I’m there,” he said.

McKarns designed in-your-face T-shirts that feature the energy of his pulling tractor. He’s selling them from his truck at each pull he attends.

Hot items

Fans who got wind of the project early didn’t wait for the summer season to officially start.

In March and April alone, he sold 750 shirts at $20 apiece. After costs, that’s $8 profit on each sale, or a hefty $6,000.

All this and he hadn’t even told the foundation about his project.

“When I told the guy at the state office, it was like I’d already given them the check,” he said.

“That makes me grin, but it’s not even a drop in the bucket of where we want to go.”

He’s set high goals. He figures on a reachable goal of 10,000 shirts, but he dreams of selling 50,000.

“I’d love to give a $400,000 check to the foundation at Bowling Green this year.”

Worth it

McKarns says some may ask why he didn’t take all the money he spent to build the tractor and donate that instead. He’s quick with a sensible rebuttal.

“I could have taken all I spent and donated it one time to the foundation and that’s all they’d ever get out of it.

“But if I sell shirts, maybe I can give them that much every year. Plus I’ll still have the tractor and enjoy the sport,” he reasons.

He’s also excited to see fans enjoying the shirts that show off their favorite tractor.

“I’ve had 80- or 85-year-old guys who want these shirts. They call themselves John Deere freaks; they’ve just got to have them,” he said.

He’s even had Jeff Gordon fans buy one.

“They tell me they don’t like Earnhardt and they don’t like John Deere, but they like this one,” McKarns said.

“All I can say is ‘thanks.'”

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

Get your shirt

Intimidadeere T-shirts cost $20 and are available in youth and adult sizes in black, white and yellow.

Dan McKarns hopes to attend all Ohio State Tractor Pullers Association pulls featuring a super farm class. Look for him at NTPA tractor pulls at Canfield and Bowling Green this summer. Shirts are available from his truck at those pulls.

To order your shirt, contact McKarns by phone at 330-223-1050 or e-mail him at shamrockvale@direcway.com.

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