The news of Billy Joe Miles passing yesterday has hit so very many of us in the pulling world who loved and adored him. Billy Joe used to introduce me to everyone he could, and with each passing person I met, he told them the story of how I was his namesake. (Note-I was named after my grandmother, as her maiden name was Miles) While I grew up, the story went the same but now I was meeting people as a young man and often would have the opportunity to further visit with Billy Joe and his peers. With each idea that I had in my mind, I would ask for his time and knowledge. When I launched this website, the Road Show, and several of the projects I have worked on over the last decade, Billy Joe was often one of the first to know. I admired him more than words can say, just as so many others had! Even as he aged and his strength began to falter, his handshake and bearhug were exactly as I remembered them as a child, firm and with purpose!
It truly is not possible to measure the impact that Billy Joe had on people, the state of Kentucky, Agriculture Worldwide and for those that follow this site, the sport of Pulling. Billy Joe was an innovator and a darn good man! This article was published after the Farm Show of 2014. I saw with Billy Joe in the trailer in Broadbent and did my interview to gather this information. He was excited about the story, not because I was posting it on the site but because it gave us an opportunity to visit. I hope you all will take a moment to pray for the Miles’ Family as the enormity of this loss will leave a lasting affect for a long time.
There truly aren’t enough words to describe this month’s Profab Rusty Years 2 Rusty Gears Pulling Legend. Growing up in the sport of pulling and even into my adult life I have believed that this gentleman’s vision and desire to promote the sport may never be equaled. It is my deepest honor to tell the story of one of the forefathers of pulling, Billy Joe Miles.
Born in 1939, Billy Joe Miles entered the world to the delight of his family throughout Owensboro, Kentucky. Miles’ great-grandmother was the owner of a dairy, and thus growing up Billy Joe spent hours by her side as she worked to manage the dairy. Some of his fondest memories of his childhood revolve around riding to the bank to help make the daily deposits for the dairy. The dairy was a family affair as Billy Joe’s grandfather worked as a traveling salesman going door to door to try and sell their milk, cottage cheese, and other products.
While Billy Joe’s grandparents and great-grandmother ran the dairy, his father was a farmer. Billy Joe knew at a young age that he wanted to be a farmer, as he absolutely loved getting out in a Jeep to check the crops every day. Spending time with his father provided a perfect learning opportunity but it was a family friend that ultimately inspired Miles to take the steps to become a farmer.
At the ripe age of sixteen years old, Billy Joe decided it was time to acquire some land for himself, but the cost of land in Owensboro was two hundred dollars an acre, which for that time he thought was absolutely crazy. With some encouragement, Miles looked outside of the area and actually looked to the area around Rough River to purchase his first plot of land. He bought two hundred acres on a contract for $60.00 an acre over five years. Forty of his two hundred acres were cleared, with the remaining being timberland. The landowners believed this was a deal Billy Joe would not be able to uphold, but with his determination and focus, he was able to clear the timberland with the help of a D-4 Bulldozer he purchased on credit. Billy Joe’s friend had recently purchased a bulldozer as well, and while he knocked the trees down, the responsibility of clearing the mess fell on the shoulders of Miles.
The challenge of getting the land cleared was something that didn’t halt Billy Joe Miles at all, as he continued to purchase a little bit more land each year with a similar five-year contract. Slowly the farmland began to pile up. This made the idea of going to college a bit of a challenge, but instead of accepting a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, Miles opted to head to Western Kentucky in Bowling Green. The geographic proximity of the farmland and Western was more convenient, and thus Billy Joe could build his class schedule to take only classes on Tuesday-Thursday, with no evening courses. When he graduated from Western, Miles owned land in three different counties.
The successes in the fields lead Billy Joe to pursue the idea of opening up a farm supply store that would sell chemicals and seed for the local farmers around the community. The success of the farm supply store was immediate, as sales went through the roof and the demand presented the need to open more locations. As his stores continued to open, Miles prided himself on finding great people who shared a similar vision for hard work and a strong faith in their daily lives.
Living in Daviess County and working hard with the farming community lead Billy Joe to the presidency of the Young Farm Bureau in Owensboro. Being the president was something Miles took great pride in and allowed him to learn the craft of event promotion as the bureau was tasked annually with putting on a tractor pulling event at the fairgrounds. The success of the pulling event in Owensboro, Kentucky caught the attention of many people, but the real eye it caught was from the Fair and Expo Center in Louisville, Kentucky. A group of people had been working to put together a Farm Machinery Show in the Derby City but they couldn’t seem to keep the attendees around.
Always one to make a suggestion, Billy Joe mentioned to the Fair Board President, Don Johnson, that a pull had never been done indoors, but he felt like it could happen if they were willing to try. With the help of a technology company that worked to transfer the smoke from Freedom Hall out of the building, Miles believed a successful pull could take place and would provide a reason for show-goers to stay around. He and a group of friends from his hometown would put the show on. The cost was a bit high for an untested product, but with the Fair Board backing them, the purse, the rental fees, dirt costs, and additional event costs were covered to the tune of thirty thousand dollars.
The success of the Farm Show was evident in an instant, as just like Miles believed, fans came to the pull after attending the event in the expo halls. The Farm Show became the only money-making endeavor for the Fair Board, as it served to fuel other events hosted at the Exposition Center. Quickly the Championship Tractor Pull grew from a single session to a weekend event over Friday and Saturday. The growth continued with pulling action now spread out through five sessions of competition beginning on Wednesday evening and concluding with two sessions on Saturday. The National Farm Machinery Show has grown to become the largest agricultural show in North America with over 295,000 people attending and generating an economic impact for Louisville north of twenty-one million dollars.
While the Championship Tractor Pull began to grow and thrive, Miles was told by now good friend Don Johnson that he was going to be seeking new employment working for a company that promoted Thrill Shows. Billy Joe wasn’t one to watch an opportunity walk away, and with the slow farming demand in the winter, he felt a need to keep Johnson working with him. Miles asked Johnson to organize the rental of some of the largest facilities across the country, and he would work to bring the events to them. A few weeks later, Miles and Johnson flew to Houston to have meetings and handed the Astro Dome thirty thousand dollars to cover the gate for their upcoming pull to be hosted there. In addition to Houston, contracts and deposits were given to six other towns across the country and with that TNT Motorsports was born.
TNT Motorsports or Truck N Tractor Motorsports became an immediate success just as the pull had in Louisville. Together the six friends from Owensboro were off and running on a journey through life that none of them had anticipated. Though they all enjoyed participating in their local tractor pull and participating at events when they could around the community, as they began working with TNT they all stopped pulling. They didn’t believe it was fair to compete against pullers who were supporting the sanctioning body.
TNT took the six Kentuckians on a run across the United States that none of them could have fathomed as not only were they promoting multiple events in a weekend, but also now packing fairgrounds across the country throughout the summer. Never ones to be greedy, Billy Joe Miles and the Owensboro Boys decided they were all getting older and it was time to pass the pulling torch over to the next promoter and thus TNT Motorsports was sold to Pace Motorsports.
Leaving the pulling organization behind was not as hard as it may have seemed for Miles. He knew deep down in his heart that he’d had a hand in helping to launch pulling and the people in it to the next level. Announcers Army Armstrong and Butch Krieger went on to be faces of pulling across the world with television and live shows embracing their boisterous voices. The very truck they helped finance and conceptualize may be the most recognized motorsport’s vehicle in America in the form of Dennis Anderson’s Grave Digger. The people who worked behind the scenes all went on to flourish in their own specific niches, with merchandising employees, tech officials, and flagmen still working in the motorsports world today.
Miles didn’t get home and rest after his time with TNT. Instead, he aggressively started several other businesses. He became the owner of a company aimed specifically for bringing exhibition shows to cities around the world. The company had a working partnership with foreign countries like Russia, who specifically sent employees over to help work the shows in the states and vice versa with stateside employees going across to Russia. To this day, Exhibition Marketing and Management is owned and operated by some of Billy Joe’s employees who have kept the ball rolling that he originally pushed.
To measure his successes might be impossible, as Miles Farms and it’s partners own 40,000 acres in Bolivia, as well as multiples farms in the state of Kentucky to the tune of 20,000 acres as well as the farm supply store which Miles sold a few years ago to Crop Production Services. Billy Joe has owned and operated a Gas/Diesel Business, Petroleum Company, Golf Course, Exhibition Business, and of course TNT in his seventy-four years.
As pulling continues to change, Miles is most proud of the advancements being made in the form of safety for the pullers and fans. TNT was instrumental in developing a cohesive rulebook meant to protect all involved, and with the introduction of scatter blankets, and protective shielding, Miles believes pulling is doing a phenomenal job of going the extra mile. As for his regrets, it is Billy Joe’s biggest regret that he was unable to propel the National Farm Machinery Show to a stage similar to that of the NFL or the NBA. Though the television coverage was in place to make the show in Louisville available to homes of unreached fans around the country, philosophical differences prevented the deal from being finalized. Miles often reflects on his inability to achieve that dream.
To measure a man’s wealth, many people may look at the size of his pocketbook or assets, and though Billy Joe Miles is doing well with both of those, he is the richest in the adoration of all of who have had the opportunity to work with him over his lifetime. What one person’s vision did for our sport may never be equaled and for that, I am incredibly proud to call Billy Joe Miles a mentor, idol, and most importantly a loved friend!
Located in Baldwin, Wisconsin, Profab Machine, Inc. emerged in 1987 with the goal of offering a cost-effective product line at the highest quality standards for four-wheel drive pulling trucks. It has since grown to include super stock, pro stock and super farm tractors, as well as two-wheel drive and modified pulling vehicles.
Profab uses modern machinery and the latest technology to produce high caliber products. From the product materials to the heat treating process, quality and satisfaction are the number one concerns for our customers. On the pulling circuit, you can catch the Profab Pulling team of Larry and Lisa Peterson in the NTPA Grand National Four Wheel Drive Truck class with both of their Chevy trucks. Click here to visit Profab Machine!
Thank you to Miles Stratton for sharing photos with us for use in this story!