What a Spectacle: Thai Farmers Drag Race Tuned Stand-Up Tractors

The “Iron Buffalo” drag races in Thailand are an entirely unique kind of motorsport.

byLewin Day|
Culture photo
YouTube/CB Media


It is a truth self-evident that if you put an engine on something, someone will try to race it. That's very much the case in Thailand, where a grassroots tractor racing scene has popped up around farming areas.

As shared by CB Media on YouTube, Thai farmers race noisy, hopped-up tractors in a stand-up configuration. The action is almost akin to chariot racing, with all the thrills and spills that entails. The drag racing takes place on dirt strips amidst paddocks in Thailand's rice farming areas. Fear not, however, for the competitors are well-equipped with safety gear, from bicycle helmets to motorcycle shin guards.

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At the races, there's a huge variety of machinery on display. The competitors show a great flair for customization. Carbon-fiber and brightly anodized fuel tanks abound, along with flashy wheels and paint schemes on the racers. Huge unsilenced exhausts are par for the course, providing a loud and boisterous soundtrack to proceedings. The single-cylinder diesel engines might only pump out horsepower in the low double-digits at most, but the people involved put on a heck of a show regardless.

Most of the racers compete with stand-up rigs with the engine and driven wheels up front. However, a few have built low-slung dragster-like machines in a variety of configurations, complete with steering wheels and transmissions to boot.

Overall, it's a great spectator sport. The lumpy dirt track keeps competitors on their toes, quite literally, and getting thrown off is a very real possibility. The decorated machines in lurid paint do plenty to add to the spectacle, along with the good vibes from the cheering crowds.

Referred to as "rice tractors" in the video, they go by a different name to the locals. According to the Thailand Foundation, the long-handled two-wheeled tractors are called "ekong," and are essentially used as engine-driven plows for a variety of farming jobs. The engines can also be used to supply power to equipment like water pumps and rice threshers, for example. The tractors are also sometimes known as "iron buffalo" or "walking tractors" in other contexts.

Ekongs that have been attached to wagons or a four-wheeled chassis tend to go by the name "e-tak," for the tak-tak sound of the simple engines. Fancier versions are known as "e-tan", and more resemble simple cars or trucks. They feature proper steering and brakes in addition to bodies created by local coachbuilding workshops.

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Notably, there are also muddier drag races with similar machines, too. This typically involves rigs mounted with large paddle-style wheels to chew through the muck at speed. Destination Thailand visited such an event in 2016, noting the potency of the "Open" class machines and the scrutineering involved.

We'd love to get involved, and maybe bring some race engineering to the table. In a decade or so, the paddock could be swarming with high-compression VTEC tractors running nitrous, attended by a swarm of mechanics toting laptops and tire thermometers. Or maybe, just maybe? It's brilliant just the way it is.

Got a tip? Let the author know: lewin@thedrive.com