Shell Lubricants

Shell Lubricants researchers, tractor-pulling champion at winning intersection of sport and science

To some it may seem like an unusual match: Shell scientists and a national tractor-pulling champion meeting to discuss technology and innovation. However, this is exactly what happened when Larry Koester, four-time national tractor-pulling champion and advocate for the Shell Rotella brand of heavy duty engine oils came to the Shell Technology Center Houston (STCH) on his way to the city’s annual Livestock Show and Rodeo. 

"I’m in Houston because the Agriculture and Mechanics Competition at the Rodeo is a great opportunity for me to share my knowledge with the kids who are there. My passion for the Shell Rotella brand, however, is why I’m at STCH," said Koester. He explained, "In tractor-pulling, our engines have four times the horsepower of a NASCAR race car. As we pull a heavy sled down the track, the load on the engine is so great that the oil is the only thing you have to keep the engine cool and running. This is why I’m here—to better understand the science that makes us a winning team, as well as to connect with researchers on our future engine oil needs for the sport." 

The Shell scientists were excited to meet with Koester, whose personal story is compelling. After losing both legs below the knees in a tractor accident on his farm more than 20 years ago, he redirected his energy and became a tractor-pulling champion. He is one of the most popular drivers on the National Tractor Pull Association (NTPA) Mini Modified Circuit, nominated the Mini Modified Puller of the Year in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2008. Shell has sponsored the Koester Racing Team since 1998.

"Not only is he an advocate for the Shell Rotella brand," said Shell Research Engineer Paul Bastien, "he is a motivational leader who has a real interest in how things work. We’ve looked forward to this visit for a long time."

At STCH, Koester and his team—including family members who are champions in their own right—had the opportunity to observe extensive engine oil testing, see how customer oils are blended and visit the Tribology Lab, where scientists study the principles of friction, lubrication and wear—the foundation for products like Shell Rotella, the number one heavy duty oil in America (source: NPD Group, Retail Tracking Service, 12 ME, October 2013). Then the scientists and the Koesters sat down to discuss product development opportunities.

"We work closely with our customers, including the various racing teams we sponsor, to understand their needs and develop products that improve their performance," said Bastien. "Racing teams are typically at the leading edge of  engine technology. The Koesters’ visit provided us with the opportunity to share with champion racing drivers the technology and science behind their motor oils and the work that goes into putting a product together, as well as to learn from them to help us develop the next generation of competitive lubricants," he added.

In their racing, the Koesters use a modified version of one of the Shell Rotella T-series of products, built from the same technology that goes into premium Rotella heavy duty engine oils available at major retailers and auto parts stores around the country. "Everything we do is about hard work, so we use Shell Rotella in our supercharged tractor engines as well as in our trucking business and in our personal vehicles. After meeting with the Shell team of scientists, I have a better understanding how synthetic motor oils can deliver improved fuel mileage, are integral in helping an engine run cooler and the overall protection the Rotella product provides us to keep all our vehicles working hard."

Bastien added, "Our heavy duty engine oil product line covers a wide range of customer usage, from oils designed for regular diesel pickup trucks to large trucking fleets to those that meet the demanding conditions of tractor pulling," Bastien said. He added "The adaptive technology in Shell Rotella allows the oil to protect across all driving conditions, physically or chemically reacting to the ever-changing needs of an engine."

"Our family has been in the trucking industry for 79 years," said Koester. "You find out through experience what kind of oils and greases really work to extend the life of your equipment. I’m glad we were able to learn about the technology and innovation that makes Shell Rotella the right product for us, and I look forward to more meetings like this in the future."