On the way to TRF I stopped for a visit with newly-crowned ISOC Pro Open champ, Tucker Hibbert. How was Tucker celebrating his most recent championship? Washing his truck.
Even cooler than a brand-new RAM truck: a hand-made duct tape wallet, sent to Tucker by one of his race fans. With a crafty child of my own, I’ve seen plenty of duct tape wallets the past few years. But nothing I’ve seen compares with the black/green and decorated unit that Tucker scored.
How was Tucker spending the resources contained in this wallet during my visit? Buying box fans, of course. Six of them (no lie).
By the way, Tucker’s Debit Card number is 5406 3212 2057 6554 x 9/14.
Arriving at Arctic Cat bright and early the next morning, there was a lone sled parked in front of the plant… a T660 Turbo in mint condition. Which reminds me: I’ve heard the question, “Why is Arctic Cat using the C-TEC name designation with its new 600 DSI and all of its various 4-stroke engines?”
The company actually began using CTECH-4 when it launched the T660 as the first consumer-available 4-stroke snowmobile in 2002. It refers to “Clean Technology.”
I’ve been sneaking into the front door of this place for more than 20 years, but I can’t ever remember seeing this much settled snow there. Look at the sides of the foyer… the snow banks are two-thirds the height of the doors!
There is so much snow in Northern Minnesota right now, it’s astounding. I worry about what it will mean for the Red River Valley later this spring, as it’s pretty apparent that serious flooding will occur.
Once inside my favorite building in the world, I enjoyed a breakfast snack in the break room with two friends, Kevin Thompson (left) and Gary Nelson. Among his duties at Cat, Kevin oversees the drivetrain group, which has worked hard to confront the build-up of heat in the clutches/belt on select models.
From the conversation I gathered preliminary information to serve as the basis of a future story on the subject later this year.
(By the way… Happy 50th Kevin.)
Walking from the break room to engineering, I passed by the Snowmobile Pilot Room (where the first examples of pre-production snowmobiles are assembled) and was psyched to see an AI decal that someone else had placed! I’m guessing it was the handiwork Joe Lesmeister, who works in the pilot room and who wrenches for Arctic Cat racer/engineer Brian Dick.
I’ll send the sponsorship check in today’s mail, Joe.
Back in engineering, Larry Coltom (with the awesome grin) and Bart Magner were swapping rails on a skidframe.
These two guys are responsible for the drive quality of the ZR and XF 137-in. snowmobiles, and it’s safe to say that they observe the ride characteristics of a snowmobile to a level that makes my head spin (which is another story I’ll be working on in the coming weeks). Whether it’s clutching, suspension calibration, ride quality, engine calibration or any other system on a snowmobile, these two guys can detect the most subtle nuances and recalibrate (or request recalibration) accordingly.
Like so many of their colleagues, Larry and Bart are why Arctic Cat snowmobiles work so dang well. Besides that, they’re both great guys, even though Bart always laughs at me for taking so many pictures and for buying helmets that are too small.
Talking about seat-of-the-pants ride calibration… Roger Skime (right) has a lifetime accumulation of such skill. And the conversations that occur between him and Larry about the calibration of new snowmobiles have been part and parcel of Arctic Cat for five decades.
That old cliche about wise men forgetting more about a subject than anyone else will ever know… that’s definitely the case with these two.
As is usually the case this time of the season, these guys and the rest of engineering are working on final calibrations for the next year’s model line as well as future projects.
A few feet away from where Roger was putting the final touches on a ZR8000 LXR, I spotted these racks. I was shocked at the sight!
Nearby, Brian Dick was swapping a freshly built exhaust can on a ZR6000 el tigre that Engine Design Manager Donn Eide (right) had just delivered.
Eide is one of the engineers who designed the new C-TEC2 600 engine. It’s been a busy handful of years for him and his colleagues, yet it’s so cranking awesome to see the results of their efforts and expertise.
I finagled my way onto a ride with Brian Dick (left) and Roger. We had a ZR6000 el tigre, a ZR7000 Sno Pro and a ZR8000 LXR, machines that Brian is responsible for as Team Leader of the Performance sleds, and each calibrated to final production specification for 2014.
My goal was to capture what happens on the kind of ride these guys and other engineers experience on a daily basis. We left Arctic Cat at Noon, following Roger as he headed north.
Every 20 minutes or so these two would stop and talk about what they observed about the sleds, be it clutching, suspension, handling or anything else. Then they’d swap machines and head out for another romp in the ditches, trail and endless farmland of Northwest Minnesota.
Once in awhile Roger would stop and tell us a funny story, like he did at this particular spot where, some 30 years ago, he was barreling along on a snowmobile and clipped a mailbox with his hand and messed up his fingers. Truth!
About 70 miles after leaving TRF we arrived at Roger’s ranch near Skime, Minn. Yes, Skime, Minn.
In addition to being an engineer, racer, husband, father, grandpa and exceptional dancer, Roger is also a cowboy with ranch full of cattle. And on his ranch he’s building a beautiful new shop to house the various equipment needed to run his ranch.
Inside the old shop is this cool Kirk Hibbert banner that Arctic Cat created after the introduction of the 1993 ZR. Kirk signed the poster for Roger, and it’s a treasured keepsake for that very special snowmobile and the friendship they share.
After filling up our sleds with Roger’s personal stash of fuel, Brian made an adjustment to the torsion springs before our return trip to TRF.
Here’s a shot of sweet tool kit that Brian carries with whenever he rides, modeled after the kit he brings when competing in the Iron Dog race.
“I can practically rebuild the entire snowmobile if I needed to,” was his comment.
Some days when these guys ride, the pace is snail-slow. Other times its casual. On this day, it ranged from moderate to whoa-momma-fast!
And like I mentioned above, each time they stop they share observations about the ride characteristics of each sled. They notice EVERYTHING.
Here’s a short video of Roger (on the orange 2014 ZR7000) and Brian hitting a couple sections of ditch (sorry about all the wind noise during the first segment). Seriously, these two did similar launches no less than 50 times that day. It’s as normal for them as driving a car is for most people.
Pause for a moment to consider this: Roger is 69 years old. (In the first segment of video, he’s the first one to hit the approach. He’s the rider in the second segment.)
That’s just one reason why Roger is the hero to so many.
When we arrived back at Arctic Cat late that afternoon, the odometer indicated 134.2 miles.
“That’s a short ride,” said Roger.
Not long after arriving back at Cat, Snowmobile Product Manager Joey Hallstrom arrived from his own ride that day in the Walhalla, ND, area where, like northern Minn., it’s loaded with snow.
After snapping this pic I noticed the decal on the locker over Joey’s shoulder and zoomed in for a look.
“Ol’ Larr” as in Old Larry. I love how someone penciled in “The Legend.”
It’s hard to explain, but while guys like Coltom and Skime are certainly some of the all-time great snowmobile legends, they’re also just regular guys. And I think that in THEIR minds, that they are ONLY regular guys.
That humbleness characterizes the culture of this region and the company, and it’s something I appreciate very much.
Anyway, after we got back to Cat (and even though it was 5pm on a Friday), there was still work to do. A discussion between Bart (left), Roger (middle) and Brian about the clutch calibration on the ZR7000 prompted the decision for another test with a different cam in the driven.
Likewise, with 1,300 miles on the sled, Brian wanted to check the rollers in the drive clutch before loading up the sleds for a weekend of additional testing in the Grand Rapids, Minn., area.
There’s still a lot of riding left for these guys. And there’s no end to the fine-tuning that occurs on snowmobiles. Eventually the deadline of snowmelt and/or production will halt tweaking, but only temporarily.
Leaving the plant, I high-tailed it over to the Huck Olson ice arena, where the 6th Annual Arctic Cat Cup was about to unfold.
I love this event (and wrote in great detail about last year’s match HERE), organized by Arctic Cat Stylist Corey Friesen.
In short, it’s the culmination of a season’s worth of Wed. night games among Arctic Cat employees, complete with a traveling cup (made from ATV wheels), full team introductions, singing the Star-Spangled Banner and the bragging rights that go to the winning team.
This year the teams were split into ATV/Wildcat (wearing red) and Snowmobile.
There’s a lot to love about this game and the organization that Friesen puts into it, but what I appreciate the most is that there is a full-range of abilities that contest it, from first-year skaters to former High School standouts and including people who work in practically every area of the company.
After three hard-fought periods, the ATV Wildcats claimed an 8-to-6 victory over the Snow el tigres.
Hoisting the Arctic Cat Cup high was the winning goalie (and game MVP), Adam Dahl, who had never played goalie until this year when Friesen was sidelined due to a knee injury.
The winning team (in no particular order):
Mike Tiry (Engine Group)
Maison Schoh (Assembly)
Tim Barry (ROV Welding Lead)
Tony Fletcher (Quality)
Jeff Best (Chassis Engineer)
Adam Dahl (ROV Welding)
Aaron Wavra (ATV Accessories)
Nick Ward (Chassis Engineer)
Peter Schoenecker (Chassis Engineer)
Scott Langlie (Purchasing)
Randy Pederson (Accounting)
Scott Mazour (Chassis Engineer)
Mark Esela (Group Manager)
Wayne Minnechsofer (Fuel System Engineer)
Congrats to all the players!
That’s all for now, thanks for reading!