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Jim Dimmerman’s “Thunderstruck”

Team Arctic legend Jim Dimmerman and his el tigre triple Thunderstruck

The ol’ black magic has been stirred once again inside of Jim Dimmerman.

In the emotional reckoning that surrounded his 2010 induction in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, the 55-year-old Dimmerman rekindled an old, dearly-loved flame…snowmobiles.

Fanning that flame were stories of the Vintage Challenge ride that happened hours before Dimmerman gave this tear-producing induction speech.

Yep, tales from that ride – told by longtime friend Aaron Scheele plus a battery of famous names like Brian Nelson, Jon Carlson and others – captured Dimmerman’s imagination. He would return to the Hall of Fame in 2011, this time on a vintage snowmobile.

And not just an ordinary leafer. Nope, the man who won the 1984 Worlds Championship, plus multiple speed run and drag racing titles, had bigger plans.

Like stuffing a 1993 900cc Thundercat triple into leaf-spring Arctic Cat el tigre chassis.

“I wanted to build a custom vintage sled that had the big triple,” Dimmerman said on this mid-November afternoon.

And why not? Dimmerman set the 1993 world stock speed record of 113.984 mph aboard a ’93 T-Cat, so he has a certain fondness for that engine.

With an offer to build the sled in Scheele’s shop in North Branch, Minn., Dimmerman had himself a project.

Inside Aaron Scheele's shop

From the outset, Dimmerman wanted his sled to be heart-pounding fast, but he wanted it to look as stock as possible. He settled on a ’78 Arctic Cat el tigre, in part because Scheele had such a machine that he was building for the next Vintage Challenge, and also because 1978 was Dimmerman’s first on the famed Team Arctic Oval program.

He also wanted it to hook up when he hit the gas, which meant swapping the original 116-in. track with a modern 121-in. Ripsaw with 1.25-in. lugs.

“That decision meant I needed a tunnel that was deep and long enough for that track, because the ’78 tunnel wouldn’t work,” said Dimmerman. A phone call to Tom Rowland of Thomas Sno Sports produced the only solution: a ’90 Arctic Cat Panther, whose tunnel would accept the new Ripsaw track.

Problem was, that Panther had an AWS front bulkhead.

Grafting the el tigre front end onto a '90 Panther tunnel

A little time spent with a plasma cutter, and voila, it was ready for the “straight-axle” front end from a ’78 tiger. More cutting and welding ensued, on the bulkhead as well as the custom motor mount system, and by the end of August there was a chassis ready for a motor.

That’s when the headaches really began, in part because Dimmerman wanted this sled to be quiet.

“I wanted to have all three pipes, but I also wanted it as quiet as the stock sled, which meant using a muffler.”

He also wanted the hood to appear as stock as possible, with little-or-no reshaping to accommodate three massive exhaust pipes.

Hood on, but is there enough clearance for the pipes?

“The space inside this hood was never meant for a triple-triple,” said Dimmerman, wryly.

Why a “stock” exhaust system, albeit cut up to fit inside the confines of a ’78 tiger hood/bellypan?

“I want it to be quiet, with legal sound. I want to ride this on trails responsibly, so race pipes were out of the question, even though it would make this project infinitely easier.

So far Dimmerman has used three complete sets of Thundercat pipes to get the project – named “Thunderstruck” – to where it was at just prior to Thanksgiving when I shot most of these photos. He might need another pipe or two.

Anyone got a spare set of Thundercat pipes that Dimmerman can borrow?

That’s a lot of extra parts to make one sled. And it bears mentioning that Dimmerman cut up one el tigre chassis that had to be scrapped altogether.

“I screwed it up and I had to trash it.”

The hours that Dimmerman has logged in Scheele’s shop are staggering, but it’s been great reconnecting with his friend. And Scheele is more than happy to give a little something back to the guy who sponsored him during many of his most successful years of snocross and cross-country.

Lots of conversations like this between Dimmerman and Scheele


To keep this hot stocker running as cool as possible, Dimmerman will use a both the radiator and tunnel-mounted heat exchanger from an Arctic Cat Wildcat.

Of course Dimmerman wants to slow this baby down in a hurry, so he’s added chaincase and Wilwood hydraulic brake from a ZR.


Like all the shops I visit, there are Fox Shox laying around everywhere

Skidframe is out of the ’90 Panther, but with Fox Gas Shox for a more controlled ride. Seems like I’ve been seeing a lot of Fox Shox going on vintage Arctic Cats the past few months!

The hood in these photos is just for placement, as a nice/new topper will grace it when it hits the snow. The dash, footrests and fuel tank will come from the ’78 el tigre.

With just a few months before the 2011 Vintage Challenge and SHOF weekend and LOTS more work to do just to get it to run, Dimmerman has already conceded that an airbox is out of the question for now. That’ll take a lot more scheming and cutting to make happen. Next summer.

He will find a new location for the headlight, though. Again, he wants Thunderstruck to be trail-legal.

Dimmerman aboard his Arctic Cat Thunderstruck

I had an absolute blast hanging out with Dimmerman and Scheele this late-November afternoon. Listening to Dimmerman tell stories about the old Team Arctic days, his unwavering respect for Larry Coltom and his re-found love of snowmobiles, is an experience I’m grateful for.

Dimmerman has even promised to let me record and share a few of these stories the next time I visit him, probably before Christmas.

Stay tuned for more on Dimmerman and Thunderstruck. And plan to join him at this year’s SHOF festivities.

Definitely one turpentined Arctic Cat

The ArcticInsiders will even tag a legend's sled



  1. Love the stories. Reminds me of spending time with my dad back in the 70’s on the Arctic Cats we had growing up. Looking forward to more on this old/new El Tigre.

  2. Jim….It’s a beautiful affliction from a past love….wouldn’t you agree? Glad you and Aaron are having so much fun! When you get that done build one and come race the prairie with Brian, Joey, Aaron, John, and I…….. I’ll show you a blast! Best JRC

  3. First of all, this arcticle needs to have word corrections! wherever its says “I” it needs to say “WE” or “US”…this build is so much about my hotrod buddies taking me under their wing and “runnin” with this idea..Aaron Scheele is a race shop, quality fabricator. He has welded every single seam on this sled.This is a shop with tig,mig,plasma,bridgeport,sandblasters..
    The projects sit on the benches till there cars parked in this shop…He has enough tiger parts to build 5 sleds..(yes we had to scrap one bulkhead because of a missed cut)…Tom Rowland is like a computer search engine..he can tell you from memory about a particulal part of over 40 years of Arctic Cat machines..we use him all the time for crossing pieces (and he has 90% in stock) Mitch Lobin and Mikey Fanum from Forest Lake Service & Performance have given me tons of pieces to help with the fabrication. I am soo lookin forward to seeing you guys again in February…

  4. Good Question..the T-cat was on ice in 1000′ however if my memory serves me correctly it weighed about 600 lbs. Iam estimating this tiger at about 500 Lbs. With good hard-pack and 1000′ to 1300′ Iam hoping for a SCARY 120mph..I will throw a roll of Charmin in the trunk so you can clean-up after your test ride….He He He Jim

  5. Jim, if you really want to build a sleeper, you need to use the hood you’ve got there with the crack and the old stickers. Hold it on with two rubber tarp straps.

    And I’m wondering if this thing could “WOBLE?”

  6. There is a guy out of the Chicago area that has a modded 900 in the same chassis as yours on the Asphalt…..Want to talk about quick…..I think he is in the low 9’s with it…….Hope to see your completed project on here soon…

  7. Hey Ted..The drag sled you speak of is Elthunder. It is owned by Peter Brzezinski in Illinois. I spoke to him before I started on my project. Our machines are very different. I fabricated two different bulkheads together to get a lower drive shaft height, Peter bolted on a flat piece of steel onto the side of his bulkhead and simply redrilled the holes and lowered his driveshaft..Thats fine for a asphalt dragger, but that would not be acceptable for my trail sled. I also added a factory 121″ tunnel to the piece.
    Don’t get me wrong..he’s got a fine runs over 130mph inthe 1/4.
    The only thing we have in common is the Engine.. Thanks Jim

  8. I know this is not a swap and shop site..But I need your help..I just bought a sweet 91 EXT 530, what kind of HP are they putting out? and where can I find a good set of Twin Pipes for it?…Thanks

  9. Hey Jim it’s good to see your sled coming around. I am thinking about bring my El Tirge up for this ride. You would be surprised how many miles I have on this chassis . For headlights you might want to get a 2 inch driving lights they will fit inside the hood vents and still look clean. My last time to the track it ran 9.11 @ 141MPH

  10. hey Pete..I think the ad campaign was called “FLYING TIGERS” in the day..
    It’s a 175 mile trip, pump gas, and don’t forget the muffler..(no rumble packs or snuffers) Wisconsin & Michigan, DNR trail legal.. I’ve seen what these guys do to ya if you dont finish.. It,s not pretty at the banquet..
    believe reputation is on the line to make it back under its own power. Thats the race,thats the challenge…By the way this 175 miles is equal to 700, 1/4 mile runs…has she got it in there??
    Thanks for the headlight tip Pete, could you email me a pic on how you mounted them? sounds like just the ticket.. Thanks Jim

  11. Hey Jim
    Great to hear about your El Tigre project hope It’s a great success!!!
    I Know It will be or maybe by now is.

    We have to connect again one of these day’s Tera says hello too.
    Take Care Don

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  14. Hello all;
    I have a 1993 Thundercat that I bought new. It’s all stock, in VERY GOOD condition, and am thinking about selling it. Any idea what it’s worth?
    I also have a 1999 Thundercat 1000 that I bought new and also is in VERY GOOD condition. Any idea what this would be worth?
    As to you Jim; I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you, but a friend of mine and I have watched you since you and Bob Elsner raced with “Team Arctic” back in the 70’s. You were and are the “man with the plan” when it came to sleds and Arctic Cat.

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