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Kirk Hibbert’s I-500-Winning 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440

The 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 (and 580) are among the all-time great snowmobile model introductions. The competitive achievements of this first-year model set the tone for one of most commercially successful machines in Arctic Cat history.

Aboard these purpose-built machines, Team Arctic racers rode roughshod over the competition in cross-country, snocross and oval events throughout the 1993 season, effectively erasing from memory the two lost years aboard the Prowler-based machines.

Kirk Hibbert’s victory in the St. Paul to Thunder Bay I-500 cross-country was perhaps the most significant win for a ZR that season.

This is that sled.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Thankfully Kirk kept this machine (as he also did with his 1990 EXT Special that he won Jeep 500 with), in original condition no less!

Other than an appearance at Arctic Cat’s 50th Anniversary, this machine has lived its post-race life in Kirk’s shop, among a handful of other significant machines associated with the Hibbert family.

The good news is that this historic Cat will be seen a little more frequently in the coming weeks and months. I shot these pix when the sled was parked in Tucker Hibbert’s shop last week, where it was being used in a cool video project that will soon splash the internets.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Other than a wipe down with a rag and polish, this sled is exactly as was when Kirk Hibbert crossed the finish line in Thunder Bay to win his second I-500, following an epic battle with Polaris racer Doug Lasher in the closing miles of the four-day event which saw the two finish within FOUR seconds of each other!


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Like pretty much all of Kirk’s sleds, this one shows little by the way of battle scars. That’s because he almost never crashed or banged into people.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

In fact, very little on this machine indicates it’s been ridden, let alone raced to victory in the biggest of all terrain events.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

The hockey tape wrap on the grips shows the wear of racing (and time). And somewhere along the way, the curved portion of the Wilwood brake lever was broken off.

What struck me when looking over the sled was just how little had been done to race-prep it for the I-500. The curved ends on the handlebars were a couple of the personal touches that Kirk added.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Another was adding side pads on the seat.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Bolts that were cut-off and running through the running boards provided added foot traction.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Speaking of traction, Kirk ran 96 Woody’s Gold Diggers.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

He added small plate bracing to the skis (on top, under the spindle plate and along the bottom channel).


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Plastic foot-protectors/keepers were added to the stirrup area of both running boards, mainly to keep his foot in place (rather than protection).


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Additional straps on the front, sides and back were added to keep the hood in place.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

The spare throttle block is still taped to the rear console vent.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

The odometer shows 845 miles.

The race itself accounted for 640 of those miles, as that year’s event was four day (rather than the typical three).

Day one started in Wyoming, Minn. and finished in Brainerd. The second day went from Brainerd to Duluth. The third leg was Duluth to Grand Marais, while the final day was Grand Marais to Thunder Bay, Ontario.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Under the hood, only surface rust on some of the components betrays the 21 years that have passed since this machine was crown the champ.

Like the rest of the machine, there was very little “special” building done to make this otherwise stock machine a race-winner. Hibbert made a career out of focusing his attention on shocks, suspension calibration and handling.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Coils were a potential weak point for these engines, so Kirk had a second one ready to go should he need it.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

Then (and sometimes even today) racers were wise to add a third spring (and associated tabs) to the exhaust/muffler junction.


Kirk Hibbert's 1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 I-500 winner. Photo by

It’s hard to see, but washers were welded to the bulkhead where the A-arm attached.


Kirk Hibbert racing in the 1993 I-500 cross-country. Photo by

Here’s a shot I grabbed on the final day of the race, when Kirk started in third place, three minutes and eight seconds behind Doug Lasher. Brad Pake (who was then on a Polaris) started the day in second, 53 seconds ahead of Hibbert.


Kirk Hibbert at the finish of the 1993 I-500 cross-country. Photo by

Hibbert ran mistake-free and with blazing speed to catch and pass Lasher for the win. His winning time was 11:37:01.

I snapped the photo above just minutes after Kirk crossed the finish line.

Anyone recognize some of the people standing behind the banner in the background?


1993 I-500 snowmobile cross-country race results. Kirk Hibbert.

There were 218 people who started the race, and 114 who finished.

As usual, Polaris had a damn strong finish in the race. And as usual, they had the vast majority of entries, which was a major factor in the finish.

Arctic Cat’s amazing success here and at all the race events in 1993 would turn the tide and usher in a new era where Cat had as many (and often times more) entries as their competitor from up the road.

Kirk’s win in 1993 was a thrilling accomplishment for himself and Team Arctic. A new era had begun, and a couple legends were well on their way to fruition.

Thanks for reading.



  1. That….is old school cool! That was a turning point for snowmobile racing, and XC racing in particular….Polaris was no longer the only game in town. Please tell Tucker to clean up his shop, it looks like a dump. lol!

  2. That is a pretty neat time capsule there! I remember wrenching in the pit’s along side alot of those guy’s from 1990-1994.

  3. I’ll never grow tired of looking at a 1993 ZR. When it happens to be the one that helped reestablish Arctic Cat as a racing dynasty/powerhouse, even better. Sandberg: when you shot those images of Kirk and his ZR back in January 1993 could you ever have imagined that you would be shooting it again some 20 years later?!

  4. Chad nails it!

    Mike F: You also nailed it… because 1993 was the turning point for cross-country.

    Tom: I second that sentiment about looking at ’93 ZRs. When I shot those pix of Kirk, about the only distance I saw into the future was what I was going to eat for dinner that afternoon. I had absolutely ZERO clue as to what circles my life would lead with all this stuff.

    Funny, that.

  5. That was the start of a great decade for Cat no doubt! Capt. Kirk was the MAN! I remember watching lots of those races! The Hibbert name means as much to Cat racing as any name to any manufacturers race team, no matter race car, bikes, etc.
    I owned many 1990’s ZR 440 and 580’s and they were hands down a better handling sled then there counter parts of other manufacturers.

    I just came across a sweeeet purple jacket with race checkers during my recent move, too bad it doesn’t fit…

    I didn’t see Gerry Mattison’s name on the list? Break down that race?

    Awesome write up John!

  6. Would love to have that sled at the Snowmobile Hall of Fame’s Salute to Cross Country Legends event in Alexandria, MN on February 13, 2015. DA

  7. Very cool ! Brings back memories of one my favorite sleds I owned and drove in the “old” days. Mine was actually a 94′ and came stock with some of the improvements Kirk did to his sled. Remember when silicone was a must addition to the exhaust springs ?

  8. Nice article John.
    I don’t mean to hijack your post but this was a significant race for Todd and I also.
    It was our first 500 on a Ski Doo. It was the first top 50 for a Ski Doo in many years. The sled had a fiberglass hood and belly pan and mechanical brakes. We bent the driveshaft the first day and had to replace it during the maintenance period. The second day we tore off a trailing arm. By the end of the race the belly pan was destroyed and Todd limped in with the belt slipping from all the snow in the engine compartment.
    For me personally, I worked for Brian Nelson when the first proto ZR was built in his dealership in Spicer. I had a very small role in helping to build that sled. So there was some satisfaction in seeing how well it turned out.

  9. Bob, great to hear from you. And great info too.

    The Todd that Bob’s referring to is Todd Wolff, who suffered through many years with an inferior sled yet still managed not only great finishes, but occasional wins! Which is a testament to his talent and dedication, as well as Bob’s excellent sled prep.

    Once Doo started building better sleds, Todd would win regularly, including consecutive I-500s in 1998 and ’99. I often used to wonder how many more wins Todd would have had if he’d stayed on Polaris or raced on Cat?

  10. Bob, I thought Todd started in 92′ with the MX-X? Very exciting times for cross country. I would love to here the story of Kirk Hibberts run in 94′ ? I remember running flat out down a railroad bed coming out of Duluth on the last day and passing kirk and his sled at the side of the trail with the hood up? Burn down I was guessing?

  11. Another great story about a great ERA for Team Arctic.

    I can remember reading my dads snow weeks as a kid and thinking that was so cool and what a big deal the i500 was and the mass amounts of coverage. Brings back great memories..

  12. I was Kirk’s right hand man for many years and I can tell you we sent a lot of long days working on that sled to get it ready. We had one thing on our side, it was one very fast sled right out of the crate and all we had to do was work from there. John did a good job showing some of the little things we did but for sure he missed a few things. Kirk was a lot of fun to work with and he had one thing on his mind and that was to have a sled that he could just drive and not worry about and we did have that.

  13. Randy: I too am a fan (and friend) of both Todd and Bob, so no worries there.

    Al: Okay, fess up… what are some of the additional tweaks?!?

  14. There appears to be strips of hyfax bolted along the bottom inside of the tunnel. If that is what they are, what is the purpose of them?

  15. John,

    I still watch the 1993 I-500 VCR tape a few times every year. I believe the film was created by Perry Karg. I should probarbly record it on some newer technology like some dvd’s before that vcr tape quits working on me. I’d be more than glad to send it to you John if that is something that interest you in seeing if you haven’t already!
    I hope all is well and I am sure I will be seeing you this winter!

  16. Buster: Brian answered correctly. Roughly foot-long pieces of hyfax bolted to the inside-rear of the tunnel would prevent track derailing.

    Erik: Yes, you should digitize that vid. And if you do, I’d love to record it. My guess is that it was produced by Perry Carlson, who shot most (or all) of the Jeep/I-500s from 1987-94.

  17. I would love to see all those old films, and promotional items that arctic used to put out every year. I have promotional videos from 1997, 2000-2009.

  18. It was a lot of work putting together a vide back then. But FUN. One year I filmed most of the race while riding with C.J. and his brother…the stories and laughs….priceless. I still laugh when I think about it (you had to be in that car trip)

  19. love reading these old story’s. very cool. my dad still has his 93 ZR 580 from when it was new and now he owns a 440. between a friend of mine and myself we probably own 15 of these awesome sleds. I’m up to 4 of the 580s and 3 of the 440s. all which are 93s. boy are they hard to track down but there worth it. most cat guys don’t even know they exist.


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