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Nelson I-500 El Tigre Replica Raffle

Brian Nelson with a raffle replica of his 1978 I-500-winning Arctic Cat El Tigre Cross-Country

Instead of Brian Nelson standing by this rideable replica of his 1978 Arctic Cat 440 El Tigre Cross-Country I-500 winner, it could be YOU.

Nelson, shown here inside his race shop in Spicer, Minn., just completed this outstanding build in time for the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary Celebration. He’s donating it to the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in St. Germain, Wis., which will hold a giveaway raffle to raise money for the organization.

Nelson has gotten quite adept at rebuilding Cross Country El Tigres in the past year, having spearheaded THIS EFFORT to contest the 2011 USCC Vintage I-500 race.

During the many hours of building those race machines, Nelson was cooking the idea of building a replica of his famous kitted 1978 I-500 winner.

Brian Nelson at the 1978 I-500, photo from the C.J. Ramstad Archives

Brian Nelson 1978 repli-racer

“The Hall of Fame does such an outstanding job of preserving the history and heritage of snowmobile racing, that I wanted to give something back to it,” said Nelson.

So, after procuring what turned out to be on of his back-up race sleds from the 1978 season, Nelson logged a few hundred hours of shop time completely rebuilding the machine.

Instead of making it an exact race-replica, however, Nelson wanted it to be a “raceable-rider” in the same vein as his recent I-500 vintage builds. Thus the SHOF raffle sled gets modern Arctic Cat clutches, a ZR chaincase/Wilwood hydraulic brake and a new 2.52-pitch Yokahama track.

An Arctic Cat El Tigre that's so clean you could eat off of it

All these goodies came after the chassis was stripped bare, sand-blasted and repainted; skidframe disassembled and rebuilt with new hardware; and every component checked (or replaced with one from Nelson’s growing supply of Cross Country El Tigre parts).

Brian Nelson 1978 repli-racer

The final result is a sled whose owner can fire-up and ride all day long, or even race it themselves.

Having myself ridden/raced one of these modernized El Tigres, I can attest that the modern clutching, brakes and track really transform this machine, markedly improving the performance and handling.

In fact, the winner of this SHOF raffle could literally put numbers on the hood and enter the USCC vintage class.

“About the only thing I’d change if I were racing it myself would be to add Fox gas shocks,” says Nelson.

Nelson will add a few more detail touches to the machine, including some NOS Union Carbide decals to the hood (like his original).

He’ll have this machine (along with his race sled from this past season) on display at the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary Celebration, where anyone can buy raffle tickets. Tickets will also be available through the SHOF, with the winner being drawn during the 2012 Spring Round Up in St. Germain.



  1. I took a short rip on the sled Brian rode in the I-500 last year and I saw all three sleds he build last year close-up. All I can say is the winner of this raffle sled will not be disappointed.

  2. I’m not sure if im reading this all rite,or not? but I can’t recall a cat winning in “78”. how ever that machine looks origanel. verry nice job. well done.

  3. dj: Yep, Brian won on a Cat in 1978. He won on a Deere in ’76. Rumor has it that Brut is looking at a comeback for 2012, and that they’re looking to hire Brian away from Team Arctic. Not sure if that’s likely or not?

    Dulpher: I’ll update with that info as soon as I hear back from him/SHOF.

  4. Tickets are $10/each or three-for-$20.

    I encourage everyone to opt in, but I’m sorry to say that I plan on winning the sled.

  5. Sorry.
    I’m pretty sure Tom W. sold me the golden ticket (that is what he says, with a laugh). I just have to wait until May 27th for confirmation. Don’t let that stop you from buying more though. It is all for a good cause.


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