Cut from the same cloth as Kirk Hibbert, Larry Coltom, Roger Skime and many others, Arctic Cat’s Brian Dick blends equal parts “racer” and “engineer” in his role as High Performance Product Team Leader.
In Part I of the interview, he discusses the tough moments in his 2013 race season; what he and Arctic Cat have learned via racing; and his effort to bring more R&D effort into the upcoming race season.
AI: It’s been two years since your last interview, so let’s catch up with a couple things. First, give me a quick rundown of your new job and what you do in that role?
Dick: Last winter I transitioned to the High Performance Product Team Manager role. The machines in this category include all Arctic Cat ZR models, XF 137-in. and ZR Sno Pro race sleds.
In a nutshell, I work with Manufacturing, Engineering, Purchasing and Quality to ensure that these current and future snowmobiles meet the expectations of our customers. In this role I organize schedules, test plans, fabrication and development of the sleds I mentioned. The role is very organizational, like I’m the hub of a wheel that includes those other areas and departments.
Fortunately there are a lot of great people in my department who help me with these tasks, which frees up time for my other responsibility: assisting with research and development (R&D) of new product.
The R&D role includes brainstorm meetings on new ideas, technology and products, as well concepting and testing this engineering. I’d been involved with R&D for several years and I want to continue with it. It’s important to be involved with product development from the ground up. All the Arctic Cat managers do this to some degree, because we all have a passion for it. As a bonus, I have a little more leverage now that I’m the High Performance manager.
Brian Dick (R) with Arctic Cat engineers Roger Skime (middle) and Bart Magner.
AI: How did that job change affect your racing season last year?
Dick: The biggest change… (Pause)… I was more focused on racing prior to this new job. Racing was an integral part of my job. Now, as manager, my responsibilities are broader and are more focused on our consumer machines, which means less time for racing. It didn’t affect my racing much last year because the job transition took place during the winter. This year will be bigger change.
I will still be at many races and competing in cross-country, but the racing effort will be focused on R&D rather than my own personal success. I used to go out with a stock sled with goal to win races and the championship. Now, maybe I’ll do some stock racing, but my primary focus will be doing R&D in Pro Open class, as well as testing and set-up development of our consumer ZR6000 El Tigre in the new Super Stock class [the new USXC Super Stock class is for consumer machines, not pure race sleds].
Brian won two of the three Pro 600 finals at the three USXC ice races early in the 2013 season. This shot was taken in Willmar, Minn., where he beat teammate Zach Herfindahl in the stock final.
AI: Cool, I think this will be great for Arctic Cat and its customers.
Dick: For sure, as we’ll make an even stronger connection between our racing efforts and our consumer machines.
AI: Okay, a couple questions about last race season: In the Iron Dog last year, you and teammate Eric Quam were running up front and challenging for the win until a broken component on each sled ended your race. What happened?
Dick: We were doing great, just a few minutes behind the leaders, until we failed driven shafts on both of our sleds. The first occurred on Eric’s Sno Pro 600 race sled about 60 miles from the last layover, which was about 300 miles from the finish. I towed him in to the layover stop, at which point we were still in second place.
We swapped a new shaft the next morning while on the clock, and then headed out on the racecourse. We made it another 160 miles, about halfway to finish, when the driven shaft failed my sled.
Eric then towed me to gas station, where we ate some sub sandwiches and drank a pop. While we were there word came through the radio that a rider on another team had been injured out on the course, so Eric went back out on course to help them. That was really cool.
In both instances the shaft broke behind top sprocket in chain case. It was pretty disappointing of course, but we also learned from it and we’ve instituted a new design and manufacturing process for the driven shafts on all of our race and consumer sleds.
But in general it was a disappointing ending to a race that, up to that point, had been really fun. We were the only Arctic Cat team up front, with about five or six Ski-Doo teams on our ass, which was exciting.
Two-thirds through the first leg of the 2013 USXC I-500, Brian was in the lead and breaking trail (the latter of which would contribute to a DNF 20 miles after this photo was taken).
AI: Yeah, that was heartbreaking. As long as we’re talking about disappointments, you started last year’s USXC Seven Clans Casino I-500 last year as a favorite to win, as well as the defending champ from 2011 (there was no race in 2012 because of weather conditions). On the first day you were smokin’ fast and leading the race when you experienced sled problems. What happened there?
Dick: Sheesh, what is this, pile-on-Brian day? (Laughs) Yeah, I burned the engine down before the finish on the first day.
We had a lot of fresh snow that first leg. Once I passed Gabe Bunke for the race lead, I was breaking trail, which is a heavy load on the engine. Combined with too-heavy clutch calibration and too-lean jetting, my race went from great to bad.
But again, this was another learning experience that we incorporated into our 2014 ZR Sno Pro race sleds. With a different exhaust pipe wrap, new clutch calibration and revised venting, we have a more forgiving sled for those heavy-pulling conditions.
AI: What have you learned with the Sno Pro race sled the past couple years that is applicable to the consumer sleds we ride?
Dick: Obviously the consumer Sno Pro RR package comes right out of our Sno Pro cross-country package that we build. The shocks and calibration are identical.
We’ve taken a lot of the brake components from race sleds and transitioned them to the consumer sleds for a better feeling brake. Plus there are some tweaks we’ve done on front suspension that have been incorporated into the consumer machines.
I think you’ll see more crossover in the coming years, which is one of the reasons why my race effort will be focused on R&D and consumer sleds.
AI: You’re one of the few people in the world who have put a lot of seat time on both the Sno Pro race sled and consumer machines like the ZR6000 El Tigre. Describe the similarities and differences in how they ride, handle and feel.
Dick: From a rider’s cockpit area like the seat, handlebars and rider position, they’re very similar. If you jump between our ZR Sno Pro race sled and our ZR6000 RR, they feel nearly identical.
Yet there are some differences of course. The carbureted 600 R engine in the race sled is built for racing, so it’s more powerful. Without oil injection, it’s also lighter (no oil tank). So the combination of more power and less weight is something you feel.
The race sleds also have a slightly wider ski stance, which gives the sled a little more stability. They come with C&A Pro skis, which are more aggressive.
One thing that’s certain, the new C-TEC2 600 engine with DSI is a far more enjoyable engine than the race engine, in terms of operational ease, consistency and of course emissions.
L-to-R: Arctic Cat’s Roger Skime, Ryan Simons, Brian Dick and Mike Kloety, following Simons’ win in the USXC I-500.
AI: What are your racing plans and goals for this coming season?
Dick: I attend as many races as I can, both snocross and cross-country, to gather info, talk with our racers and, in the XC events, race myself. I’d like to be prepared to compete at first USXC race of the year, but after that it gets a little less certain.
I’m also committed to race the race Iron Dog again this year with Eric Quam.
And I intend to support the Christian Brothers Racing team at the Soo I-500 enduro. Whether I’ll be racing or not is yet to be determined.
In addition to those commitments, I will work closely with Team Arctic racer Wes Selby, who we just hired for a part-time role in Engineering, as well as other racers to run in the Pro Open Class and Super Stock class.
Finally, I’ll probably race the USXC I-500 on an Open class sled.
AI: Of all those intentions, what are your priorities?
Dick: My priority right now is Iron Dog. It’s the one full commitment for which I’ve been given a clear green light. Eric and I will race production sleds, so that’s a big motivator.
Brian talks with Arctic Cat racer-engineer (and legend!) Larry Coltom.
AI: Production sleds! ZR6000 RR or ZR7000?
Dick: We don’t yet know. There are a lot of factors to consider.
Eric hasn’t yet ridden a 7000, so we’ll get him on one and see what he thinks. Plus there’s the strategy of which sled will be easier and quicker with the fuel stops. The 7000 runs on 87 octane, which is what’s available, and it probably gets a little better fuel mileage. Plus there’s no time wasted adding oil. Finally, no team has ever won the Iron Dog on a four-stroke sled, so that’s motivating. Whether all of that is more important than the 40-50-lb. weight difference compared to the ZR6000RR, we’ll have to see.
I talked with Team Arctic racers Ryan Simons and Cory Davis last night about this very topic. They’re racing the Iron Dog together and are wrestling with the same decision. Whatever the decision is, both teams will probably run same sleds.
For many of the same reasons, we’re not sure which sleds we’ll run in the Soo 500 either. That race is a little different animal though because we can run modified engines. Right now Speedwerx [the Team Arctic motor builder] is working on both the C-TEC2 600 and 7000-series C-TEC4 engines to help bring some clarity to the decision.
Editor’s note: Look for the full story about Brian’s 2013 Iron Dog sled prep in the coming days.
This concludes Part I of the interview with Brian Dick. More to come, soon.
Thanks for reading!