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HomeFeaturesProject Nelson/CC Cats: Almost Ready for the I-500

Project Nelson/CC Cats: Almost Ready for the I-500

I spent another day with Brian Nelson working on the three 1979 Arctic Cat Cross-Country el tigres, and doing a bit of riding.

The above footage was taken near Brooten, Minn., where the Brut riders have been terrorizing unsuspecting vintage riders for years. We showed ’em whose boss!

Funny thing…the video makes it look like we’re leisurely cruising and lightly hitting stuff, but in fact we were going around 60 mph here (trying to stay in Flying Tiger formation), and some of the windblown drifts felt like sledgehammers.

We did another 100-mile roundtrip ride to Glenwood, where we stopped for gas, only to discover neither of us brought any money. Couple of rookies, I tell ya!

Our friend Joe who was riding with us (and who shot the above video) popped into the station, announced our dilemma, and a stranger named Angie gave us the needed funds so we could buy enough gas to get home!

DRIFT gear gets you free gas???

Either Angie is an angel, or my sweet new DRIFT Race On gear is so cool that people want to give me their money?


At Harlan's junkyard

Prior to the ride, we made a trip to Harlan’s Snowmobile Salvage, a Willmar-area snowmobile/motorcycle junkyard that proved to be the highlight of my week.

This place is amazing for its supply of junked sleds, and for the amazing collection of rare and vintage sleds that Harlan graciously showed us. I’m going back there this spring to do a full-blown story on the place.

Rare 1975 Arctic Cat Trail Cat

Here’s a photo of a rare 1975 pilot-build Trail Cat that Harlan owns.

The real reason we went to Harlan’s was to get a different fuel tank for one of the race sleds, which required moving a lot of snow to uncover various sleds, then peeling back the seats and shrouds to see if the tanks were okay. Glamorous stuff, this rebuilding of vintage sleds!

Will this tank work?

The filler-necks were broken on the first five tanks we checked.


Hard-won trophy

But we finally found a good-condition tank, which Brian hoists like a hard-won trophy!


Reinforcing the muffler bracket

Back at Brian’s shop, we had to reweld the muffler bracket that showed signs of fatigue. I wanted Brian to weld a plate onto the exhaust that says “Black Magic Tuned Pipe” or “Aaen Performance,” but he was unwilling.


Detail work on the Arctic Cat el tigre

One week from now we’ll be on our way to Thief River Falls for the USCC I-500. Prior to leaving, we still have to stud tracks and button-up a few details. So much time and energy has been put into this project! The excitement level is ramping up big-time.

I’ll try to make one more update/post on this project prior to the race.

Wish us and all the I-500 racers good luck. We’ll all benefit from the good vibe.



  1. Let me be the first to get the “good vibe” going!


    Thanks for the update, too! Look forward to the next one and then the race!

  2. Brian:
    Good luck at the race. It has been a lot of fun watching you build those two tigers. You were very helpful when I was building mine and I thank you once again on that.
    Great video’s and photos.

  3. Earlier this week Brian joined us on about a 130 mile demo ride in our area. We had approx 59 modern-day snowmobiles and he was riding one of his teams 1979 Cross Country El Tigres. The attention to detail and craftsmanship on this snowmobile is amazing. A few times I ended up in a group of sleds that Brian was riding in. Trust me, he could ride away from any one of us at will in the conditions we were in that day. Oh yes, he was riding that day in his 1979 factory-issue Team Arctic leather race suit, and looking good! This guy will certainly be in his element when the green flag drops at the I-500…good luck to all!

  4. good luck in the race,I have a 78 el tigre 6000 i bought last year to restore.
    But seeing some of your modern upgrades has given me a new vision.
    I never knew about the 79 cross country model,but it is obvious the rear
    suspension was innovative for its time.
    It would be nice to see these sleds in person and also to meet all the people
    involved. Anyways best of luck again.

    Shawn Hollings Cobourg,Ontario Canada

  5. John, I have really injoyed your articles. Good luck to you, Brain, and Joey. I can’t wait to hear how far ahead of Hollywood you finish.

  6. Good Luck Brian, John!! Brian was my hero growing up in Willmar in the 70’s #52. I remember when he rode into Willmar in a Fire truck when he won the
    I-500. The man man sure has ditch prowess. He and Hubert are a Johnson/Knaus. When I worked for his dad Dale “Crunch” I was able to be around Brian and I learned alot from BN. Good luck and I hope Joey can keep
    up, I saw him last summer Eating alot of cheese burgers and fries at the Black Cat. Great site keep up the good work !!!!!

  7. How many more years before skodio figures out how to set up clutches , seriously did you see the belt temps ! This has been a problem with skodio for 20 years , can’t you find one guy in Canada to figure this out ? Don’t tell me it’s the horse power of the new motor because your 670 and 700 summits were even worse , and no other manf. Has this problem , if you can fix this problem skodio will rule the roost !!!!


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