Events like the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary, Snow Blast, dealer shows — plus the presence of Arctic Cat machines at nearly every public event – happen because through the hard work of a core group of people. One key person in that group is Gary Nelson, Promotions Specialist.
At the spry age of 50, Nelson has worked half his life at Arctic Cat. He’s a lifelong resident of Thief River Falls, and essentially grew up with green blood.
I asked him a few questions about his job, the upcoming 50th Celebration, and about some company legends.
AI: Okay Gary, tell me what it is you actually do on regular basis besides having a phone glued to your ear?
Nelson: Well, I wear a lot hats, but my main responsibility is to plan all of the dealer and consumer events that Arctic Cat participates in for snowmobiles and ATVs/Prowlers. Dealer shows are the most intensive of those responsibilities, taking 2-3 months to plan. I “touch” every aspect of these events, from event location to displays to food, entertainment.
The same for goes for consumer events like the fall industry shows in North America, Haydays and the like.
I also coordinate the new model photography and video shoots that we use for brochures and marketing.
But you have to know this: there are MANY people here at Arctic Cat who make these events happen. I’m just the coordinator.
Nelson lives much of his work life with the telephone glued to his ear. Not sure about the feet on the desk though…
AI: What’s been your role with the 50th Anniversary Celebration?
Nelson: I’m one member of the 50th planning committee, which is responsible for organizing the event. Other committee members include Joey Hallstrom, Ole Tweet, John Tranby and Kale Wainer. This is definitely a big event to coordinate, with so many details that it requires a lot of help. One person who’s made a big impact for this and all our other events is my assistant, Kathy Johnson. She’s key to the success of this project.
AI: How many people do you expect will take part in the 50th?
Nelson: Originally we thought around 3,000 to 5,000. Now, based on the number of phone calls we’ve received and vintage collectors we’ve talked with, we’re expecting twice the original projection. It’s going to be big.
AI: Of all the activities over the two-day event, what events or sights are you personally most excited for?
Nelson: I’m excited to see the products from the past 50 years, and the people.
I grew up immersed in Arctic Cat, the racers were my heroes, I rode the snowmobiles and got my first job here when I graduated from High School. It’s cool: Because of my job I’ve gotten to know many of the Team Arctic legends like Dave Thompson, Larry Coltom, the Hibberts, Jim Dimmerman…yet to have all of them here at one time will be historic.
AI: Is it true that you’ve stashed (in an Arctic Cat warehouse) some pretty cool and interesting vehicles over the years?
Nelson: We’ve tried to collect some over the years, and there are a few important machines. We kept a Ricky Craven/TIDE lookalike snowmobile that will be on display at the 50th. We kept the 1 millionth Arctic Cat (1994 EXT) and the 1 millionth post-Arctic Enterprises sled (2011 Crossfire), and both will be on display. There are a few more that we’ll keep as a surprise.
AI: How might the 50th compare with the original Cat Fest in 1987 and the second one in 1993?
Nelson: Wow, the first Cat Fest was so long ago that I don’t remember it too well (laughs). Really, the two Cat Fests were organized under the premise of celebrating a current event. The first was to celebrate the first five years of Arctco, Inc. The second Fest was to celebrate the 1 millionth Arctic Cat snowmobile.
The 50th will be different because it’s emphasizing the past 50 years. It’s about looking back and celebrating the history. In some ways I think it’s going to feel like a reunion.
AI: For someone who’s never been to Arctic Cat or Thief River Falls, what expectations would you offer them?
Nelson: Anyone who’s visiting will find that this community loves Arctic and fans of snowmobiling/ATVs. We love having visitors.
AI: What if someone is reading this, wants to come to the 50th but hasn’t made any plans…is it too late for them?
Nelson: It’s NOT too late and they absolutely should come. Of course they can come for just one day. And if they want to overnight, there are hotels in Grand Forks, ND, which is only one hour away. If they want to camp, we’ll find space for them, even if it means camping in my back yard. I’m serious about that.
AI: Okay, now some off the wall stuff…Your all-time favorite Arctic Cat?
Nelson: My favorite sled would be the first couple years of the ZR. I like the low center-of-gravity ride and cornering. For ATVs, it’s a TBX, which I personally own.
AI: Tell me one good Roger Skime story and one good Joey Hallstrom story.
Nelson: Oh boy (laughs). The first thing that comes to mind for Roger happened in the early 1990s. It was after working hours, in winter, we were getting some pre-production sleds ready for the spring dealer and consumer shows. We were on a tight deadline to get the sleds built, but some parts were late and hadn’t arrived until everyone had gone home. Well, the parts came in at 5 o’clock, and Roger and I stayed all evening finishing assembling the sleds on the production line, and we were the only people in the whole plant. It was my responsibility to have the sleds ready, not Roger’s. He was the VP of Engineering, yet here he was assembling sleds on the production line with me. That was really cool.
I could tell A LOT of Joey Hallstrom stories…we grew up as classmates, and we started working here about the same time. We always tease one another about which of us is the other’s boss (laughs). In the pecking order, we still try to figure out who’s the lead pecker (more laughter).