This past month, Scott Eilertson closed a chapter on an 18-year career as a district sales manager for Arctic Cat. Outgoing, passionate about Arctic Cat and always smiling, Scott had been a welcome presence at motorsports events for more than 30 years.
Scott’s career and lifetime connection to Arctic Cat goes back more than four decades. Now 62, the husband and father of three from Oakdale, Minn., chatted with me about his amazing career that included jumping snowmobiles with Evel Knievel, riding to Moscow and helping to save a young girl’s life.
AI: Scott, you’ve been a part of the Arctic Cat family for as long as I can remember. What was going through your mind as you wrapped up working with Arctic Cat?
Eilertson: I’ve had very mixed emotions. Very! I’m excited for new and different things, but I know I’ll miss people, those in Thief River Falls who motivated me to get up and work everyday. There’s so much dedication up there, not that there isn’t in Minneapolis and St. Cloud, but there’s something unique about the factory in TRF and the people who bring the products to life.
I’ve been with Cat for 18 years, and that was after working 13 years at Tousley Sports (an Arctic Cat dealer in its time). Other than marriage and the birth of kids, getting this job was the biggest event in my life.
Bottom line: I love the brand and will always be a Cat guy.
AI: Off the top of your head, what are a few events or experiences from the last 18 years that stick out in your mind right now?
Eilertson: Oh boy, probably number one is going to Eagle River every year and watching P.J. Wanderscheid win his four World Championships…sitting in the Arctic Cat booth and watching the racing alongside Davey Thompson and Roger Skime, both of whom are heroes of mine. As a kid, Eagle River was the biggest event in snowmobiling, so it’s always had a special place in my heart.
Also, for sure the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary was a great event. What a weekend that was!
But I’d also say that more common things like taking out dealers for demo rides…those experiences were amazing. We used to do that a lot, and it was always so good to see dealers reconnect with the sport. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road visiting Arctic Cat dealers. I always enjoyed that.
I’m also proud of my 2005 induction into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River.
AI: You’ve done way too many things to list here, but can you list the highlights roles and experiences you’ve had, from the 40,000-foot view?
Eilertson: Early in my career I became a little bit famous for jumping cars with my snowmobile. You see, when I was a teenager, the motorcycle jumper Evel Knievel was a big deal, and I wanted to do that. My first jump was in 1975 as part of St. Paul Winter Carnival. I did 32 professional jumps on an Arctic Cat El Tigre and EXT during that part of my career, mostly during the summer. I jumped cars, trucks and more. I had great highs with that, but also a few lows too where I crashed. Probably the highlight was doing a jump for Evel in 1977, which was the 112-ft. fire jump (through ring of fire) at the old Met Stadium, which is now where the Mall of America is.
Two years after that, I was stationed in Iceland for the U.S. Navy, where I helped organize their first snowmobile race and jump. That event was a fundraiser. That was a career highlight, and it would help pave the way for another big achievement: the Minnesota-to-Moscow ride that I did in 1990.
Wow, that was an adventure…crossing that border to taking that picture in Red Square is something I’ll never forget.
It’s funny; my two big heroes in life were Evel Knievel and Ralph Plaisted, the explorer who went to the North Pole on a snowmobile. I remember watching news of Plaisted’s first attempt on the Pole. As a kid, every time we’d jump on the sleds, we’d pretend we were Ralph and trying to get places. It was just riding to a neighboring town, but he was our inspiration.
Anyway, I’m pretty lucky that I got to do some of the kinds of things that my two heroes did.
AI: When I think of you jumping cars, it occurs to me that you were a snowmobiler freestyler before there was such a thing.
Eilertson: I was born 40 years too late, because I could have been Levi Lavallee! (laughter) I had the world record of 112 feet (shown in the fire-photo above from 1977), but Levi beat it a few decades later.
Actually though, I wasn’t the first snowmobile freestyler. The Polaris Thrill team was first.
AI: Still, when I think of you jumping more than 100 feet on a snowmobile with about 3 inches of suspension travel, I think you were every bit as brave and courageous as anyone the history of this sport.
Eilertson: Or maybe as dumb! (Laughter)
Actually, I always wanted to race snowmobiles, but in truth I wasn’t great at it. To be good you had to know how to tune sleds, which I wasn’t very good at. So I went into jumping, and that was something I could make a living at. But yeah, it took some nerves to do that, and I got pretty banged up.
Here’s a good one: I broke my jaw once on a jump, doing a live TV show that was airing at 10:20 at night, in the middle of the evening news. It was my first fire jump. I’d just had my appendix taken out a few weeks earlier and was completely out of shape.
I’m on a ‘73 EXT, my gear is on and it’s time to go. So I give my crew the signal to light fire. And my next thought is, Holy cow, how much gas did you guys put on it!?!
Well, I take off towards the fiery jump, but I was going too slow and I came up short, plowing straight into landing ramp. My sled instantly stopped, my jaw went straight into the handlebars as I flipped over the hood! And it was all live on television!
It was so crazy and dramatic that it was replayed on national ABC television the next day. (Laughter)
Actually though, even though I broke my jaw the whole situation was good for me. Because a guy working with Evel saw it, then contacted me, which eventually led to me working with their crew. So I got to work with and know Evel, which is a book of stories in itself. But it was a dream come true.
AI: Describe the Minnesota-to-Moscow trip.
Eilertson: Well, the original idea was to go around the world on snowmobiles, which was something that was inspired infamous and legendary Wild Bill Cooper.
Joe Klosterman from Arctic Cat thought the idea was great, but he wanted to start with something a little more doable. Since nobody had really been to Russia, we made riding to there our goal.
It was me, Lee Busse (a friend and colleague at Tousley) and guy from Russia named Grigory Shulik. We had three Arctic Cat Jag long tracks, and we left the Twin Cities on January 16, 1990, heading east. We went across the U.S. and Canada, stopping at places like Eagle River, Sault Ste. Marie, into Ontario, Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. From there we took a plane to Finland, then rode to Russia.
We’d heard all kinds of stories of what bad things might happen crossing border into Russia. We were pretty nervous, because it was a military zone. But it turned out that those guards were thrilled with us, they were starving to know about us Americans.
We rode across Russia for six days until we got to Moscow on February 25th, 1990.
AI: That was a seriously ambitious achievement for you guys, at a time when there was no GPS and cell phones; Russia had only recently ceased being the hated country and opened its borders to the Western world; and you were essentially a couple of guys who were working at a snowmobile dealership who were punching far above their weight. Does it seem remarkable to you now, looking back on it?
Eilertson: It does! It was still the Soviet Union. The Berlin wall hadn’t come down yet. Gorbachev had just taken over. Frankly, the Russian government saw us as a first step to improving relationships with America. The Soviet media covered it much better than the U.S. media did. We were so warmly received over there. The Russians were and are wonderful people.
But here’s the best part of that whole experience: A couple years after trip we got a letter from Grigory. His daughter had a hole in her heart and needed help that wasn’t available in Russia. So we were able to rally support, including from Arctic Cat, to bring their family over here to have heart surgery at the University of Minnesota, which saved her life. So because of the Minnesota-to-Moscow connection, there was a girl whose life was saved. How about that!?
AI: That’s a beautiful story, Scott. Talk about your career as a district sales manager for Arctic Cat.
Eilertson: Getting that job was a huge achievement for me. Get this: I was originally given the offer by Russ Sparby, who had the terms written up and inside of an envelope. He said, “Scott, I’d like you to come and work for Arctic Cat,” and pushed the envelope across the table. I didn’t even open the letter to see what the offer was. I just said, “I’ll take it!” (Laughter)
My job was to work with Cat dealers, everything from small town dealers to huge ones. I’d help them in any way I could, from cleaning windows and sleds to helping them understand the product. I had great relationships with dealers, many of whom became great friends. I went to their kids’ weddings and graduations, and had such a great bond with so many of them. I was passionate about the job, our company and the product…it helped me be successful.
My territories were Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. It was so fun to be there, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. It was an honor. And it was a great run, as I won the North America Sales Rep of Year award several times, as well as regional awards. I took a lot of pride in that, for a kid who barely got out of high school.
AI: I’ve always thought of you as more than just sales, probably something of an ambassador because you have so much passion for the brand and you’re so genuinely kind and affable.
Eilertson: I appreciate that; it means a lot coming from someone like you. I loved my job, the company, my dealers and our customers.
AI: Okay, a few lighthearted questions…first, what’s your all-time favorite snowmobile?
Eilertson: Oh boy… as a vintage guy it’s a 1976 Sno Pro or 1977 Z. Believe it or not, but the best demo I ever had was a 2010 Twin Spar turbo. I loved how comfortable that sled was, with the seat and handlebars all the way forward. I could ride that like I was a kid.
Still, my favorite sled is always last sled we built, and if I were buying a sled today it would be the Roger Skime edition ZR 6000.
AI: Your favorite place to ride?
Eilertson: I love the Eagle River, Wis., area. I’m a trail rider. The mountains are fun, but trails are my favorite and that area is truly special.
AI: The first thing that comes to you mind when I say Arctic Cat?
I always tell people, we are the Ferrari of snowmobiling. We’re the smallest company, like Ferrari. Our racing heritages are very similar. Our product might sometimes require more maintenance than competition, but the end result is worth it.
AI: Okay, tell me a Roger Skime story.
Eilertson: In 1993 when we had Cat Fest in Thief River Falls, Lee Busse and I went up to talk about and give a presentations about our Minnesota-to-Moscow trip.
At the first presentation we did, there’s Roger. Of course I knew who he was, heck he was a hero of mine, but I didn’t know him personally at the time. I was nervous.
After the presentation ended, we did some autographs. And there he is, the first person standing in line! That blew me away and made me so proud.
At the Arctic Cat dealer show for the 50th Anniversary model line, they called Roger up to the stage. The applause went on for 5 minutes. It brought tears to my eyes. He’s an amazing person, there will never be another one like him.
AI: Thanks Scott, best of luck on your next adventure and I’m sure I’ll still see you around.
Eilertson: Thank you, John. You’ll still be seeing me.
A T-Shirt from “Screamin’ Scott’s jumping days. So rad!