Part two of the Vintage Road Trip to Wisconsin had Tom Rowland, Jim Dimmerman and myself making an impromptu visit with vintage Arctic Cat collector Randy Springer at his shop in Wausau.
I’m not kidding when I say impromptu: It wasn’t until we were wrapping up the sale of ’82 Panther that we’d made a call to Randy to confirm the meeting.
Ever gracious with his time, Randy gave us the green light, so Rowland ran the gas/brake, Dimmerman steered and I directed the clown show towards Randy’s place.
The stuff we saw there was thrilling, surprising and enlightening.
Randy has a sweet shop. In fact, it was the former Arctic Cat dealership owned by Gordon Rhode, who Rowland, Dimmerman and myself had HOPED to meet the next day.
Funny the connections and relationships that emerge when you start talking to people… this trip alone unveiled all kinds of weird connections between three different people (Jim Grafft, Gordon Rhode and Randy Springer), each of whom we had hoped to meet on this trip.
Walking through the door of Randy’s shop, we were greeted by a sight to behold for any fan of Arctic Cat race sleds.
We made formal introductions with Randy (right, white shirt) and his son Ryan (middle, red shirt). Then we set about viewing and discussing the wonderful machines on display.
Springer came early to vintage collecting scene, beginning in 1979 with a 1977 Arctic Cat 250 Z racer that had been owned (and raced to a World Championship) by Jeff Goodwin.
Springer drag raced the 250 Z with success and, a handful of years later, began collecting other vintage Arctic Cats while he was working at Rhode’s Cat dealership.
Springer had owned a couple dozen sleds at one point, hitting many of the big shows over the years, and then slowly sold away all but his most cherished items.
“I got tired of going to shows and hearing people nitpick little things that were supposedly wrong with my restorations,” says Springer. “I was just enjoying the hobby and not aiming at absolute perfection. After a while, I sold the stuff that I didn’t want to keep. Now I have what I want and enjoy sharing it on a more personal level, rather than at shows.”
This 1979 Arctic Cat Sno Pro is one of Springer’s prized sleds. Team Arctic’s Bob Elsner won the 1979 Eagle River World Championships with a 440 Sno Pro that season.
Springer’s ’79 is actually equipped with a 340 engine that he bought from Elsner, which is dang cool!
I didn’t think of it when I snapped the photo, but as I look at it now I wonder what Dimmerman thinks when he sees a ’79 Sno Pro? Dimmerman and Elsner were teammates that year, and both were in a position to win the coveted title at Eagle.
This outstanding video tells the tale of that fateful weekend, and is always worth watching (warning: it might leave you teary-eyed and with a lump in your throat).
Seeing Dimmerman study a machine that’s identical to the ones he raced 35 years ago was also pretty dang cool.
And it was cool to see the poster of Dimmerman/Elsner in the background.
Sometime I need to interview Dimmerman about the various Sno Pro that he raced. His stories about his time at Team Arctic are dramatic, funny, heart warming, heart breaking and more.
I love that Springer’s Sno Pro is autographed by Edgar Hetteen, Roger Skime and Dave Thompson. There are no bigger legends than these three.
Another favorite of Springer’s, his 1971 King Kat 800.
1975 Arctic Cat El Tigre Z on the left, and a ’73 650 EXT on the right. A double dose of wicked.
On the left, a 1976 Arctic Cat 250 Z.
Underneath the hood of the 250 Z, wearing a real-world patina.
Randy and his stunning ’77 440 Z.
Here was something cool that Randy brought out: a headlight kit for the ’77 Z.
In order to be considered a stock snowmobile at the time, sleds needed to be sold with a headlight.
That hole in the handlebar/post brace? It’s where you could attach the headlight.
Of course, since everyone raced these sleds back in the day, nobody bothered with attaching them. But now, nearly 40 years later, it’s pretty sweet to have a NOS headlight kit.
And it’s pretty sweet to have perfect 650 Kawi triple nestled into the EXT.
Ditto for an 800 Kawi Hirth triple in the King Kat.
Speaking of engines, Springer has an awesome collection of Suzuki and Kawasaki engines for various Arctic Cat race sleds.
On the left, a 1979 340 Sno Pro engine. On the right, a ’77 250 Sno Pro engine.
1972 Kawasaki 650 triple.
400 Kawasaki triple.
1975 Kawasaki 440.
1977 Suzuki 340 Z.
1977 Suzuki 250 Z engine. But not just any of the already very-rare 250s…
…no sir, this 250 happens to be be serial number 1!
Also gracing Randy’s shop display, an Arctic Cat mini bike that caught the attention of Tom Rowland.
Getting to spend an extra couple minutes to really study a machine is a rare treat, and something that the three of us appreciated greatly.
In addition to the nice display at the front of the building, Randy also has a few gems resting on racks in the back of his shop.
“Gem” might actually be a bit of an understatement as it pertains to this VERY RARE 1977(ish) Sand Cat.
Randy bought it a handful of years ago from someone involved with a local Wausau bank.
Each time we talked about a particular sled in Randy’s collection — such as the Sand Cat — names of people would emerge who had been involved with the find/sale/restoration. It’s conversations like these when I realize that the vintage sled hobby is relatively small, at least in terms of people invovled with the really rare stuff.
Seeing a Sand Cat was a great and unexpected treat.
More restorations waiting for Randy and/or his son Ryan.
Much as I enjoyed looking at the historic vintage Cats, it was the conversation that was made this a truly memorable evening.
I had never met Randy prior to this evening. He was one of a handful of collectors who I’d meant to contact while putting together the 50 Years of the Cat book for the Arctic Cat 50th, but for various reasons didn’t.
There are several such collectors whose sleds deserved to be in that book. As a minor consolation, I hope to someday visit and feature them here.
Before we left, Randy asked Dimmerman to sign the poster featuring him and Elsner.
And when we looked closely at the poster, another connection emerged: the ’79 Sno Pro featured on the poster’s corner.
This sled… is the one that (we believe) sports the Elsner hood that we inspected earlier in the day at Jim Grafft’s place (featured HERE in Part One of the Vintage Road Trip).
A shake of the hands and salutations until the next time our paths cross.
A huge thanks to Randy Springer for opening his shop and collection to us on just minutes’ notice!
We had one more stop to make before leaving Wausau: a visit with Gordon Rhode. That’s Part Three, the final segment of this story, coming soon.
Thanks for reading.