Kirk Hibbert Remains the King of the Snocross Sport
By Scott A. Sumner
If you want to find out about racing snowmobiles you dont have to go much further than legendary Kirk Hibbert. This Arctic Cat race engineer has done it all in the sport from winning the famed I 500 cross country race, to national snocross championships, to designing race winning snowmobiles with innovations only he could come up with. After a hard fought heat race in the veterans class I talked to Kirk in his race trailer.
Whats new with the Arctic Cat Sno Pro race sled. "Well we changed quite a few things with the steering all the way through it. It turns sharper. We have a different steering ratio to the linkage so it makes what we call progressive steering. This is easier steering in the centre part and faster at the end so it will swing around sharp," states Kirk Hibbert. "On the rear suspension we call it a sliding arm on a front arm, which is kinda of a lost motion on both front and rear arms instead of just on the rear. This has given the sled a little better pitch control along with traction and ride." Earlier in the year there was a lot of speculation that Arctic Cat would change to a 15 inch track on the Sno Pro. "We are happy with the 13.5 inch track. With the tracks it's just a compromise. The narrow one is better at times and the wider is better at times, depending on snow conditions. We feel like that narrow is better a little bit more often than not." says Hibbert. "Some of the new things on this sled especially, in the steering, front arm and the suspension will migrate into consumer use. It will carry some value into the consumer end. Different guys on open sleds at races and at test sites tested these improvements last season."
Kirk Hibbert is 47 years old and still racing. "I still like to get out out there, have fun and see what the sled feels like. I think to do a good job of designing and developing the sled it really helps to be able to ride them hard enough to feel what they are doing, what they are supposed to do," smiles Hibbert. "This is my first time on the sled since June. We did some testing late til the end of June in snow conditions. Some of our crew has been out in Colorado and Utah the last couple of weeks. In June we have gone to Idaho, Utah and Montana high in the mountains. The sled felt just like it did in June - real good!"
Kirk Hibbert has had a long race career. "My first race was in 1969 or 70 on a Ski Doo, a 300 of some kind - a kids race. I only raced that once and then I started racing my brothers Arctic Cat and thats when things starting going good. The first snowmobile I rode was an Evinrude in 1967." states Hibbert. Do you like snowmobiling I asked. "Oh Yah! I enjoy snowmobiling. If I am in Minnesota I am busy working but whenever I get out west I like to go playing in the mountains where I grew up. We usually ride the 440 which is what I prefer. We longtrack it sometimes. It is usually in the spring and the snow is good enough. The big sleds dont have enough challenge. They'll climb anything you point them at. The 440 provides a challenge in the boondocking and jumping. I dont want to climb everything. I like jumping the corners and natural jumps and just playing. In altitude you can go almost to the regular gas out there."
"The highlite of my career would have been my first I 500 win in 1990. There have been many races that have been good to me. That I 500 was from Thunder Bay to Minneapolis but they ended up cutting it short cause of snow and we finished in Duluth. (Kirk also won the I-500 in 1993) I was only out front the last few miles. That was the first ZR440 which became the main consumer chassis for the next several years."
"Then new Arctic Cat Sno Pro race sled is really a Firecat based sled" states Kirk Hibbert. "It is the same width, same front end, same A arms. It's just a little lighter and the driver position has been reconfigured for stand up and more forward. It's just a Firecat with a lot of goodies on it - the driver moved and the new stuff we've come up with," notes Hibbert. "I'm real happy with the Firecat. It's an awesome sled on the trails - a quicker sportier sled than some of them. It doesnt suit everyone but the real enthusiast really enjoys the Firecat.
How does Kirk Hibbert think the Arctic Cat racers will stack up against the competition this year?
"I think we got a little edge on them! Our motors are all pretty close but it is looking like we have a little more pull. For the average rider our sled is a little friendlier to them. It doesnt jump around or dart. It's pretty friendly to drive. That showed in the sport and junior classes last night which we did very well," smiles Hibbert. "In the stock model, weight is listed at a minimum of 400 pounds. The Mod is 430 pounds. The mods will be up towards 180 HP, in that range and the stocks 100 to 105. Speedwerks build the engines. They take a F7 engine and modify it up to a 800. We work together and fit it into the 440 racer chassis and assembly them at Arctic."
What about an EFI race sled with ACT drive?
"We talked about as EFI racer. It's not real easy to do. Earl Reimer ran one several years ago. We would like to get into EFI, as it would be pretty friendly to the racers if they didn't have to worry about the jetting and stuff," says Hibbert. "The ACT DRIVE SYSTEM is something we keep working with as well. The bottom brake is not quite as snappy using that system. It's actually a better trail brake. Some of the racers really like that quick snap to throw the front end down in the holes. With the slow turning bottom brake it's hard to do that. The quick stop of the track when its d-weighted to rotate the sled in the air is important. We had a bottom brake on our 02 sled and that was one of the things the drivers ended up not liking as well. The bottom brake turns much slower and it is not as quick a response. That is one of the main reasons we havent gone to the ACT system on the Sno Pro. We don't have the need for it as much as the trail sled. The big benefit on a trail sled is the wide ratio. You can gear it down and still have super top end. It's give a wide gear ratio with the clutches and everything that comes along with that act drive. We only go to 60 MPH here in snocross so you are working with half the window of needed ratio as a consumer sled."
If you ever get a chance to talk to Kirk Hibbert at a race site youll be amazed at what this snowmobile race icon knows about our sport!