A black dirt farmer from Kandiyohi County is about to be recognized for what he has accomplished when white powder covers the landscape, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.
Hubert Fixsen, now of Spicer and formerly of rural Willmar, will be inducted into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in St. Germain, Wisconsin, during a ceremony February 13.
Hubert Fixsen helped make Arctic Cat’s ZR Snowmobile the dominant racing machine in the industry for more than a decade. And, he helped make national names of two of the racers who rode machines to finish lines ahead of everyone else.
Fixsen worked with Jeremy Fyle, one of best racers in the sport in the 1990’s.
But no one knows the role Fixsen played in snowmobiling better than Brian Nelson of Spicer. They were a team in the years that saw Nelson win some of the sport’s most prestigious races, including the Governor’s Cup and two I-500 races from Winnipeg to St. Paul (on a John Deere snowmobile in 1976 and the El Tigre Arctic Cat they designed and built in 1978).
“I wouldn’t have won all those races without Hubert,’’ said Nelson. “When Hubert’s around, things are going to go a lot better.’’
“Surprised,’’ said Fixsen, 63, of his reaction when the call came informing him of his induction into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame. “It really is an honor.’’
Nelson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. As the racer on the machine, Nelson said he received much of the attention.
In contrast, Fixsen was the behind-the-scenes guy as Nelson’s teammate responsible for the machines he raced. The team of Fixsen and Nelson helped guide the evolution of snowmobile design.
Fixsen designed the suspension system that propelled Arctic Cat to the front in 1978. He holds a patent on a suspension kit that became the standard on Arctic Cat snowmobiles in 1979 and after.
Fixsen returned to Arctic Cat in the 1990’s and developed the front-end geometry and low-center of gravity design that made its ZR model one of the most successful racing snowmobiles ever, according to Nelson.
Fixsen said he always enjoyed riding snowmobiles, but loved most of all the opportunity to make snowmobiles work better. He and Nelson covered thousands of miles together riding snowmobiles, from the ditches of southern Kandiyohi County and the trails of the North Shore of Minnesota to the mountains of Yellowstone National Park and the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada.
After every ride, they’d come back to the shop and improve the machines based on their experiences on the trails.
Fixsen grew up on the family farm between Willmar and Lake Lillian in southern Kandiyohi County. He said his parents insisted he have an education to “fall back on instead of farming.’’ He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
He farmed in the warm months, but the winters belonged to snowmobiling. It was his full time job, seven days a week.
He and Nelson were friends from their years together at the Willmar High School. Nelson grew up in his father’s well-known Spicer Marine and Outdoors shop in Spicer, and was an avid racer of both snowmobiles and stock cars.
Fixsen and Nelson began working with John Deere in 1975. Arctic Cat took the two on board a couple of years later. Fixsen said they’d spent the winters at the research and development center in Thief River Falls.
Roger Skime, chief engineer for Arctic Cat, basically opened the checkbook and allowed them to work on ways to improve the machines, said Nelson.
And always, they raced. In the earlier years, many of the races were held on oval tracks. But as time progressed and the sport matured, there were more cross country races.
Fixsen and Nelson focused on ways to increase performance efficiency as well as the durability of the machines. Fixsen also brought the logic of an engineer to every race, according to Nelson. In the days before cell phones and the internet, he’d call the local airport to get the best available weather information and tune the snowmobile accordingly.
On race day, Fixsen carried a sheet of carpet. At the end of the race he would go to work on the machine, sometimes out in the cold and snow, doing any repairs needed or making modifications based on what Nelson suggested.
Conditions could be brutal. “I remember one time in Winnipeg changing jets on carburetors in 100 below windchill. Bare hands with gas dripping over my fingers,’’ said Fixsen. “I thought this is really crazy.’’ He had to look at what his fingers were doing because he could no longer feel them.
He and Nelson had a chemistry, with each able to understand just what needed to be done.
“He knew right away what to do to the machine to make it work like I wanted it to work so I felt comfortable riding it down a ditch at 80 to 90 miles an hour,’’ said Nelson.
Win or lose, their focus was always on the next race and what to do to make their machines better. “There was a reason for everything that happened. The thing was to figure it out if it didn’t work quite right and make sure it didn’t present itself again,’’ said Nelson.
Winning was never about luck. It was about putting the best machine and racer on the trail, according to Fixsen.
“Luck is a four letter word spelled w-o-r-k,’’ said Fixsen.