ISOC: Take us back a bit, Tom, prior to starting with Polaris. What were some of your first experiences with snowmobiles?
Tom Rager Sr.: I saw and road my first snowmobile in 1967 in north east Nebraska. A good friend of mine had two old machines that we would race around a farm pond until they would break and then we would work on them for hours just to get them back out on the snow to race again. The first machine that I bought was a 1972 Suzuki that I bought to ride and race without any success. In 1974 I bought a 1973 Rupp 440 magnum that was a Factory mod at that point I started having a little success and thought this was pretty cool so in the fall of 1975 I bought a new 440 Merc Sno Twister and raced that in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. In the fall of 1978 I bought a new 1979 440 Ski doo Super Stocker and raced that for two years with some success.
ISOC: Your first job was with Ski-Doo … what positions did you hold and tasks did you perform with the Ski-Doo brand when you were first coming up?
Tom Rager Sr.: I was hired by Russ Davis as a sales Rep for Northern Wisconsin. Along with the sales Rep job I was also asked to attend all the Sport Series races and provide Russ with feedback on the Sport Series and who was fast and who we should be supporting.
ISOC: Following Ski-Doo you moved over to the Polaris marque. What year did you start with Polaris and what were the circumstances surrounding you hiring on with the company?
Tom Rager Sr.: I started with Polaris in August of 2000. I went to work for Polaris simply because of Bob Nygaard and Tom Tiller. Bob called me several times and convinced me to meet with him and Mr. Tiller, so I did and like the say the rest is history.
ISOC: What positions did you hold and tasks did you perform with Polaris during your early years – and up to your current position?
Tom Rager Sr.: I was hired as Race Manager.
ISOC: Tell us about some of the more rewarding aspects of your career with Polaris?
Tom Rager Sr.: The Polaris experience has been great for me. When I came on board they wanted to win and that has been true for the past 13 seasons. Mr. Tiller’s position was we owed it to our customers to perform well on the race tracks across North America (brand loyality)
ISOC: You’ve obviously seen snowmobile technology come a long way during your careers in the industry. Can you give us a peek into the future – as to and what engineering advancements you think we might see on a sled 20 years from now?
Tom Rager Sr.: Providing it snows and we all can sell snowmobiles I am certain it will continue as it has the last 5 years with ride and comfort and weight being a priority.
ISOC: A major portion of your career with Ski-Doo and Polaris was closely tied to the racing side of the sport. What were several of the more memorable races that you were privileged to attend over the years?
Tom Rager Sr.: There are so many…I remember the first National Pro race that we won for Polaris. It was Canterbury in 2002 with Carl Schubitzke in the Pro Stock Class. We also won our first National Pro Stock Championship in 2005 with TJ Gulla … that was very special. Now we are in a position that we have won many races and will continue to do that however, the three point championships that TJ Gulla won along with the three that Ross Martin won and of course the Pro Stock championship that Levi won are all special to me. Wining the Eagle River Worlds Championship with Matt Schultz was more than special…This was the first time Polaris has won this race in 29 years. And to watch Nick VanStrydonk win it again last year was great. Just a few, there are so many.
ISOC: Are you able to compare the impact of building into a competitive brand that had never won at snocross with re-tooling the Polaris brand and assembling the teams that could put them back in the winner’s circle?
Tom Rager Sr.: We were able to accomplish this because of the people I surrounded myself with here at the shop and the teams. An example of this is the Judnick Team. Scott has been with us for 10 years and has delivered 3 Pro National Championships and 9 Pro Lite Championships. Other teams that need to be mentioned are the Hentges Team that has been with us nearly as long as Judnick and they have delivered countless podiums, wins and National Championships. Another big factor was the work that was done in Roseau. They gave us a sled that has been able to stay more than competitive for the past 8 years. My job was easy – all I had to do was find the racers.
ISOC: You’ve been part of the sport of snocross from the halcyon days. Looking back over the years who would you list as your top five racers of all-time?
Tom Rager Sr.:
1. Ross Martin
2. TJ Gulla
3. Levi LaVallee
4. DJ Eckstrom
5. Carl Schubitzke
ISOC: Overall, when it comes to the impact you’ve had on the sport of snocross – how would you best describe your accomplishments over the years?
Tom Rager Sr.: I am very proud of the people I have picked to represent me and Polaris. In my mind Polaris has the best teams with people that have unbelievable people skills and understand what it takes to put a wining sled on the track. I am also proud of our ability to work closely with the young kids on the circuit and keep them on Polaris product.