Q & A: Andy Forsberg

 Andy Forsberg drives the A&A Stepping Stone/Forsberg Racing 410 winged sprint at Chico, 2017.

Andy Forsberg drives the A&A Stepping Stone/Forsberg Racing 410 winged sprint at Chico, 2017.

Nor-Cal sprint car champ talks dirt track racing and the family team

Interview + Photos: Saroyan Humphrey

Feature | Andy Forsberg has been driving sprint cars since 1994 when he borrowed a wingless sprint from his dad, Richard Forsberg, to race at Grass Valley Speedway. He won his first sprint car championship in 2000 and he’s seemingly been on a tear ever since. Besides winning the regional title 10 times—most of all time—he’s claimed a total of eight track championships at Placerville, Chico and Watsonville and has over 150 main event victories across California and Oregon. 

Just a week after he claimed his 10th career Civil War Sprint Car Series championship (for winged 360ci sprints), we sat down with Andy on a weekday afternoon at his family-owned cabinet-finishing business, Creative Finishes Plus, to talk racing. Next door is the family-owned number 92 sprint car team, Forsberg Racing, and few hundred yards away is Andy’s home, where he lives with his wife Candace and bichon frise, Mia. “Most days I don’t even leave ‘the compound’ and that’s fine with me,” he says of his multi-acre Auburn, California, headquarters. At the race shop you’ll find Andy’s two winged sprint cars and his dad’s beautifully restored wingless sprint car from the 1980s, which the family enjoys showcasing at local vintage races. Andy is easygoing and reflective on another year of sprint car racing on the highly competitive dirt tracks of Northern California. 

RUST: How did you get started in racing? 
Andy Forsberg:
My dad lived in Auburn his whole life and there used be a quarter-mile track in Auburn, and his neighbor had a car and he would just go sit in the grandstands and watch him race—hardtops or jalopies. Eventually the neighbor bought a new car and since my dad kinda helped him and hung out and did whatever he could mechanically, he just gave that old car to my dad. So, my dad started racing in 1968 and it progressed from hardtops to modifieds and sprint cars and that’s kinda where I came in. Growing up, I didn’t know anything other than “my dad is a race car driver.” I thought that was cool and I wanted to be a race car driver, too. So, that was always the family joke: When you turn 16, you can take over. My dad says it seemed like two weeks went by and all of a sudden I was 16 and I was trying to kick him out of the seat. So, in ’92 I kinda started racing. My dad still wasn’t ready to retire and we didn’t have the money to have two cars so we just kinda took turns. So, in ’92 and ’93 I only raced 15 times so I wasn’t getting any better. I would race and a month would go by before I’d run again and I just wasn’t progressing. So, for the ’94 season my dad kinda figured out that if I wanted to get any better, or if he wanted me to get any better, he was going to have to step aside. So, ’94 was my first official year of getting to race every weekend and learning and getting better.

It was always a family race car. We drove my dad’s old Suburban and an open trailer that he built in 1978. In 2000 I did have a sponsor who for some reason, I still don’t understand why, he wanted to go 410 racing, so he bought out a guy who was getting out of it. Now all of a sudden we became a two-car operation. I can remember to this day, he called me into his office and said, “I wanna buy a 410” and I said, “Oh man, 410s almost put my dad out of racing; they’re really finicky and they blow up all the time and if they’re not blowing up, you’re rebuilding them all the time.” And he was like, “No no no, I wanna do it.” So we do it and the first night out on the track we blew a head gasket and those were the days before cell phones and he was on his way to the track and we passed him as he was coming down the road. We just loaded up and started going home. So, in 2000 I started racing 410s and I won my first 410 race … so, I guess 2000 was a big year for me. 

From 2000 on, I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve been dominant in California, but since 2000 I’ve been a factor…

RUST: That’s a different path than most young sprint car drivers today… 
Forsberg: Really, these kids come out of outlaw karts and they look like they’re ready to win races right away. Or, they are winning races like (Kyle) Larson and (Rico) Abreu and (Buddy) Kofoid. They’re 14 and 15 years old and winning sprint car races. It took me a few years to figure out what the hell I was doing. And so, 1997 I won my first race and I thought, OK, that was easy, now they’re all going to be easy. I didn’t win another race for like a year and a half. So, it didn’t come as easy as I thought. By 2000, I kinda figured things out and we won seven races. So, I guess you could say 2000 was my breakout year. I won the track championship at Placerville and I won my first Civil War Series championship and I won my first Civil War race that year. The ducks were kinda getting in a row. From 2000 on, I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve been dominant in California, but since 2000 I’ve been a factor, I guess you could say, until now.

RUST: How old were you at that point?
Forsberg: I was born in ’76, so that would make me like 23-24.

RUST: What was sort of clicking for you at that point? Was it a conscious thing? How were you seeing the tracks differently?
Forsberg: Well, I kinda remember in ’99, we were pretty fast. We won a couple of races, and we were always a second- to fourth-place car. There was always somebody better that would win, and so for the 2000 season we bought all new equipment and that was unheard of for my family. And that was the icing on the cake. It put us over the edge where everything I used to do was kinda common and kinda hard. Now everything I could do was now easy. And nothing had changed other than we had built a new car. Everything was new: shocks, torsion bars, frame … everything other than the motor. The handling of the car was a lot easier. These guys that win all of the time, I was starting to see how they do it. They’re not doing it in five- and six-year-old cars and crap that you just got laying around and patching up.

RUST: You’ve raced with the number 92 since the beginning, which was your dad’s number, right?
Forsberg: Yep, and that goes back to a Leroy Van Connet story. My dad used to sit and watch Leroy at Auburn and he had a little coupe or T-bucket and his number was 92 and my dad would say, “If I ever race, I’m going to be number 92.” So, when his neighbor gave him that car, he spray-painted the number 92 on it just because of Leroy. 

RUST: Besides your family, you’ve driven for other teams as well… 
Forsberg: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to race a lot. ... So, we’ve always run the A&A Stepping Stone 410 at Chico and I’ve always been fortunate enough to have a 360 ride the last few years. … I drove the X1 for a few years and the PT Shocks 7c and that ended abruptly earlier this year. We got a divorce, but I don’t think you have enough pages to cover that. So, I’ve always had my own car in the corner for whenever I want to go racing. If I want to go race something and nobody else wanted to go, my car was always sitting here, ready to go. We brought my car out this year to run the Civil War Series. There’s always been a co-op of teams and cars and people that have allowed me to race 50-70 times per year. 

Forsberg (7c) leads a pack of winged sprints during a heat race at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville, 2016.

RUST: Who builds your engines?
Forsberg: The 410s come out of Pennsylvania. Don Ott builds those. My 360 stuff is Tony Borello. He’s local. He’s been building motors for us since 1988. The first race car motor he ever built was for my dad. 410s aren’t really his cup of tea; they’re just too temperamental for his liking. We’ve had good success with the 410s but all of a sudden we just had some crappy luck this year. We broke a rod leading one night and we sent that back and got it fixed. Then we broke a cam in the same damn motor leading again. There have been a couple of nights like that. It’s just devastating for everybody. The demoralization factor has been a little bit higher this year. But parts fail on these motors. They’re so lightweight and we turn them so hard that they’re going to fall apart sometimes. 

RUST: How do you decide what races you’ll run through the season?
Forsberg: It all starts in the wintertime when the tracks put out their schedules, and typically we’ve been pretty loyal to running Civil War, so that schedule has always worked pretty well for us and not competing against other things that we’ve wanted to partake in. Typically, the Friday night 410 series at Chico doesn’t ever conflict with anything. There have been a couple years where I had to choose Civil War or Chico and I know I lost the championship at Silver Dollar (Chico) because I had to miss a race to go to a Civil War show. But we pretty much set a schedule in the wintertime and stick to it. 

RUST: And tell me about your cabinet business.
Forsberg: My real job is well, if I had to live off racing, I’d live in a cardboard box, is we stain and finish cabinets. We’re basically a body shop for cabinets. The racecars are next door and it’s all at my house so I seldom leave the compound here. We do work for a handful of cabinet shops. Most people don’t know this but cabinet shops build them but they don’t do any finish. There’s a handful that will but for the most part, 80% of the cabinet shops just build them and send them down the road. That’s where I come in. If a contractor wants them finished before they get to the house, that’s where my nook and cranny is. It’s just me and another guy here. We’re not IKEA by any means. 

RUST: What is a normal week like for you during the racing season? 
Forsberg:
Honestly, I try not to work on the car at all (laughs). I’m the driver. I have a guy that takes care of a lot of the stuff on Monday. He gets everything unloaded and me and the kid that works for me, we’ll go out and help and get things washed up ... it’s about five or six hours of just baloney work that any idiot could do and the crew shows up on Tuesday and it’s kind of a mad thrash to get everything ready. The crew chief (Randy Van Kueren) shows up on Tuesdays and kinda fine-tunes everything and if I didn’t crash or do anything stupid we can be done and loaded up by Tuesday night. I probably put too much workload on my dad because he’s pretty much here all day Mondays and Tuesdays. He likes to stay involved. I don’t know what the hell else he would be doing, staying home and watching “Price Is Right.” He lives a mile from here so, he just shows up even when we’re not working on race cars just to fart around at the race shop. But if we have race car stuff to work on, he’ll work on it. 

It’s a different style of racing. I’m not saying it’s bad or bitchin and complaining about it, but it is a little bit different.

RUST: Does your dad have a specialty?
Forsberg: Um, he came from back in the day where you used to build everything. So, if something needs to be fixed, repaired or welded, that’s where he comes in. The generation that’s racing now, if it’s either dinged or bent, they just throw it in the garbage and buy a new one. He’ll look at something and say, “I can fix that; give that to me.” On the car we restored, it’s an ’84 Lloyd from Pennsylvania and 80% of it’s all homemade stuff, like the nerf bars, the arms, links, the wings … everything was just homemade back then.

RUST: How do you personally stay competitive as a driver? You don’t seem to be slowing down. Do you have something that drives you to keep racing?

High fives all around after Forsberg wins his third main event in a row at Stockton Dirt Track, 2016.

Forsberg: I don’t know, I guess I’m a poor sport (laughs). It’s funny you say that; I do feel that I’m less competitive now because I think the style of racing a winged sprint car is changing. It’s all circling around Cycleland and the kids that are coming out of outlaw karts and how they drive those karts and how the tracks are being prepared nowadays. It’s a different style of racing. I’m not saying it’s bad or bitchin' and complaining about it but it is a little bit different. They do slide jobs and that’s kinda the only way to get passed now is they’ll slide up into you and you have two choices: You either stay in it and you get knocked out of the way or you put the brakes on and you let ’em just go. I remember when I first started racing, you hugged the bottom or you ran the top and that was kinda it and you kinda punched it out with the guy you were racing. Now it’s a little different style and it’s taken me a little bit to get used to it and sometimes the track doesn’t blend to that kind of racing, so then that comes back into my plate. But if it’s super slick and all you do is slide job each other then I know that I’m in a little bit of trouble. The days of it being hooked up and rough are over just because the cars are so locked down with the wings and speed and the shock packages; you do really need for it to be slick to slow the cars down just a little bit. Typically if it’s slick there’s just a cushion so, you either roll all the way around the top in a big merry go round or if somebody wants to get ballsy they’re just going to dive bomb you and slide up into you or in front of you. I mean there’s a good slide job where the guy clears you and there are bad slide jobs where it puts you over the hill. I don’t know, I just don’t thoroughly enjoy that style of racing, but it’s the way it is lately, it seems. 

RUST: Of the young guys coming up, who has impressed you over the years? 
Forsberg: Um, it’s kinda interesting. There’s Brad Sweet; he lived 15 minutes from me and he actually worked in the finish shop and it was interesting to see him load up and move to Indiana to see what he could do. He went back there with like a 20-year-old Ford Crew Cab and a little enclosed trailer and kinda paid his dues and got some rides and now he’s on the Outlaw tour. So I think that to me is one of the more impressive things, because obviously we can talk about Kyle Larson all day long because he’s a one in a million type of a driver. But I don’t know. It’s funny, the kids, I call ’em “kids,”people that I grew up with, Billy Wallace, Colby Weisz, we all started at Grass Valley and now we’re all just kinda old and decrepit and all these young go -kart kids are just kinda phasing us out. It’s kinda funny. Jon Allard, too; it’s the same thing. We all are in the same age group. Jonathan’s over in New Zealand doing his thing and he doesn’t seem to have a whole hell of a lot going on in America anymore. Colby is racing dwarf cars with his kid and Billy still races with his dad just like me. That Grass Valley crop of kids has turned into old men (laughs ).

RUST: So, Brad (Sweet) worked in your shop as a finisher?
Forsberg: Well, yeah, you could call it that. I joke with him; he took the office chair out of the office and if he couldn’t do anything from sitting in that chair, it didn’t get done. He was definitely trying to make things happen at that time because he was on the phone constantly. That was the downfall of him working for me… he was texting so often. And this was back in the day when you had to push the number 1 three times to get the letter C … it wasn’t a quick text. So, you know, it typically took him like three or four minutes to text somebody. So, I told him, every time I catch you texting somebody, I’m going to deduct an hour off of your hourly wage and soon it was down to negative dollars an hour. And he just quit. At that time my (cabinet) shop wasn’t at the race shop, but if it had he probably would have been screwing around with the race cars a little bit. It wasn’t too long after that he packed up and headed back east. 

…if you win at Calistoga without a wing, you’re pretty cool and if you win with a wing it’s not quite as cool—it’s still cool—but it’s not quite as cool.

RUST: Do you have a favorite victory from your career so far? 
Forsberg:
It was cool winning at Calistoga (2009), but it’s not nearly as cool as what my dad did. He won a couple of races there with NARC, without a wing. … That’s what I grew up thinking, “I’m going to win at Calistoga.” But as time evolved and by the time I went racing they weren’t racing without wings and I didn’t have a 410, et cetera, et cetera. But winning there, whether it was a Civil War show with a wing, it was still a cool full circle … finally I did win a race at Calistoga. But I know it’s not nearly as cool as guys I was watching when I grew up, like my dad, Hank Butcher, Leroy Van Connet. Those were the guys that I thought were pretty darn cool and I thought someday I could be cool like them. But if you win at Calistoga without a wing, you’re pretty cool (laughs) and if you win with a wing it’s not quite as cool —it’s still cool—but it’s not quite as cool. But to have a Calistoga trophy in the house is probably one of the more special things. I was lucky enough to win another one there in 2011 or ’12, too. 

RUST: What about disappointment? Do you have an event that lingers from your career?
Forsberg: Yeah, um, I ran out of fuel leading at Calistoga one night (2006). I hate to keep bringing up Calistoga but I ran out of fuel there with two laps to go. I still grit my teeth over that. Basically, every race that you think you should’ve won is a great disappointment. I mean, I passed (Buddy) Kofoid for the lead on the last lap of the Johnny Key race (at Watsonville) this year and he snuck right back by me. I still kinda think about that—every day, honestly. That was just a month ago. I don’t know, I could rattle off 30 disappointments. But probably the biggest deal was I was just going to flat out win a race at Calistoga and just have the racecar start coughing and spitting and coast to a stop. That was probably the most heartbreaking, irritating thing I’ve ever been through. That was back when Brent (Kaeding) was still pretty competitive. We duked it out for a few laps and finally I got by him and at that time, I had never even led a lap at Calistoga. So, I came out of turn four, I finally cleared Brent and I’m looking down the straightaway and I’m like, “Holy crap, I’m leading a lap at Calistoga!“ I was tank slapping all over the damn place. I got through one and two and I was like, “Dude, you gotta simmer down here, you’re going to win this race.“ I got my act together; we were going to win and we just ran out of fuel. 

RUST: Was that because of too many caution laps?
Forsberg: It was too many full-throttle laps. At that time Calistoga was kinda known historically as just a shithole. It went through a spell. So, you would drop the throttle a lot going down into the turn and kinda coast through the turn and then you’d hit the throttle and go down the straightaway. But for whatever reason we got the track super nice that night and I was flat-footing it all the way around there and that’s why we ran out of fuel with two laps to go. Brent inherited the lead and he ran out of fuel and then I think Jason Statler ending up winning the deal and he was sputtering going across the finish line. It just caught everybody off guard. We weren’t prepared to run 25 laps at full throttle. We always joke about it; I was the one on the gas the most. That makes it a little bit better but we had it full. We just got caught with our pants down. 

RUST: And you enjoy taking your dad’s restored sprint car to Calistoga for the Vermeil Classic every year, too, right? 
Forsberg: Oh yeah, that’s my favorite weekend of the year when I don’t have to worry about racing. 

Andy driving the restored Richard Forsberg sprint car at Calistoga Speedway.

RUST: Are you thinking of cutting back your racing schedule?
Forsberg: Seriously, I’m backing my schedule off. We used to go, if there was a race and we were available, we would race it. And, now I’m getting a little more picky and choosy. I won’t haul ass down to Watsonville on a Friday night. … I’m slowly but surely backing things off a little bit. I’m just not as motivated. We ran over 70 races for a few years, out of one shop and one crew and one little open trailer. I mean, I was crazy—just hungry—couldn’t get enough. I’m still pushing 50 shows, so … we're still slowing down some. There are just a handful of races that are kind of a pain in the ass to do and we just said, “Forget it.“ I kinda weigh my options … how much fun is it really going to be, compared to how much money are we going to spend and how much effort. I used to not care—it didn’t matter—but now, I guess I’m growing up (laughs). 

RUST: What are your plans for 2018?
Forsberg: Right now we have no plans. Whatever it is, it’s going to look different than this year. Sometimes I’m working 60-70 hours per week at the (cabinet) shop, so I can’t work at the race shop. And I can’t put so much pressure on my dad to work here. So, I gotta put together a package to alleviate some pressure from me and my dad and if I can’t find that, I won’t run. So, I will have to snoop around, see if I can drive for somebody else and if that doesn’t happen, I can see myself not driving next year. 

I gotta put together a package to alleviate some pressure from me and my dad and if I can’t find that, I won’t run.

RUST: Would you just go to watch?
Forsberg: Well, a lot of drivers will say that they can’t go to the races; it just kills them, blah blah blah. But I don’t seem to have that problem. I didn’t race Trophy Cup last year, I didn’t race the Vermeil the last couple of years and there’s been about five Saturdays where I’ve gone and hung out with my buddy Mike Benson who races at Placerville. I enjoy it. I joke that I’m his driver coach (laughs). I thoroughly enjoy going to the races and not having to worry about anything. I’m a huge race fan. I can watch … now, can I do that for an entire year? I can’t say yet. But if I can put myself into a position where I don’t have to worry too much about anything, I would. But I’m not going to do it half-assed.

RUST: Well, it doesn’t seem like you’ve done things half-assed…
Forsberg: We try not to. Sometimes we’ve faked it; we’ve gone through the motions sometimes. I’m just good enough make everything look OK, with a third place here and a fifth place there and stumble across a win. You think everything is OK but deep down inside, you know it’s not. Ahh, the cycle will go on, the world of racing will continue whether I have a ride or not. I’m not overly concerned about it. This year’s been hard, harder than we thought it would be. We’ve hurt motors, crashed cars and it’s just been a lot more work on everybody. This year has taken the wind out of everybody’s sails even though we have won a few races and we did get a couple of championships. I think everybody’s still looking at each other at thinking, "Man, was that really that fun?" And, I don’t think so … it wasn’t really, if you stop and think about it. Just yesterday I went through the calendar. I keep track of where we were at and how many races are on each motor, et cetera, and I put down what I felt of our performance that night, whether it was “average“ or “poor“ or “great.“ And there are not too many “greats“ on there. There are a couple “goods,“ a couple “greats,“ a lot of “averages“ and a handful of “poor“ performances. So we definitely need to look at that and see what we can do to fix that and if there’s not a way to fix that, I definitely won’t run the 92 cars next year. 

RUST: Do you have some options for rides?
Forsberg: No, nothing yet. I’ve been pretty quiet about it. But you never know what might happen. We’ve been doing this forever. Yeah, next year would be our 50th anniversary… 1968 to ’18. I might have to race just so we can race in the 50th year; who knows?