Google search engineGoogle search engine
HomeFeaturesRacing's Greatest Reward

Racing’s Greatest Reward

Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

By the third race of the season, the pattern is set and comfortably familiar.

Thursday evening, after dinner, Calvin and I pack our gear for the weekend. We shove into two duffel bags everything he needs to compete and everything I need to stay warm while helping him. Next we gather the snacks and drinks that will fuel the trip, with Cal placing extra emphasis on sugar.

Gear ready, we spend a half hour or so in the shop, going over his sled. I’ve already done whatever significant work might have been required which, thankfully, isn’t much when it’s an Arctic Cat Sno Pro 500 in the Junior 10-13 class. This night-before shop time with the sled is more about teaching him regular maintenance and how to use everyday tools like wrenches and screw drivers.

Then it’s bedtime.

Friday morning starts groggy but the pace quickly ramps up.

The ArcticInsider Factory Race Rig

I load the truck and take care of the remaining details while Cal suffers through another horrible day in Middle School. I try to cram a normal day’s work into six hours, but I come up a little short. Hopefully my bosses don’t notice.

Cal is rescued from school and we hit the local Chipotle on the way out of town. On the outskirts of the Twin Cities, we settle in for the long haul to northwestern Minnesota, where most of the USXC cross-country races are held.

The conversation bounces between sleds, racing, school, movies, computer games and whatever else is on Cal’s mind. A handful of hours later, we’ve checked into a hotel room and hit the pillows. Tomorrow is race day.

The alarm clock announces 6am with a cruel buzz. We choke down the hotel’s continental breakfast, with Cal loading up on as much sugar as possible. A 12-year-old’s version of coffee, I suppose.

The sun is still hiding when we arrive in the pits, with only a few trailer lights piercing the darkness. We find a snow bank; unload the sled from the truck’s bed and then park with a clear view of the start/finish.

The sun barely peeks above the horizon when Cal goes for a pre-lap of the course. I wait nervously for him to return, hoping he sticks to the plan of going easy and getting a feel for the course rather than trying to conquer it.

When he arrives back at the truck, he talks about a few of the fun spots, noting with extra enthusiasm any jumps that are especially fun. We add fuel to the sled’s tank and then go sit inside the truck to stay warm.

Cal is a bundle of nerves waiting for his race to start and doesn’t say much. I say the standard bit about going out there to have fun and of riding within his limits, but I’m not sure if he really hears me. One thing that I don’t say, but that I know for certain: the emotions of excitement, fear and butterflies he feels are a reward for the choice he’s made to be here, not a burden.

Tyler Brown (L) and Calvin Sandberg start the Willmar USXC race.

Soon it’s race time. The green flag drops and he disappears onto the course. It’s my turn for nervousness and (slight) fear.

I feel some relief seeing him complete his first lap. One more to go. Ride smart, Cal!

Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

After crossing the finish to take the checkered flag, he goes straight to our truck. I have to run to catch a photo of him taking off his helmet and face tape.

Then comes his rapid-fire description of the cool things that happened during his race, spoken so quickly he can barely catch his breath.

I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t catch every word, as my mind occasionally pauses to note that yes, he’s safe and healthy. Relief.

The rest of the day flows with much less intensity. Sometimes he joins me out on the course, shooting photos of the other races. Other times he hangs with the friends he’s met and competes against. I’m grateful for both.

After the final event of the weekend we load the truck for the drive home, placing the snacks and cooler where I can easily reach them. As we settle in, he once again tells me of his race. This time I listen intently to every word.

He’ll follow that with conversation about his three favorite cross-country racers: Zach Herfindahl, Brian Dick and Wes Selby. He takes great pride if one of these guys wins, and is a bit dejected when they don’t.  

Like clockwork, the conversation lasts about 30 minutes, then trails off. He tilts his seat, gets comfortable and falls fast asleep. And for the next couple hours I drive home, utterly and completely in peace and gratitude.

Thanks for reading.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Willmar race, first lap.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Detroit Lakes, final lap.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Only once did Cal forget to pack something: his jacket. It happened in Walker, at the last race of the season. So he borrowed mine.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Cal participates in a cross-country race ritual that goes back several generations.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Two crashes last season, the first of which occurred in Willmar. I was able to capture the result on camera. Sorry Cal.


Arctic Cat's Roger Skime gives Cal Sandberg a few words of encouragement

Arctic Cat’s Roger Skime shouts a few words of encouragement to Cal prior to his race in Detroit Lakes.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

We pretty much live out of the truck for two days each race weekend.

Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Pine Lake, the first race of the season. Proud papa.


Calvin Sandberg, ArcticInsider-Arctic Cat Factory Pilot in cross-country.

Sleepy kid…I wonder why?



  1. John, your fortunate to get 30 minutes before Cal gets comfortable and dozes off. Zach usually makes it about 8 miles from the track then wakes up an hour from home and proceeds to tell me it’s an easy drive. Great times and memories. Greg

  2. It is great being with the kids on the weekends doing things we both love. The nerves are just as bad for us as they are for the kids (Especially after the past few winters we have had….) BUT…. You can never take away the memories of times shared. Great Story John.

  3. Thanks much for this really neat article.

    Mr. Skime taught me that duct tape on the face trick many moons ago and it sure worked well.

  4. I’ve got 20 years on Cal, and luckily I get to experiance the almost exact same adventure with my Dad all winter too. I hope you get to for a long time to come John. Can’t wait to see you guys at Pine Lake!

  5. You absolutely could not have described that experience any better. Perfect! I agree with Greg, 10 minutes in the truck and Matt is cashed out. He fell asleep holding a cheesebuger once….I guess it is not as effortless as they make it look! So much fun and great memories.

  6. Awesome article , its great to see the family aspect is key and this is just another great story about it. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks for the nice words everyone. I appreciate it.

    And thanks to everyone who makes racing happen, as well as the other people and families who attend them.

  8. One of the rites to passage, to become a Warrior of Winter, you must begin your day with the stickiest duct tape money can buy. The proper placement of that first layer on your nose, like John says, becomes a ritual. Putting it on is the easy part. Cal’s face tells the story when you take it off….How much skin came with it ?? Am I going to look OK to the Trophy Girls up on the podium ? I’ve had the pleasure of riding with Cal. He’s a good kid. Your doing a fine job John, he’ll remember these times for the rest of his life….

  9. Great story John. I shared this same experience with my kids and family long ago when we spent a few summers racing amateur bmx. Any trophies we may have won are in a forgotten box somewhere but the memories we made still flourish. Looking forward to a journey this season to cheer Cal on from the sidelines somewhere. Maybe I can even put a helicopter up and scout the course for him 🙂

  10. Hahaha, thanks Jim.

    s.t.i.c.s.9: Yes, Calvin and I definitely went to the same plastic surgeon. And besides looking alike, I know we share the same DNA… the crash photo proves it (he gets that trait from me).

    Tom: Well said. And yes, looking forward to the helicopter scouting report.

  11. John, thank you so much for this great story. Twenty years ago, I got to share these same experiences with my dad. I mean, like to a T!! The Thursday night track studding, getting suited up in the pick-up truck, the history of duct tape, early morning and late night drives with the conversations about racing and what I realize now today, the conversations about life. Some of the greatest memories of my life that I cherish and hope to pass on one day as you’re doing with Cal.

  12. What a great article John! Congratulations to you and Cal on a successful race season! Great job Cal! Great job Dad! Thank you to the Mrs. also, you always need a great pit crew!

  13. Great article John!!! Just remember when Cal crashes it means he’s pushing himself right to the limit and that’s what it takes to win!!! I myself have done that in my 5 year racing career!! Great season and congrats to the both of you!!! Remember Cal when it comes to racing ” you lift , you lose” keeper pinned buddy!!!! Your on a cat and she’ll take er!!!!!! Good luck next year!!!!

  14. Great piece John! My racing days with my son Nate (BMX) have since passed but hardly a week goes by that he doesn’t reference a particular road trip or national and it’s never about what happened on the track, but always about friends, scenery or shannanigans at a rest area on some desolate highway in the middle of the night. I think we both know how instrumental all of racing’s little lessons will be in every aspect of Cal’s life for years to come. And, yeah, too bad you guys don’t look anything like each other. haha


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular