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Worth the Risk?: Allowing My Son to Race a Snowmobile

Cal Sandberg at the USXC cross-country race in Oslo, MN. Photo by

I admit to having mixed feelings about my 11-year-old son racing snowmobiles.

Our decision to compete at the USXC cross-country in Oslo, Minn., last weekend meant a return of those mental gymnastics.

Probably every parent of a kid who races confronts the same questions and concerns that I experienced last weekend:

Is he truly ready to race alone for 25 miles? Are the risks too big? Is it an irresponsible choice to compete?

These questions played through my head as Cal and I drove the six hours to Oslo last Friday.

I tackle such questions having myself raced cross-country many times over the past 20-plus years. I’ve enjoyed the immense pleasure and satisfaction of the many challenges, yet I’ve also suffered injury (severed tendons in my right hand back in 1992) that will affect me for the rest of my life.

I’ve seen friends (Jeff Tweet, Jamie Anseeuw, and Blair Morgan) paralyzed and I’ve known great men (Jim Herzig and Ed DeVault) who have died from race injury.

My position, if I want to call it that, is that cross-country snowmobile racing is more dangerous than many sports, but that it isn’t too dangerous for my sensibilities.

My saintly wife Kate doesn’t share this sentiment. If the decision to allow Cal to race were entirely hers, he would not be allowed to compete.

Calvin is a smart, measured kid who doesn’t take big risks in any of the various activities he participates. Some kids go wide-open into everything they do, with zero recognition of the dangers. Cal isn’t one of them.

He wanted to race in Oslo and he wasn’t concerned with injury.

As a parent, this gets tricky because our kids don’t draw from the same arsenal of experience to evaluate risk. They’re kids after all, and they mostly just see the rewards. So we evaluate the risks for them and measure their challenges accordingly.

Cal and I arrived in Oslo on Friday early enough to pre-ride the 25 mile course together. While we were preparing to do so, I ran into my old friend Tom Herfindahl, who said that his kids Blair and Marcus (both 12 and under) were out pre-riding the course together.

Knowing that those two are out there somehow eased my mind.

Tom had ridden one lap with them and indicated that the course was rough with jumps. He too shared the trepidation of a parent who doesn’t want his kids to get hurt, yet also wants them to experience the joy, skills and accomplishment that comes with racing.

Cal and I donned the protective gear — chest protector, shin pads and helmet — then hit the course. I let him lead.


Cal Sandberg at the USXC cross-country race in Oslo, MN

Half way through the lap, I flagged him to stop for a picture. When we stopped, the first words out of him mouth were, “Dad, this is a BLAST!”

“Yes Cal, it is a blast”

We finished the lap with Cal in a state of euphoria that I rarely see. It felt great for both of us.

The next day we arrived early for the drivers’ meeting. Cal’s heat was at 10:30 in the morning, after the Pro Open race. We watched the Pros launch off the first ditch approach leaving town. Cal’s reaction: “Don’t worry Dad; I’m not going to go that fast.”

“I hope not, Cal!”

We went back to the pits, got his gear on and went through a few instructions one last time:

“Go a pace you feel comfortable with.

“Stay out of other racers’ snow dust.

“If you crash, make sure you’re okay and get out of the path of oncoming racers.

“If you need help, stop and flag down a motorist.

“Have fun.”


Cal Sandberg at the USXC cross-country race in Oslo, MN. Photo by

Before I had time to think too much about it, he’d left the starting line and was barreling down the course.

Friend Mike Feil undoubtedly saw the nervousness written on me. With his own son Matt racing at the same moment, Mike offered a profound truth:

“This wait is the toughest part of being a parent,” he said, referring to the 30-40 minutes it would take for the kids to arrive back to the start/finish line.

Mike was right about the wait.

I stood in the pits, my eyes trained on the course as it came back into town. With hopeful expectation I watched every green Arctic Cat motor back towards the finish. And after what seemed like an eternity (it was actually just 35 minutes), Cal finally came into view!


Cal Sandberg at the USXC cross-country race in Oslo, MN

I grabbed a few pix as he negotiated the finish section and then ran after him as he drove back to the truck.

“Dad, I wish I could go out for another lap!” were the first words out of his mouth, followed by:

“That was so much fun!

“Can I do another lap?”


Cal Sandberg at the USXC cross-country race in Oslo, MN

He was absolutely thrilled, animated and proud of himself to a degree that happens once or twice a year. As a parent, I hugged him out of my own joy, pride and relief.

On the six hour drive home that evening, we talked about Cal’s race, the great fun of the Oslo course; watching the pros; which future races he can compete in this season; whether Tucker could beat Zach Herfindahl in a cross-country race; the people we hung out with during the weekend; and about a hundred other things.

I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but in the days since the race there has been a bit more depth in our relationship. That sometimes happens when people experience “big” things together, especially if those experiences expand our own boundaries.

Three days after the race, Cal got together with a girl from his 5th grade class to go snowboarding, marking the first time he’s ever hung out with “one of them.” I truly believe that the confidence it took to make that happen came in part from having raced his snowmobile all by himself for 25 miles in Oslo.

As a parent, I want my kids to be confident, adventurous, hard-working, self-sufficient and challenged as they navigate the racecourse of life. I also want them to recognize risk and to know their own limits.

To gain those traits, I believe they have to confront some dangers and risks along the way.

Racing snowmobiles is one path that will help Cal get there.

I want to thank USXC for the opportunity for kids to race. I also want to thank all the great people who gave Cal high-fives and encouragement that day in Oslo. For any person or parent thinking about racing, I can’t stress enough what a great group of people the whole USXC family of officials and racers truly are.

Thanks for reading.

Cal Sandberg at the USXC cross-country race in Oslo, MN



  1. I wish I was your son! I finally got my first chance to race when I was 28! I think you nailed it! What other sport could you spend that much time with your child before and after a race. There certainly is no team sport in which you could participate with your own child that much without favoritism. I am a strong believer finding a child’s passion and then helping them push themselves. It looks like you have begun that process with your son!

  2. With great risk comes great rewards. I raced when I was a young adult and the times that my father and I had you cant put a price on. My father and I are the best of friends and continue to ride sleds together as much as possible. I have started the racing bug with my own child and it has been nothing but a good thing. Keep it up John!!

  3. I was never raced but i have put a lot of miles on the trail and sometimes the trail can be very dangerous or worse. Sounds like Cal knows what his limit’s are which is good. As a parent you are going to be a little nervous the first few times they go out. Then you throw in Motorcycles and ATV’s. I’m still Nervous!! 🙂

  4. But in all seriousness as a parent, I get nervous anytime my kids get behind the wheel of a car or do the many things that they like to do. You just have to set the correct example from day one and instill upon them the do’s and dont’s of operating anything, whether it is a snowmobile, motorcycle, lawn mower, circular saw, etc., etc.

  5. John, another great write up! Sounds like you are raising a fine young man there, keep up the great work with him and ArcticInsider. Thanks for pulling out some very fond memories for me of time spent with my son and all our adventures riding and racing. Great job!!!

  6. Fantastic article!! Being a second generation racer and now having kids of my own I have asked myself the same question….would I let either of my boys race!!! All we can do is raise them as responsible riders ( myself as well as both of my sons started riding at 3 years old) and to make good decisions and ride within their limits. Sounds like you have been a good example for your son as well. Great job and I check ArcticInsider daily for new articles!! Keep up the good work.

  7. If you think about it trail riding could potentially be more dangerous. A rider has to deal with two way traffic and inexperienced riders on way to powerful sleds that don’t understand that you are supposed to stay on the right side of the trail. Add to that drinking,no traction products etc.etc. That’s just my opinion since I never raced competitively. Based on your experience with you’re son it sounds like he is smart enough to know where and when to go fast and to slow down a bit. Like I said its just this riders opinion. Nice race Cal and good luck. Yea about that duct tape buy a no fog face mask they are worth every penny and no more tape. It also keeps your face warm and you can ditch that nose piece in your helmet.

  8. Just be sure to find Cal a cap that fits…

    If you think sled racing is scary for a parent, try putting your daughter on a horse. Or giving her the car keys when she’s 16. It never ends.

  9. Glad I’m not the only parent to have that thought! Nice to see a kid that doesn’t have his pants hanging off his azz and a silly looking hat over his ears. I was blessed with an incredible kid that understood that grades came first and never came home with a piercing until she was 21(dang stud in her nose. oh well). As long as she had the grades I made sure she had a sled under her and played all the sports she wanted. It does come home to roost; she cracked the Deans List and last week on the way back to the UM campus she said “Dad, if I take a break from studying can we go snowmobiling?” Almost got me choked up to think about just her and me out there riding the trails. I hope you always have that quality of time with Cal.

  10. Great article! It is so cool that UCXC lets the young kids race. Our club is looking into allowing juniors to race in our big XC race. Right now our age limit is 18 and down to 16 with a parent waiver. The argument against allowing kids enter was insurance reasons. I can see that if USXC can do it, we should be able to as well.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. John, I went through all those same thoughts before I let Jayme(who just turned 10 by a couple days) race in Detroit Lakes. I wouldnt let him race is SnoPro500 as he is only 71 pounds soaking wet and quite small for the sled so I made him race his 370. He wasn’t happy as it was so slow but I felt it fit him better and was safer. He wasn’t going to go out an win anyway. He had sooooo much fun and looked great. Im going to let him ride his first woods event in Park Rapids so will see how that goes. Hopefully he can take his cross country motorcycle skills and feel comfortable looking ahead for orange markers. Im sure I will be on pins and needles waiting for him to come around but I have alot of confidence in the course crew. Hope to see you there.

  12. John, we had a discussion on this topic about a year ago via e-mail if I remember right.

    My opinion is that racing is a great discipline that your son will learn from and carry the rest of his life for anything that he would like to endeavor.

    Just make sure that he has all of the safety gear needed for any of the sports he gets involved in.

    My son, now 17 years old and retired from racing, my choice not his, is so mature for his age and I do believe that all came from the 7 plus years of snowmobile racing.

    He is very involved in many sports and hangs out with great friends.

    The only thing that I question is why he is a Viking fan over the Green Bay Packers ? Must have something to do with their running back.

    Anyway, as you sit back and watch your son get into that winners circle, you will stick your chest out and say —thats my boy– and theres no greater feeling for any parent when your kids accell !

  13. I remember all the injuries my boys got playing football and hockey. Snowmobile racing seems like a church picnic in comparison. One night in particular was waiting in ER at Merit Care in Fargo after my youngest son received a concussion during a hockey game against West Fargo.

    I also remember one sunny winter day when my youngest son was about 8 or 9 and he came flying across the field at the farm on my ’93 Polaris XLT. As he pulled into the yard and slammed on the brake he yelled out: “Dad I had it up to 90 mph”. I could have rung his neck as he had been lectured many times to keep the speed down. Still, I was glad that I had taught him good riding skills and that he had the opportunity to start riding at the age of 3 on a Kitty Kat.

    Another fond memory is my daughter preferring to go riding snowmobile with the boys in her high school class rather than hang out with her girl friends. When I mentioned that maybe I should downgrade from a 600 to a 440 her reply was: “I don’t want any wuss machine”.

    Teach your kids the skills and they will ride safely and confidently even in a race.

    Congratulations, Cal!

  14. ahead although flat was not smotoh sailing. Not more than 1/2 city block in front of me I can see runners climbing over a wooden obstacle that spanned the

  15. Great job, Andrew! I thought it had prbbloay been a long time since your last running race .looks like you still got it. And you even outsprinted someone! [url=]npytwapbk[/url] [link=]rvazvrxeql[/link]


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