Joey Fjerstad

Back on Track: Joey Fjerstad on Racing After His Injury, What Drives Him and Why He Needs a New Nickname

For ice oval snowmobile racer Joey Fjerstad, this racing season was almost over before it even started. Late in November, he was on his family’s property in Northern Minnesota participating in his annual pre-season hunting trip with his team. Things took a scary turn when, while racing ATVs with his friend, he crashed into a tree. He broke his leg, his bone literally sticking out of the skin. He would later learn it was a compound fracture to his femur. He also broke his collar bone and arm. It could have been worse, though: If he had been alone or not worn a helmet, he probably wouldn’t have survived, let alone raced this season.

Joey Fjerstad injuryUp until two weeks before the start of the ice oval season, he assumed he wouldn’t be racing. But with a strong will and dedication to his sponsors and fans, Joey has not only raced in every event so far, but he has already hit one of his major goals: Qualifying for the front row in the World Championships. All of this despite the fact he is still recovering and even broke one of the screws in his leg during his first race.

As one of Joey’s new sponsors, we wanted to get to know him a little better, so we sat down and discussed his life, both on and off the track.

Up North Sports: How did you get your start in racing?

Joey: I was up deer hunting with family, and my cousin, who raced pretty much all his life, asked if I’d like to try racing. I took him up on the opportunity after I cleared it with my dad. My dad was definitely a little concerned, but he was for it. He never got to race as a kid, so he was for it. My cousin has since passed away, but his dad (Rich Felegy) is my crew chief.

UNS: How old were you when you started racing?

Joey: I was 14.

UNS: Really? Wow!

Joey: Yeah, the weird thing is, that’s actually kind of old. The people I’m racing against, some of them started when they were 3. They are 23 years old and say they started 20 years ago! I’m kind of glad I didn’t start then. I’d probably be burned out by now.

UNS: What do you like most about racing?

Joey: That’s a good question! You know, I really like the people involved. The team has pretty much become my family and my best friends. The best friends I have I’ve made through racing. It’s also a big family deal. Like I said, my uncle is my crew chief. My dad comes to all the races. Our main mechanic is my cousin, and the other two are my best friends from high school. We take it seriously, but we have a good time. They want to win just as much as I do, which makes it more fun. I also like the challenge. It’s definitely not easy.

Joey Fjerstad team

UNS: What are the differences between a leisure snowmobile and one for racing?

Joey: It’s a lot different! The chassis is made by a company in Northern Minnesota called Wahl Bros. Racing. It’s only good on ice. It has 400+ studs and razor sharp carbides. It uses special gas that you can’t just go to the pump and buy. The handlebars are bent funny. A normal person wouldn’t know what to do with them. It’s low to the ground, about three inches off the ground. It’s build to turn left and go fast, and that’s about it.

UNS: There are many types of racing. Why did you choose ice oval racing?

Joey: It’s what my cousin did, what he grew up doing, so I just followed suit. We raced together as teenagers. I did try some other types of racing, but I’m just better at ice oval. I also do some of what is called enduro racing. It’s pretty much the same as ice oval, but it’s a different snowmobile and there are more laps (500 vs 30 in ice oval). 

UNS: How do you prepare for a race?

Joey: I spend a lot of time in the gym. I try to take a little time off right after we are done racing for the year, but I do a lot of cardio stuff. I also have the TRX bands university football teams and the military train with. It sounds funny, but I also do yoga. It’s not the easiest thing. I’m in there with these ladies in class, and they are kicking my butt! I’m dripping with sweat, and they are like, “Come on, let’s go.” I do a lot of spin cycling and some boxing. Working out gets boring, so I gotta keep it interesting and exciting. This past summer, I bought a dirt bike. I’ve been training on that. It’s probably the best preparation for snowmobile racing. The bad thing about dirt bike racing is you can easily get hurt. You have to weigh the risk and rewards. You want to make it challenging but make sure you don’t get hurt. It’s the closest thing to replicating snowmobile racing because it’s hard to find ice tracks to train on.

UNS: Everything doesn’t always go as planned while racing. What’s been the scariest moment you’ve had out on the ice?

Joey: There have been a lot of bad ones! Probably the worst was when I kind of ran over myself. I told you about those 400-plus studs on the track. Well, I kind of ended up sitting on it while it was spinning. I shredded my butt cheek, thigh and pants. The scary part was at first it didn’t hurt, but I knew there was no way I wasn’t hurt. When the crash first happened, it was right in front of where the crew is. A competitor’s dad was the first person I saw. I kind of bear hugged him and said “It burns, it burns.” He said, “I’m sure it does.” It was the first time I had ever gotten hurt that bad. I didn’t think the burn would ever go away.

UNS: You’re active off the race course as well. What other outdoor activities do you enjoy?

Joey: I love hunting. We have a lot of land in Northern Minnesota. I spend a lot of time up there hunting, dirt biking and four-wheeling. I also love water skiing. I do that a lot during the summer.

UNS: So what’s the story behind your nickname (Anything but smokin’ Joe)?

Joey: There was this announcer, it seemed like every race he called me “Smokin’ Joe,” and I don’t know why, but I don’t like it. I’m friends with the Wahl Bros. Racing Team, and they like to tease me about it. We get our helmets painted by the same people, so they had that painted on my helmet. My first race this season, I had a problem with the coolant, and my sled overheated. It got really, really smoky. This photographer I know knows about the whole Smokin’ Joe thing, so he took a picture of it and titled it, “Smokin’ Joe.” I don’t think I’m ever getting away from it!

UNS: Any advice for someone looking to get into snowmobile racing?

Joey: Be prepared to work hard. Make sure you have a good support system around you. Your mom and dad, grandparents, cousins, friends. Without the help of a good team and support, you’re not going to do well. Be passionate. If you are going to do it, do it. You can’t do it halfway. You have to be committed and make sacrifices. When I was in high school, I missed out on a lot of things, but I think it was worth it. I learned a lot of life lessons.

UNS: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Joey: I just want to say how thankful I am for my JF16 Racing Team: My Dad, Ron Fjerstad; Uncle Rich Felegy; Sam Anderson; my cousin, Andy Fjerstad; Mike Busch; Bill Foner; Shawn Robyn; and Jon Ludders. I also gotta thank all my great sponsors! Ericco MFG, Aggressive Hydraulics, FXR, Woodys, Ron’s Heating & AC, Felegy Racing, Wahl Bros. Racing, Jon Ludders, Digital Ink, Up North Sports, T.G. Design, Spy, Polaris, Jim Brown Fabrication, Polaris Engineered Lubricants, RCCA, Amp, Collectors Studio, Extreme Sales and Service and Dayco.

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All images courtesy of Brad Malmgren Photography


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