LINCOLN, Calif. – Northern California has its own Mr. Excitement and now Iowa can match.
Andy Forsberg races winged sprint cars and Mr. Excitement is his nickname, earned during a career that now shows 187 main event wins at Golden State ovals.
Iowa’s Mr. Excitement has never raced, but makes a big impact on Friday and Saturday nights during the Midwest racing season. Jerry Vansickel is not on a crew, not a promoter or track owner, does not own a race car, but uses his talent to make each race night special.
Vansickel is the track announcer at Marshalltown Speedway and Boone Speedway, two of the most highly respected tracks in the Midwest.
His parents took him to Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City, Iowa, starting when he was six months old. That became the location of his early years in working in some capacity at a race track.
“I got involved because for many years my dad videotaped the races at Webster City,” explained Vansickel. “I always had the hopes and dreams of being a flag man. I was selling programs and the local newspapers around age 10. At that time you could not be under age 14 and be in the pits. Once I turned 14 I was able to go into the pits and do small things. It wasn’t really a job, but being a kid who wanted to work in racing I did not care.
“Eventually I became a corner worker and got paid a whole $20 a night at age 16. In 1993 I was able to pick up a microphone for the first time when the current announcer said he wasn’t going to do this forever and would need someone to fill his spot. He asked if I wanted to do it. I said I’ll give it a shot, don’t know if I’ll be any good at it.”
Vansickel was 17 that first night he announced, working with the regular guy, and recalls how the late model feature provided a special memory.
“The late model feature came down to two guys I had looked up to as race car drivers, Mike Smith and Craig Jacobs,” Vansickel recalled. “I had the call on the last handful of laps. It was exciting as these were the guys I had watched as a kid growing up. I got to say their name and tell the people what’s going on.”
Vansickel thinks his style in his early announcing career was the same as now because he was just that fan talking and telling you the action. He also candidly rated his early efforts.
“It was very terrible,” admitted Vansickel. “I remember that I was told I was yelling and it was hard to hear me and hard to understand. I talked louder so I could hear myself. My dad was still filming at that time and I was plugged into that so I listened to it and it did sound bad. It was like, that guy sounds like an idiot.”
He did one year at Webster City, then a new promoter came on board with his own announcer, so Vansickel returned to being a corner worker or helping in staging. Eventually he was contacted to announce at another track and it wasn’t long until he was doing four nights a week either as an announcer, or flag man, or something else at each track.
Besides all the track work, Vansickel has been in the car business 25 years. He is currently the recondition manager and shop foreman at a Des Moines dealership and has kept his promise to cut down to two nights of announcing when reaching the age of 40.
After flagging three years at Marshalltown, he moved into the announcing spot when the previous announcer moved on. Working at Boone came at the same time and he has seven years of announcing at both tracks, a job he states is often easy.
“If the racing is great, then my job is easy,” Vansickel said. “If the racing is not great, then my job becomes more difficult because you have to get creative to sell what the people are seeing, that it’s not a terrible race, it’s not a bad show. We have those nights. No matter if it’s raining, or it it’s cold or hot, if it’s windy or the track is dusty, or it’s muddy, those are the elephants in the room. We don’t need to talk about that because the people can see it. You have to sell it not only to people in the grandstands but also the people at home.”
Vansickel admitted his announcing style is a bit out of the ordinary.
“Unorthodox,” said when describing his announcing style. “I don’t have a style, it just happens. People ask me how do I come up with the one-liners. I don’t know how I do it, it just happens. I don’t show prep, I don’t have the stats. I am by nature a pretty high strung individual. When things get crazy like five wide racing, I get amped up. I love racing and have a passion for it. I’m just a race fan and someone thought it was a good idea to put a microphone in my hand.”
If a race is exciting, listening to Vansickel makes it even more exciting. It a race is not entertaining, then hearing his announcing will improve that experience. His enthusiasm and humor makes a good thing even better.
Vansickel is definitely Iowa’s Mr. Excitement.