By Al Fontes
Ali Afshar has led an interesting, yet a very inspirational life story to this point. Born in the country of Iran, he and his family fled the country during the political turmoil of the late 1970s, settling in the City of Petaluma, California, which is located in Sonoma County (Petaluma is also home of several filming sites used for the 1970s hit movie, American Graffiti). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ali wrestled for Casa Grande High School in the North Coast Section and in 1991 competed in the 112-pound division at the CIF State Championships in Stockton. Ironically, prior to state, Ali had wrestled in the medal match at the North Coast Section qualifier against one of my former wrestler, avenging a previous loss to him earlier in the season.
Fast-forward twenty-six years later and I had the distinct opportunity to meet up with Ali at the 2017 CIF State Championships in Bakersfield. We had a great conversation in which we discussed wrestling, acting, film production, fast cars, and his current movie, American Wrestler – The Wizard, due to come out this summer.
To date, Ali is an accomplished actor, producer, the founder of Easy Street Motorsports (also know as ESX), and it’s my understanding that he has a great passion for racing cars, which he currently holds the world time record drag racing the Subaru. Below is a series of questions I had the opportunity to ask Ali about his wrestling career, acting, and passion for racing cars.
Q&A INTERVIEW WITH ALI AFSHAR
How did you initially get involved with the sport of wrestling?
Well my older brothers dabbled in it, and when I got into high school, I really wanted to fit and be accepted and I noticed that all the cool kids, were wearing letterman jackets, so I said I had to have one. I was too small to play football and too short to play basketball, as i was 80 lbs as a freshman. But I beat the other kids on the wrestling team as I was a scrapper and made the varsity team as a freshman and got my letterman jacket. I actually had to wear extra sweats and drink a ton of water to make the minus weight of 84lbs! I went a whopping 1-36 my freshman year…4 years later I set all the school records. But I got my letterman jacket!
What were your goals while competing in the wrestling?
I just wanted to survive and get that damn letterman jacket! It was tough…I got beat up because I was barely 84 lbs.
Casa Grande is not a traditional wrestling power in the North Coast Section or state of California. Who or what inspired you to excel at the high school level?
When I saw that I was good at it, and my brother and uncle helped me along with our coach, I thought hey it’s an individual sport so regardless that Casa was not that competitive, I could rock and kill it! Which eventually I did.
What do you remember most about qualifying to the CIF State Championships?
I had almost qualified in my sophomore and junior years but lost to a guy that I had beat thru the regular season. I was so scared and hell bent on not losing to a guy who I had beat and that’s exactly what happened. I met the league champion, who we were both 1-1 in the season with and this time I said, no way can I lose this one and not make state for a 3rd time! This time it went my way and I went to state! One of the most fulfilling times in my childhood.
How many CIF State Championships have you attended since competing at the 1991 Championships?
At least a dozen. Especially to have our writer Brian Rudnick learn and meet the coaches and wrestlers when he was writing the film.
Did you compete beyond the high school level? College?
I tried at Santa Rosa Jr. College for most of the season under Coach Jake Fitzpatrick, but unfortunately as the movie touches on, I didn’t have a place to live and had some hard times to endure, so I had to go into survival mode and wrestling/school fell by the wayside. My dad was stuck in Iran, my mom had passed and I had used up all my time as a “guest” at my friends homes, who took me in thru high school. Tough times back then.
How has the sport of wrestling affected your life? What life lessons did you learn from the sport?
What hasn’t it taught me? It taught me to be tough, never give up, that there’s always a challenge, there’s always wins and losses. When you can’t win one way, try another tactic, another shot, another throw, another strategy. My coach, 3X CIF champion here in LA, told me that if you can finish a season in wrestling, win or lose, you can take on any challenge and he was right. Whether it’s my race car championships or records I set, acting, or film making or life in general, Wrestling taught me how to be tough, preserver and win. And not blame anyone else. It’s one of the toughest sports, where you can be weaker, slower and you can still win. Strategy, mental, physical and emotional all one together for the win.
Do you have a particular wrestler that you looked up to or ever aspired to be when you competed at Casa Grande High School?
I had a bunch of wrestlers down in LA when I was there for that 1 1/2 years and I looked up to a couple of them. One was a 5th place state placer, who was smaller like me and taught me all the little tricks that gave me the edge. Greg McMurray of El Camino Real. I think he went on to become a lawyer.
Who were your role models? Who inspired you in your life?
My late mother and my father, who is still with us. I didn’t have too many role models or get star struck, but the President of Subaru of America, who I race for, Tom Doll, has taught me very valuable lessons. And more recently, I can’t stop learning from Forrest Lucas, our financier from Lucas Oil and my good friend. He has gone thru hell and back and can take on any challenge with dignity, respect and is super smart. His decision making is very calculated but with a strong emotional factor. I’m really lucky to have a man like Forrest leading our efforts. He’s literally one of a kind. These strong business leaders have been my inspiration.
What inspired you to get into racing?
when my mom passed away my dad bought me a hot rod, a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and then he left for Iran… and after 27 years, he’s still there 🙁 …however during high school, I was a guest at my friends’ homes, so I never had the luxury to party, do drugs, get drunk, etc., as I was fearful I’d get kicked out of their homes, so all I did was wrestle and play with my Camaro. I got it to go really fast and started street racing…way too much. Got arrested 5 times actually after high school, but then eventually set a world record, noticed by Subaru of America and the rest is history.
When did you decide to pursue the idea of producing a film about your life?
About 5 years ago when I was acting on the set of the WB film, He’s Just Not That Into You. I was having lunch with the director Ken Kwapis and I told him about my story and he said that I should write it, so I did! The rest is history.
When does your movie, American Wrestler – The Wizard come out in the theaters?
THE FILM WILL BE RELEASED IN SELECT THEATERS ON MAY 3, 2017 – VISIT FATHOMEVENTS.COM FOR MORE INFORMATION. IN ADDITION, THE FILM WILL BE RELEASED ON DIGITAL HD ON MAY 16.
How did you come up with the movie title, American Wrestler – The Wizard?
LA Craig, the editor of the Argus Courrier in Petaluma came up with that name “The Wizard” as I used to pin people faster then you could say my full name “Alidad Gharahasanloo Afshar”, so it kind of became my thing as I was so scared that I would pin people really quick.. seriously it was out of fear.
Do you plan to continue your acting career, as well as produce more films in the near to distant future?
YES for now. Lets see what life has in store for me. Love films, love acting, love cars.
It’s my understanding that you also have a passion for racing cars… more specifically the Subaru? Explain!
Oh that could be a long, long answer. Lets just say multiple world records, 18 time NHRA winner, 2 time world champion and my own line of Subaru vehicles you can buy from Subaru dealers. Not to sound lame but anyone interested in that just Google my name and Subaru and read and watch videos for days. 0-60 mph in less then one second and shooting for the first 6 second 1/4 mile time in a Subaru is the 2017 goals.
Do you have any other goals or passions that you want to pursue in the near to distant future?
I’m a little late to the wife and family life, so I better get started on that. I also want to set up a ranch up in Petaluma and get my family back together for gatherings and provide some stability for them all, especially in this tumultuous time.
NOTE: All photos courtesy of Ali Afshar.