Alaska’s Iron Dog Race

iron-dogOne event that my family and I look forward to each year is the Iron Dog sled race. The Iron Dog race is the world’s longest snowmobile race. This is a uniquely Alaskan event that takes place each year just before the Iditarod race. It is 2000 miles and the most difficult and challenging off road snow machine race in the world. It starts at Big Lake just north of Anchorage off the George Parks highway. This year we saw just about 40 teams depart for Nome. The trail follows the coast up to Nome, Alaska and then they turn around and head back to the finish along the Tanana/Chena Rivers into Fairbanks, Alaska. The current record for the race is 37 hours and 19 minutes in 2009.

Drivers compete in two man teams and are required to take three six hour breaks on their way from Big Lake to Fairbanks with a mandatory 48 hour rest in Nome as well. Racers endure temperatures as cold as -57 below zero and that’s not with the wind chill factored in. It’s so cold that the racers will put duct tape around their eyes to prevent frostbite as they are going at rather high speeds. Past racers have described the race and trails as a grueling bone-numbing, face freezing charge North.

karen-ben-irondogUpon arriving you could see the three major manufacturers represented which are Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat and Polaris. Just beyond the race start shoot the lake was littered with multiple trucks and trailers with racers getting last minute things ready for the race start. It’s amazing the amount time and money that go into each of these impressive revved up machines. Large fuels tanks, heavy duty suspensions, their survival kits for along the trails and even tools for fixing these high performance machines enroute. Most of the teams have a least one mechanic since they are required to handle all issues that may occur along the train. Cold brutal temperatures and the rough trail terrain can make the machines brittle and parts breakdown and each team is required to find creative solutions to any mechanical problem.

After spending time greeting the teams at the start area, meeting them and giving our best to the teams we take our snow machines and find a spot just beyond the main starting shoot. We like cheer on the teams as they begin their journeys. We have a nice warm fire going, sip something warm and making smores as the racers pass by two by two all morning long in 10-15 minute staggered starts. It’s a great way to spend our Sunday and this year it wasn’t too bad on the lake at 15 degrees and a slight eight knot wind form the north.

iron-dog-startTo follow along and see the progress of the race you can go to their official website at www.irondograce.org Some of the teams can be followed since they have a GPS system that is tracking their points along the trail by going to the website. There is $126,000 in cash and another $85,000 in contingency prizes: 1st is $50,000, 2nd is $35,000, 3rd is $18,000, 4th is $13,000 and 5th is $10,000. The first team to the halfway point in Nome also gets $10,000.

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