41 snowmachine teams blast off in Iron Dog 31
Last weekend, 41 teams started the Iron Dog snowmachine race in the pro class section. The Iron Dog, known as the world’s longest and toughest snowmobile race, runs 2,031 miles from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks. The race has been run consecutively since 1984, except for 2003, when it was cancelled due to rain.
Records were almost broken before the race even started this year. According to Executive Director Kevin Kastner, 42 teams signed up for the pro class, tying the record set in 2008. Checkpoints can be up to 120 miles apart, so each team has two members and two snowmachines for safety reasons. The field includes last year’s winner, Scott Faeo, son of the seven-time Iron Dog champion John Faeo.
Three of the teams have one member from Nome. Mike Morgan is in team number 10 driving a Polaris Switchback. Morgan, 30, has completed the race five times, and placed in the top five in four of his races. Two-time champion Chris Olds is Morgan’s partner. The team’s top sponsor is Polaris Industries. The most popular brand of snowmachine in the Iron Dog this year is Polaris. Polaris snowmachines have won the race five of the last seven years.
Nome’s Shawn Pomrenke, 40, was competing in his first Iron dog. Pomrenke is originally from Minnesota, but moved to Nome as a teenager. Pomrenke’s partner is Amos Cruise of McGrath, also a rookie. They scratched in McGrath.
John Bahnke of Nome is racing in team number 34 alongside Christopher Collins of Kotzebue. Bahnke, who has been racing snowmachines since 1994, has started six Iron Dogs and has completed three. Bahnke owns and operates Wilderness Ski-Doo in Nome. Both competitors are driving Ski-Doo Renegades.
Only 41 teams made it to the starting line, and one team scratched just five hours into the race. Kastner said that team number 12, Wasilla’s Jason Moore and Robert Strick of McGrath, pulled out of the race on Sunday after experiencing mechanical issues.
The recreational class goes roughly half the distance of the pro class; racers follow the northern route of the Iditarod trail and finish in Nome. Seven teams are signed up for the recreational race this year.
Rookies are participants who have not completed the pro class race. Even if a racer has completed the recreational class race, he or she is still considered a rookie. As of Monday, there are 38 rookies currently in the pro class race, and 14 full rookie teams. According to the Iron Dog website, the last time a full rookie team won the race was during the event’s first running in 1984.
Though teams are competing against each other, they are also fighting against the elements. Temperatures as low as -57 degrees Fahrenheit have been recorded during the Iron Dog, but snow and trail conditions affect the racers more than temperature.
Overall, the trail looks good this year, Kastner said. There is more snow than past years, but not too much to make travel difficult. The exception was the snowy conditions between Shell Lake and Puntilla on Sunday, which slowed the racers down on what is normally a fast stretch of trail.
The racers have a lot of incentive to go fast: there are $115,266 worth of contingency prizes awarded for various accomplishments, as well as a $65,000 purse for the first team to arrive in Fairbanks. Last year, the first place prizemoney was $50,000.
From 1984 until 1992, the race followed the Iditarod trail from Wasilla to Nome, about 1,049 miles. Since then, racers have travelled on various routes, ranging in mileage from 1,971 miles to 2,050 miles with the finish line in Fairbanks. In recent years, the distance has been 2,031 miles. Due to the variation in trail lengths and conditions there is a wide range of winning times. However, since the most recent route change in 2011 the first place team has finished in 35-41 hours.