Iron Dog: Nome’s Mike Morgan embarks on his 13th run
By Peter Loewi
Iron Dog is so competitive, says Nome racer Mike Morgan, that you can’t afford to work on the machine during the race. There are “a lot of strong teams that could potentially do really well.”
“You can barely stop to go pee, it’s so close now,” he said.
He and his race partner Chris Olds should know. Morgan has won the Iron Dog race twice with Chris Olds, in 2018 and 2019, and Olds was victorious in 2010 and 2011. But they are just two of the eight previous winners in the 2022 race.
One of those fellow winners is Evan Booth and the two Nomeites traded compliments throughout their interviews with the Nugget. “Evan inspired me. He was that spark,” Morgan said.
To separate himself from the rest, Morgan’s Iron Dog preparations are all about testing. He has already ridden 1,500 to 1,600 miles, and by the time the race kicks off on February 19, he will have tested all of the team’s equipment close to 3,000 miles.
“I’ve always been a proponent of doing my own testing, regardless of what anyone tells me. Polaris will tell me one thing, they’ll say this is 200 percent stronger, and we’ll go out and break it. So, I always do my own testing before I race, especially with a new part or system. We don’t run anything in the race that we haven’t testing for an extended period of time.”
And this year, they’re on new sleds, which means extra testing. “It’s got the same backbone as we’ve run before, but all the plastics and ergonomics are all different on it, so we’re having to retest, you know, windshields, GPS mounts and light mounts, and all this other stuff that we have to build for these things because it’s all different,” he explained. “We’ve been riding pretty much every weekend since we’ve had snow.”
The new sleds are the Polaris Cross Country 600, built on the Matryx platform, and only available through the racing department. “Polaris did a really good job on these. And they look really sweet.”
All that testing helps Polaris, too. “We do a lot of development work for Polaris, we communicate with the engineering group very closely, and we’re helping them evolve and develop the product constantly, because we’re putting a lot of miles on the stuff up here and the terrain up here is really gnarly, so it’s really good testing grounds for Polaris. We’re happy. It’s really awesome to be a part of the Polaris family.”
The race is in February, but Morgan says that they work with Polaris year-round. Contracts are worked on over the summer, but there’s testing, building, and sharing with the design and engineering teams. “The list goes on and on. It just seems like it never ends. You’re always building and testing and working on something and training.”
Morgan tries to have fun at the same time but is strong enough to admit that sometimes it gets exhausting. “We’re kinda burnt out in the garage, and we still have a bit of work to do.”
Because really, he says, it’s all about riding. “That’s what it’s all about, getting out there, away from everybody. You’re out in the middle of nowhere, I love being out in nature, seeing all the cool sites, I mean, we’re going across Alaska, that’s pretty awesome. Just being out there, in the fresh air, getting away from everything, getting away from the garage. We need that, as human beings, we need nature, we need sunshine, we need to get out and breathe the fresh air.”
It was Mike Morgan who turned racing into a job, but snowmachines have always been in the family. His father and uncles did a little bit of racing; his grandfather was a huge influence on him. “My grandpa, owned a Polaris dealership up in Nome, still called Morgan’s. That’s my grandpa. My great grandpa started it, called Morgan and Son, and I believe it’s the oldest Polaris dealership in Alaska, or one of the oldest in the world, they started in the late ‘50s. I kinda grew up around that. I grew up around the showroom, always drooling over the machines”
The snow machine community is a family, too, Morgan said. “I mean the snowmobile community in the world, is a small community. We love snowmobiling, and it’s just a bunch of diehards.”
Asked how he thought they’d do this year, he said teammate Chris Olds just turned 50, so it would be awesome to win again. That, he said, would be “the icing on the cake.”