Mike Morgan and Chris Olds win 2019 Iron Dog again
The 2019 Iron Dog is in the history books and the winners are Mike Morgan of Nome and his Team 10 partner Chris Olds of Eagle River.
Last year they won by just over four minutes and this year they managed to stretch the margin of victory to 21 minutes, winning in a trail time of 34 hours, 27 minutes and 31 seconds. Their race from Deshka Landing in Willow to Nome and to Fairbanks was as smooth and trouble free as could be. They had no mechanical issues with their Polaris sleds and no crashes.
But the weather conditions were far from perfect.
“The first day we battled some really nasty snow conditions,” said Mike Morgan in an interview in the Nome Public Works garage on Wednesday. “From Willow all the way to McGrath it was really snowing hard for most of the way. We were just not able to see anything. Plus we started at the back of the pack. We had to deal with traffic and getting into the fuel stops and having to wait for pumps. We were racing teams to the gas pumps, trying to get around them so we’re not held up.”
He said it’s tough to pass in the tight trees and sometimes there’s nowhere to pass. But slower teams were good about moving out of the way to let them by. “I thank everybody for that,” he said.
On the first day all went well and they made good time with no issues. On the second day they were battling with a couple of teams. “We battled with Team 20 and Team 6. And then Team 14 started catching up. It’s been a real tight race and has really kept us on our toes.”
They made it all the way to Kaltag, another 350-mile day. After an eight-hour layover they left in the middle of the night for Unalakleet and had a good run there as well. “There’s lots of snow everywhere so that’s really helping things, kind of cushions the hard hits. This year is definitely faster. The trail is as fast as I’ve ever seen it from Unalakleet to here. There’s a lot of snow and it’s smooth.”
The Nugget asked if Nome-Golovin would be fast this year.
“It’s hard to predict because the weather changes so fast up here,” he replied. “It’s hard to say what it’s going to do. But if the Nome-Golovin race was yesterday it would have been close to a record year. It’s the fastest I’ve ever seen it. There’s so much snow in those creek crossings you can pretty much hold it full throttle in and out of them.”
They arrived in Nome on Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by friends and relatives and then headed for the garage. Morgan said they were looking at a little preventative maintenance. The plan was to keep it under five minutes. On the clock they were finished in 4:29.
Their Polaris Indy XC sleds looked like they’d just come off the showroom floor and the riders were just as fresh looking. Most of the riders reported minimal trouble but there were several teams doing serious repair work in the garage. By the halfway point in Nome eight teams had scratched.
At the restart in Nome on Thursday morning the snow was flying and the wind was blowing hard. Team 10 was at the trailhead early and at 8 a.m. they launched into the storm. It looked like it was going to be a tough ride. Asked about it after the finish of the race, Morgan replied that they actually had a good run that day. They lost time outside of Elim because they were breaking trail in the hills between Elim and Golovin. “But other than that we just kept our heads in the game and rode a clean race all the way to Fairbanks,” he said.
The Nugget asked if they saw other teams on the way back to Fairbanks.
“Actually going to into Koyuk Team 6 passed us and we just kept the pressure on them,” said Morgan. “Chris’ machine was just a touch faster than both of those guys so we had our radio communication and I told Chris to jump ahead and cut those guys off at the gas pump in Koyuk. So he took off and one of those guys ended up having a clutch issue right outside of Koyuk so we got by them and got to the gas pumps before them. Once we left Koyuk we never saw anybody again after that.”
Team 6 thought they’d blown an engine but it was a clutch failure. They got it fixed and started making good time and managed to finish second in Fairbanks.
What about their lead? Did they feel comfortable with that? Last year they won with a lead of four minutes, which Morgan felt was too close for comfort.
“On Thursday night, or early Friday morning, we got into Manley Hot Springs and when we got there we had about a 35 minute lead so I was pretty comfortable with that. With had a nice little lead built up so on the last day we just kind of cruised to the finish. We didn’t go very fast, we just made sure to get there. We just kind of cruised on in. It was nice.”
He said the performance of the Polaris Indy XC snow machines was a testament to their quality. “It’s a testament to how awesome the equipment is. We didn’t pull a wrench out of our tool bags the entire race. The only time we worked on them was in Nome and that was just preventative maintenance. We worked on them for four minutes. Pretty amazing.”
Micah Huss, who lives in Big Lake in the winter and Nome in the summer, had a little more trouble. He endured “a couple of wrecks” and his Arctic Cat had first suspension trouble and then blew an engine. Team Huss/Selby scratched in Ruby.
“I had one wreck outside of Rohn,” said Huss, who is an Arctic Cat factory rider. “We were running at high speeds and got to a section where there were a couple ice chunks and I hit one of them and the sled started swapping and I just couldn’t recover fast enough. It kicked me to one side and I kicked myself off the sled while I was sliding across the ice at 80 miles an hour. When I came to a stop next to the sled I looked at my partner, gave him a thumbs up, tipped the sled back over and we took off.”
Huss thought he was fine but it turned out the rush of adrenaline had fooled him. At the next gas stop he looked down to find a huge hematoma on his calf. His partner Wes Selby stayed on his sled with no mishaps. “We had some close calls but I was pretty happy with our performance. He’s a true racer from down south so he knows what he’s doing. I had confidence in him. I didn’t have to worry about anything.”
“On the Ophir to Poorman run, which is 92 miles of tough terrain, we were hitting stuff pretty hard and we got within about three miles of Poorman and I broke an eyelet on my center shock. So we took the shock out of the undercarriage and put it in the bag and we went up to Poorman and got gas and about ten miles outside of Poorman Wes broke a rear arm on his undercarriage. We were kind of limping in and about 35 miles outside of Ruby I lost the motor. I had a cylinder go down on me.”
He’s not sure of the cause yet but he’s been in contact with Arctic Cat and they’re going to try and diagnose the problem so they can prevent it from happening again.
Team 25, Nicholas Reader and Dietrich Nikolai scratched in McGrath.
Asked about winnings Mike Morgan guessed they’d collected a total of around $70,000. “For first place we got $45,000. Then we got the $10,000 for being first to Nome. And then we got another first place from Polaris for being first place on a Polaris. All in all we won $65 to 70K.”
How about next year? Any plans yet? Morgan replied that they’d try it again next year. He’s 33-years-old and his partner Chris Olds is 47, possibly the oldest to ever win the race. “I’m in my prime right now. But I’d like to be done racing before I’m too old. I don’t want to be racing forever like some of these guys.”
He didn’t feel beat up after the race and wasn’t sore. “I felt really good. We didn’t have any crashes at all. It couldn’t have gone any better. We started dead last from the starting line and after the first day we were in first place. It’s just amazing. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Morgan plans to be in Nome shortly to ride the Nome-Golovin race.
Nome’s Jarvis Miller and Amos Cruise won Rookie of the Year awards for finishing in fifth position with a trail time of 37 hours, seven minutes and 54 seconds.