FAIRBANKS -- There's not a better feeling in the world than racing a snowmachine down an empty highway in the middle of the Yukon territory at 140 mph, according to the man who does it better than anyone else.
"It's hard to describe," said Craig Hill, Fairbanks' resident snowmachine speed freak. "It's tons of fun."
Hill won the Alcan 200 snowmachine race for the third straight year by averaging more than 117 mph over the 160-mile course that follows the Haines Highway, which is shut down by the Canadian government each year so the race can be held.
While Hill wasn't able to top the record average speed of 120.08 mph he set in winning the race last year, he described his run as "pretty smooth" and was satisfied with a third-straight Alcan 200 title.
"No hitting the guardrail or anything," he said with a laugh in reference to the guardrails lining bends in the road.
Besides, there's not much difference between 117 mph and 120 mph, he said.
"That's still plenty fast," said the 37-year-old Hill, who owns Northern Power Sports with his older brother, Colby, a three-time champ himself.
Led by Craig Hill's overall victory, Fairbanks racers dominated the 39th annual running of the race. Fairbanks riders captured top honors in all six race classes, which are determined by engine size.
George Juhlin of North Pole finished second overall with an average speed of 112.5 mph and won the 551-650cc class riding a 1999 Yamaha SRX 600.
Juhlin had a close call about 20 miles from the finish when he went off the road after failing to make a turn. Juhlin figures he was going somewhere between 110 and 115 mph coming into the turn.
POLE, BERM IN THE WAY
"I was pushing it really hard to make up some time, and I just pushed it too hard into a corner and didn't make it," said Juhlin, a 27-year-old heavy-equipment mechanic for Alyeska Pipeline Co. "I was headed right for a snow pole and decided I was going to have to go off the road so I didn't hit that pole."
With a deep snow berm looming, Juhlin thought his race was over.
"I figured I was going to get stuck in the snow and fly over the handlebars," he said. "I didn't know what was going to happen."
But Juhlin managed to ride it out and get back on the road. He still isn't sure how he did it.
"I was somehow able to get back on the road without incident," he said.
Course conditions this year weren't as fast as in the previous two years, Hill said. He averaged just more than 119 mph two years ago and topped the 120 mph mark last year.
"Everybody kind of slowed down a little bit," said Hill, who finished the race in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 31 seconds.
There was more snow and not as much ice on the road this year.
"We want ice so that the studs in our tracks and the carbides on our skis will dig in," said Hill.
The snow caused tracks on machines to spin more than usual, he said.
"It was a little more challenging," Hill said of this year's course conditions. "You didn't have total control all the time.
"There was a lot more sliding this year than normal. You're sliding sideways at 120 mph instead of going straight ahead."
Hill has used the same sled, a 2001 Yamaha SRX 700, the past three years to win the race. He didn't do any major modifications.
"I put a new track on it each year, put new bearings on it and rebuild the motor," he said. "I just freshen it up."
Hill's biggest scare came on the return leg when he missed the first gas stop.
"There's supposed to be a cone out in the road so we know to stop, but the guys didn't put the cone out," said Hill.
As a result, Hill, who was in first place at the time, ended up sliding about 100 yards past the gas stop along with five other racers. Race rules won't allow racers to return to a gas stop, so Hill and the other racers had to jog back to the stop to retrieve gas cans.
"I'm not a jogger," the heavyset Hill said, laughing. "There were a lot of guys who were a lot faster runners than I was."
One racer managed to get ahead of Hill during the gas stop, but Hill passed him a few minutes later and stretched out his lead.
Juhlin, who averaged 115 mph last year, said racers have a hard time figuring out how fast they are going during the race.
'MY TIME' NEXT YEAR
"You've got a speedometer but the needle only goes to 120 mph and most of the time the needle is pegged," he said.
"The only time you have to slow down is going into the corners."
This was Juhlin's third Alcan 200. He finished third last year and moved up to second this year. He's aiming to displace Hill next season in the winner's circle.
"I told him at the end of the race, next year it's my time," said Juhlin, who was just more than three minutes behind Hill this year.
"I need to learn how to corner it a little better and carry it through the corners better," Juhlin said.
Charlie Dawson of Fairbanks repeated as champion of the 440cc fan-cooled class with an average speed of 86.7 mph. Greg Peede of North Pole captured the open fan-cooled class with an average speed of 95.8 mph.
Lila Young of Fairbanks won the fastest-woman trophy for the second year in a row.
Young, the lone entrant in the 441-550cc liquid-cooled class, was the fastest of three women to finish the race with an average speed of 84.7 mph.
Forty-one riders started the race and only 23 finished.