Timing mixup makes $10,000 difference in Iron Dog

bbragg@adn.comFebruary 20, 2013 

The $10,000 question of the 30th anniversary edition of the Iron Dog:

Who gets the $10,000 for being the first team to reach Nome, the halfway point of the 2,031-mile snowmachine race across Alaska?

The second team to get there, of course.

A timing mixup led to the wrong team initially being declared the winner of the halfway prize. The Arctic Cat team of Brian Dick and Eric Quam beat the Ski-Doo team of Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter to Nome by 23 seconds Tuesday night, an achievement that seemingly earned Dick and Quam the $10,000 awarded by Donlin Gold to the leaders at the halfway point.

After further review, the money was awarded to McKenna-VanMeter.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, officials discovered Dick and Quam had been released from a Monday layover in McGrath one minute earlier than they should have been.

So even though they reached Nome 23 seconds ahead of McKenna-VanMeter, once the correction was made for that minute's head-start in McGrath, the adjustment gave them a trail-time that was 37 seconds behind McKenna-VanMeter's.

And so for the third year in a row, McKenna and VanMeter -- the defending champions -- pocketed the halfway prize of $10,000.

McKenna, a three-time winner who claimed the 2008 championship with Quam as his partner, said he wasn't happy about the mixup.

"I feel bad it went down the way it did," he told the newspaper. "When you pull in first and a couple of hours later they tell you you're not in first place, I understand how that would be disheartening."

Blame it on TV commercials.

Race director Kevin Kastner told the News-Miner the mixup started Sunday, at the start of the race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks.

Teams leave Big Lake in intervals -- usually two-minute intervals but sometimes, in order to accommodate live TV coverage, three-minute intervals. The times are adjusted when teams take the first of three mandatory layovers, which for many racers this year was McGrath.

Kastner told the News-Miner that the race marshal inadvertently let a team go out on a two-minute interval instead of a three-minute interval, a mistake that impacted every team that had yet to start, including Dick-Quam.

But the mistake didn't get reported to the officials in McGrath who were in charge of adjusting times and releasing teams from their layover. As a result Dick, a 34-year-old from Thief River Falls, Minn., and Quam, a 42-year-old from Palmer, left McGrath a minute too early.

No one realized what had happened until the teams reached Nome and it was discovered that McKenna and VanMeter's trail time -- calculated by adding up run times between checkpoints -- was 37 seconds faster than Dick and Quam's trail time.

"We didn't catch the error until they came in," Kastner told the News-Miner. "Everybody said wait a minute and we had to go back in time to see what could have possibly caused it to take place.

"... All that matters in this race is course time."

Adding a bit of confusion to things is the Iron Dog's online description of prizes. In a press release issued Wednesday explaining who won the $10,000, the race said "the key is to read the definitions closely. Many prizes are based on the fastest course time (not necessarily the first to arrive in a location)."

The $10,000 is awarded, according to the Iron Dog's online list of prizes, "to the 1st fastest team to arrive in Nome." This year, there was a first team to Nome and a fastest team to Nome, but they weren't the same teams.

According to the Iron Dog official standings, McKenna, of Anchorage, and VanMeter, of Kasilof, have a trail time of 21 hours, 59 minutes, 54 seconds. Dick and Quam have a time of 22:00:31. Both teams are averaging slightly more than 50 mph.

In third place, at 22:10:49, is the team of Brad George and Aaron Bartel.

All teams must take a layover in Nome, the length of which is decided by the arrival time.

A restart will be held Thursday morning beginning at 8. Once teams reach Tanana, a hold is placed on riders to ensure a daytime finish in Fairbanks on Saturday.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

Trail time into Nome

1) McKenna-Van Meter 21:59:54; 2) Dick-Quam 22:00:31; 3) George-Bartel 22:10:49; 4) Davis-Palin 22:32:48; 5) Aklestad-Johnson 22:43:37; 6) Morgan-Olds 23:17:17; 7) Sottosanti-Zwink 23:47:00; 8) Wilkes-Wold 26:08:58; 9) Barber-Barber 26:48:21; 10) Faeo-Faeo 28:12:47; 11) Collins-Reich 28:13:46; 12) Marks-Marks 28:25:00; 13) Brown-Dean 29:02:21; 14) Crouse-Vaughn 30:27:15; 15) Dixon-Booth 30:43:46; 16) Strick-Strick 31:01:34; 17) Gardner-Libby 31:49:25; 18) Cizmowski-Eckert 31:59:48; 19) Brown-Kubitz 32:41:21; 20) Johnson-Lachinski 33:18:23; 21) Boney-Laraux 34:52:12; 22) Hill-Juhlin 37:54:25; 23) Brown-Wessels 39:37:00; 24) Salzbrun-Williams 40:37:27.

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