Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter are on the verge of claiming a second straight convincing win in the Iron Dog snowmachine race.
The defending champs pulled into Tanana at 2:13 p.m. Friday, more than an hour ahead of their nearest competitors. The finish line in Fairbanks is 291 miles from Tanana, where racers will be held overnight and released Saturday morning to ensure a daylight finish.
The Iron Dog posted on its website late Friday night that the the leaders will be released at 8 a.m.
The winning team is expected to reach the finish line in downtown Fairbanks between noon and 1 p.m.
McKenna and VanMeter, who ride Ski-Doo snowmachines, won last year's race by almost 45 minutes, but they aren't counting on this year's $50,000 first-place prize just yet.
"It's never over until it's over," VanMeter, a four-time Iron Dog winner, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "We won't breathe a sigh of relief until we cross that finish line."
The race was a lot closer until trouble hit Brian Dick and Eric Quam, the team that had been in close pursuit of the leaders for most of the 2,000-mile race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks.
The top two teams were just six minutes apart when they left Ruby, the checkpoint 120 miles from Tanana. But Quam's Arctic Cat suffered a broken jackshaft and had to be towed about 50 miles by Quam's snowmachine, the News-Miner reported.
Dick and Quam were the second team to Tanana, arriving at 3:17 p.m., but repairing Quam's ride will cost them some time, likely making the team of Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson the one with the best chance of catching the leaders.
Aklestad and Johnson rode their Ski-Doos into Tanana at 3:21 p.m., followed by Aaron Bartel and Brad George at 3:40 p.m. Mike Morgan and Chris Olds were fifth to arrive at 3:42 p.m.