THE IDITAROD: YEAR BY YEAR
Compiled by Mike Campbell
- Some 35 mushers set out from Anchorage in the inaugural race,
unsure if any of them will reach Nome. But 22 people finish. Dick
Wilmarth of Red Devil wins the inaugural in just over 20 days. He
never races again. Last place finisher John Schultz records the
slowest Iditarod finish ever, more than 32 days. Among the competitors
is spint-dog racing legend George Attla, who ends up fourth. Race
founder Joe Redington mortgages his Knik home to get the money for
- Carl Huntington wins in 20 days, 15 hours - becoming the only
musher to win both the Iditarod and the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous
World Championship sprint race. That record still stands. Joe Redington
enters his first race and finishes11th, losing a family battle to
son Joee Redington, Jr., who is ninth. Mary Shields and Lolly Medley
become the first women to run. Some 41 percent of the starters (18
- "Yukon Fox" Emmitt Peters of Ruby takes a huge chunk off the race
record, winning in less than 14 days, 15 hours - about six days
faster than the previous year. No musher will go faster until 1980.
Despite Peters' time, his margin of victory is narrow - Jerry Riley
of Nenana and Joee Redington are less than an hour behind. Joe Redington
records the first of his four fifth-place finishes - the highest
he's ever attained.
- Riley wins in almost 18 days, 23 hours to capture the lowest purse
in Iditarod history - just $7,200. The man who nipped him the previous
year, Emmitt Peters, finishes fifth. Years later, Riley will be
banned for life amid accusations he struck a dog with a snow hook.
Brash young rookie Rick Swenson of Manley finishes 10th.
- Swenson, who will go on to become the Iditarod's winningest musher,
takes the first of five victories in a very tight finish. He nips
defending champ Riley by just five minutes, and finishes just 17
minutes ahead of Warner Vent.
- Dick Mackey of Wasilla noses out Swenson in a wild dash down Front
Street in Nome. The one-second victory is the closest ever. There
is finish line confusion about who won. Mackey gets the first lead
dog across the finish line, but Swenson's sled crosses first. Judges
rule that in a dog race the first dog wins. Rookie Susan Butcher
finishes 19th - earning $600 of what will eventually become more
than $377,000 in race winings. William "Sonny" Nelson of Ekwok and
all of but two of his dogs are killed in an airplane crash on the
way to the race. Nelson's dog handler, James Brandon, races n Nelson's
- Swenson becomes the race's first two-time winner, edging Peters
by just 42 minutes. The race marks a string of near-misses for Peters.
Following his championship, he finishes fifth, fourth, third and
second in consecutive races. Butcher becomes the first woman to
crack the top-10 with a ninth-place finish.
- Joe May, fifth a year earlier, vaults to the top with a 14-day,
7-hour run - the fastest since Peters' championship in 1975. Among
the also rans are: Joe Garnie (12th), Larry "Cowboy" Smith (13th),
Libby Riddles (18th), Martin Buser (22nd) and DeeDee Jonrowe (24th).
Twenty-five mushers scratch, an Iditarod record.
- Swenson pushes the race another step faster with his third victory
in 12 days, 9 hours, as the prize money for first place doubles
from $12,000 to $24,000. Swenson buddy Sonny Lindner and Roger Nordlum
are less than an hour behind. Jeff King manages a 24th place finish
in his rookie run.
- Swenson continues his mastery of tight races, beating Susan Butcher
to the line by less than four minutes. The top three mushers are
just 12 minutes apart; the top-15 are just 11 hours apart. Herbie
Nayokpuk, nicknamed "The Shishmaref Cannonball" in honor of his
hometown, is beaten by a storm while trying to fight through a blizzard
to victory. Other racers sit out the storm in Shaktoolik. Nayokpuk
barely struggles back there alive after hours alone on the sea ice.
- Larry "Cowboy'' Smith from Dawson, Yukon Territory, runs alone
at the front of the race for hundreds of miles from the Alaska Range
to the Bering Sea coast, but there is finally caught by Rick Mackey
and Eep Anderson. Mackey eventually edges Anderson to become part
of the only father-son duo of Iditarod champions (Dick Mackey won
the 1978 race). Smith finishes third. Sprint mushing champion Roxy
Woods (later Roxy Wright Champaine) finishes a disappointing 23rd
in her try at the longer race.
- Dean Osmar of Clam Gulch pioneers a front-running strategy to
win the race in just over 12 days, 15 hours after Susan Butcher
unexpectedly bolts out of the Rohn checkpoint. She has the mandatory
24-hour-rest almost completed when she leaves to chase Swenson.
Osmar says in Rohn that he thinks Butcher has just given him the
race. He's right. Butcher finishes second, Joe Garnie (3rd), Rick
Swenson (6th), Joe Redington (7th). Defending champion Rick Mackey
plummets to 29th.
- Libby Riddles, Garnie's mushing partner from Teller, becomes the
first woman to win the Iditarod, charging alone into an arctic storm
on Norton Sound. Her stunning victory brings new attention to the
race. In a storm-plagued year, it takes Riddles more than 18 days
to reach Nome, the slowest finishing time between 1977 and today.
"Was Libby's win important?" asks longtime Iditarod Trail Committeeman
Leo Rasmussen of Nome. "To tell you it wasn't would be telling you
the greatest lie on earth." Butcher, long expected to be the first
woman to win, watches the race from the sidelines after a moose
stomps her team on the way to Skwentna.
- Butcher wins the first of four Iditarod victories after a tough
battle with Garnie. He finishes second, driving many of the same
dogs that produced the championship the year before. With better
weather along the trail, 45 of the 55 finishers get to Nome in better
time than champion Riddles did the year before.
- Butcher knocks about 13 hours off her 1986 time to win again.
Swenson pushes her all the way up the Bering Sea Coast, hoping the
pressure will make her fold. She doesn't; he does. His dogs refuse
to leave the Safety checkpoint. When they won't go, Swenson elects
to into the bar and have a drink. Butcher mushes along under the
burled arch in Nome. Swenson follows her in about four hours later.
After several futile races with teams of Siberian huskies, future
champion Martin Buser of Big Lake breaks into the top-10 with a
string of Rondy sprint dogs turned marathoners. He finishes in 12
days, 2 hours.
- In a dominating display, Butcher completes her trifecta, this
time beating Swenson by more than half a day - with Buser third
and Garnie fourth. The fourth-consecutive victory by a woman leaves
fans wondering if a man will ever win again. T-shirts with pithy
sayings such as, "Alaska - Where Men Are Men and Women Win the Iditarod"
are offered for sale. Joe Redington finishes fifth for the fourth
time in his career - a remarkable achievement at age 71.
- Butcher leads the race to the halfway point at Iditarod, but falls
victim to what is thought to be a halfway jinx. Joe Runyan of Nenana,
who'd dropped out the previous year, passes her and goes on to win
by 68 minutes. Swenson is third, continuing an unmatched string
of top-5 finishes.
- Butcher reclaims the top spot, her fourth victory in five years.
Women are back on top. No other Iditarod musher has ever had a decade
of such dominance. "Libby's win started it," says fellow musher
DeeDee Jonrowe. "Susan's reign cemented it. They showed it's possible
for women to excel on an equal playing field. Libby's win captured
the hearts of people who thought only an incredible mountain man
could accomplish it."
- Swenson returns to become the incredible mountain man, battling
his way through a White Mountain snowstorm so severe that Butcher,
Runyan and other veterans turn back. It is a record fifth Iditarod
for Swenson. During the worst of it, he walks in front of his dog
team, leading them through the storm. Why? "Desperation, I guess,"
he said. "I wanted to win the Iditarod." Martin Buser manages to
fight his way through the same storm, only to finish a disappointed
second. Butcher waits for better weather and then leads in a group,
including Runyan, who were earlier thought to have a lock on the
- Buser begins his string of three victories, breaking the 11-day
barrier and leaving Butcher, Swenson and Tim Osmar in his wake.
Future champion Jeff King breaks into the top-10 for the first time
with a sixth-place finish.
- King vaults to the championship in 10 days, 15 hours, the fastest
to date. Jonrowe is just 32 minutes behind and former champion Rick
Mackey takes third. Swenson falls to ninth, his worst finish in
a decade. Led by Buser and King, the top racers are beginning to
experiment with a new breed of dogs, and a different style of competition,
running faster and faster between checkpoints and resting more between
- Buser takes his second championship, beating Rick Mackey and defending-champion
King. Butcher drops to 10th place and retires after the race. It
is her lowest finish since her rookie season of 1978. Swenson climbs
back into fourth.
- Doug Swingley of Montana makes history, becoming the first non-Alaskan
to win the Iditarod in what remains the record time - less than
9 days, 3 hours. The top-10 mushers all make it to Nome in under
- King captures his second Iditarod, edging Swingley and Buser.
A huge controversy erupts when a Swenson dog dies in harness for
the first time in his 21 races. Swenson and is withdrawn from the
race, which leads to a battle with Iditarod officials that has Swenson
threatening to never race again. Ultimately, Swenson wins, the rule
is rewritten and Swenson is scheduled to return for the 1998 race.
- Buser wins the 25th anniversary Iditarod in less than 9 days,
9 hours to join Swenson and Butcher as the only mushers to win the
race at least three times. Swingley is second and King is third.
''A bunch of really talented athletes,'' Buser calls his 16-dog
team, 10 of which finished. ''If there was a humanoid who could
do half as much as any of my dogs, they would be the world's greatest
athletes at whatever they chose." Before the race, Buser, 38, had
to let go of many of the animals who had carried him to his 1992
and 1994 victories. "He was pretty emotionally tied to that team,"
said his wife, Kathy Chapoton. "A few days before the race he told
me this team was better than the 1992 team. That was an incredible
thing for him to admit.''
- Jeff King wins the 26th Iditarod in an official time of 9 day,
5 hrs, 52 min. DeeDee Jonrowe and Charlie Boulding finished 2nd
and 3rd respectively. With previous wins in 1993 and 1996, 1998
was King's third Iditarod victory.
The 26th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began with balmy days. But
for 1998 champion Jeff King, of Denali Park, the final stretch of
the annual 1,100-mile Anchorage-to-Nome race ended in a gauntlet
of roaring wind and whipping snow. It was the kind of storm "I've
only heard described by people," a battered and wind-burned
King said in Nome. "It was the longest couple hours of my life."
- Montana musher Doug Swingley won his second Iditarod title by
building a commanding lead at the race's halfway point and never
looking back. At 45 years old, Swingley became the oldest musher
to win the race and only the fifth competitor to win more than one
Iditarod. Swingley completed the 27th running of the Iditarod in
9 days, 14 hours and 31 minutes.
Three-time champion Martin Buser arrived in Nome in second place
more than 8 hours after Swingley. Buser completed the southern route
of the 1,100-mile race in 9 days, 23 hours and 10 minutes. [more]