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Martin Buser: Champ wins acclaim for dog care

Big Lake musher Martin Buser was chosen for the Daily News Iditarod Hall of Fame in 1998.

"He's won ... with universal acclaim for dog care, " selection-committee member Doug O'Harra said.

In fact, the 51-year-old Buser has won as many dog-care awards as races -- four. He even won both awards, as well as a slew of others, in 1997. In addition to his four first-place finishes, he has had 12 other Top 10 finishes.

His 2002 victory in eight days, 22 hours and 46 minutes shattered the race's last great barrier -- a race in less than nine days. His record might have been enough to secure a place among the race's premiere figures. But there's also Buser's winning personality. If you set out to build a spokesman for long-distance dog racing, you'd end up with Martin Buser.

"Even in nasty situations, he still manages to be friendly to people, " selection committee member Maureen Clark said in 1998.

In 2005, Buser raced and finished 13th despite cutting off a portion of his finger just before the Iditarod began.

Buser was born in Switzerland and got involved in European dog racing as a teen. He first visited Alaska to run the Iditarod in 1980. He found on his return that Switzerland was just too crowded for him, so he returned to Alaska and settled near Big Lake.

"Six million people in such a tiny little country," Buser said in a 1989 Daily News article. "No space. Here or in Trapper Creek or in Willow there is five miles of elbow room. It's just so easy to get used to. I can run from here to Nome without crossing a road."

In addition to breeding dogs -- his Happy Trails Kennel is among the sport's most successful -- and racing, Buser regularly goes into rural schools to talk about his life and his sport.

"He gets involved in the community," selection committee member Jim Jager said. "He's more or less universally admired."

Inducted 1998 Greatest accomplishment Four-time winner of the race and four-time winner of the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award for dog care. He had 14 consecutive Top 10 finishes. Vital stats Born: Winterthur, Switzerland Hometown: Big Lake Age: 51 Best finish 1st -- 1992, '94, '97, '02 Fastest time 2002 -- Eight days, 22 hours, 46 minutes Race record 1980 22nd 1981 19th 1986 25th 1987 10th 1988 3rd 1989 6th 1990 10th 1991 2nd 1992 1st 1993 6th 1994 1st 1995 2nd 1996 3rd 1997 1st 1998 8th 1999 2nd 2000 7th 2001 24th 2002 1st 2003 4th 2004 11th 2005 13th 2006 23rd 2007 4th 2008 5th 2009 18th Awards Halfway -- 1996, 2002, '04 First to Yukon -- 1996, '97, 2002, '07 Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian -- 1988, '93, '95, '97 Golden Pace -- 1996 Gold Coast -- 1988, 1994, '97, 2002 Golden Harness (to outstanding lead dog) -- 1994, '96, '97, 2002 Sportsmanship -- 1998, 2005 Spirit of Alaska -- 2002, '07 Most Inspirational -- 2005