Iron Dog seeks new executive director

Mike Campbell

Laura Bedard's four-year tenure as executive director of the world longest and toughest snowmobile race is over.

Marianne Beckham, president of the Iron Dog, said Friday that Bedard was dismissed.

"We let her go," Beckham said.

A listing for the job appears on the website, emphasizing the importance of in-state candidates with at least five years of supervisory experience. Salary ranges from $50,000 to $60,000.

"Successful candidate will already be an Alaskan resident and familiar with the dynamics of this unique event," according to the advertisement. "We simply cannot consider applicants from outside of this area."

In some ways, Bedard's final year at the helm was her most successful. She steered the race through uncertain financial waters after longtime title sponsor Tesoro dramatically pulled back its support. Months later, Iron Dog had secured sponsorship deals with the Alaska Army National Guard and other groups, allowing the race to offer a record $184,400 purse, with $50,000 going to the winning team of Tyler Huntington of Galena and Chris Olds of Eagle River.

That was twice as much as the champions earned a year earlier.

But rumblings of discontent spilled over at a racers' meeting days before the Feb. 21 race start on Big Lake. Many racers disliked a new rule that essentially halved the number of spots where teams could take their layovers on the 2,000-mile course from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks.

The change demanded a different race strategy, and several teams failed to adapt. The new rules combined with thin snow in some areas to deliver a double whammy, knocking several top teams from the race in its first days. Twelve of the 29 starting teams finished.

"I don't want to point fingers," said race treasurer Jim Wilke. "But I don't know that we implemented (the new rule) well. I'm not sure we informed racers early enough, or told the folks in the field exactly what we were doing."

Wilke emphasized there was no hint of malfeasance or unethical behavior by Bedard, who in 1997 formed the first all-woman race team with Lisa Luther.

But communications -- by both race officials and the board -- slipped, Wilke said.

"We've allowed ourselves to become too removed from our constituents. We as a board let the race get too narrow," he said. "I've been involved from beginning, you know. I decided to call every checkpoint, and I was surprised how few people I knew out there. If I don't know them, who does? We allowed Laura to be the front man, the back man and the middle man."

Getting the National Guard to renew its $250,000 sponsorship will be among the first tasks of a new executive director, who may also try to encourage more racers in the pro class.

"We're on sound financial footing," Wilke said. "We just wanted to do a reset and jerk ourselves back into focus."

Beckham said she hopes to fill the job by June 1. The opening is certain to be a topic of conversation at the Iron Dog's annual membership meeting May 19.

Despite the prize money boost last year and a late push, the number of teams in the pro class field dipped 27 percent.

"We were pleasantly surprised the level of participation, especially with all the economic uncertainty," Wilke said. "If the economy turns around and steadies up, we should be able to do even better."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.