Marc McKenna and Dusty Van Meter will fire up their snowmachines Sunday in pursuit of something that has happened only twice in the history of the Iron Dog and never in this century -- a third straight championship in what's billed as the world's toughest, longest snowmachine race.
The entire field of 37 teams will face another stiff challenge: Completing the 2,000-mile race across Alaska on some of the worst trail in the history of the race, which started in 1984.
Riders expect to encounter dirt, open water and ice as they race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks. Unseasonably warm weather turned much of the snow to mush, and although low temperatures have returned, not everything is frozen solid again.
Trail conditions are so sketchy the Iditarod, which follows roughly the same trail from Willow to Nome, will decide Monday whether to move the re-start from Willow to Fairbanks. But Iron Dog officials rejected the idea of rerouting the snowmachine race.
The race will begin at 11:10 a.m. Sunday when the team of Robert Gardner and Andrew Milley depart from Big Lake aboard Ski-Doos. Ski-Doo produced four top-five finishes last year, including the winners and the runners-up.
Anchorage's McKenna and Kasilof's Van Meter will again ride Ski-Doos. They'll be the eighth team to leave Big Lake, right behind last years runners-up, Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson.
A victory would tie McKenna and Van Meter with two other teams that racked up three straight victories -- Scott Davis and Mark Carr (1997-99) and John Faeo and Dan Zipay (1986-88).
Van Meter teamed up with Carr to win the 2004 race, and McKenna won in 2008 with Eric Quam and in 2005 with Nick Olstad.
The winners, who should reach Fairbanks sometime Saturday, will collect $50,000 from a $126,000 purse. Another $122,350 is at stake in contingency prizes offered by various sponsors.
Robert Gardner-Andrew Milley, Ski-Doo
Jason Gundersen-Josh Norum, Ski-Doo
Mike Morgan-Chris Olds, Polaris
Chad Gueco-Andrew Zwink, Ski-Doo
Brian Dick-Eric Quam, Arctic Cat
Arnold Marks Jr.-Archie Agnes, Polaris
Tyler Aklestad-Tyson Johnson, Ski-Doo
Marc McKenna-Dusty VanMeter, Ski-Doo
Kyle Conner-Jerrod Vaughn, Polaris
Doug Dixon-Mike Vasser, Yamaha
Tim Jauhola-Kyle Malamute, Ski-Doo
Archie Beetus-Ryan Folsom, Polaris
Aaron Bartel-Scott Davis, Ski-Doo
Mike Dropik-Marcus Jensen, Polaris
Tyler Delimont-Larry Jones, Polaris
Calvin Schaeffer-Gabriel Lie-Schaeffer, Ski-Doo
Andy George-Brad George, Ski-Doo
Shane Barber-Ryan Sottosanti, Polaris
Gabe Bunke-Scott Faeo, Polaris
Chad Dow-Tim Lessard, Ski-Doo
Chris Carroll-Ray Chvastasz, Polaris
Joshua Plumb-Jordan Starr, Ski-Doo
Tyler Huntington-Todd Palin, Ski-Doo
Todd Minnick-Nick Olstad, Polaris
Michael Donovan-Jens Hopson, Polaris
Russ Griffin-Chris Kruse, Ski-Doo
Cory Davis-Ryan Simon, Arctic Cat
Dick Divelbiss-John Witte, Ski-Doo
Roger Paradise-Eric Watson, Ski-Doo
Race Price-Erick Smith, Arctic Cat
Chris Collins-Lawrence Jones, Ski-Doo
Scot Demientieff-Devyn Walker, Ski-Doo
Jacob Hartley-Devin LaBarbera, Arctic Cat
Charlie Potter-Ryan Johnson, Arctic Cat
Mike Fuller-Eddie Kinn, Polaris
Doss Daley-Cory Easterling, Polaris
Steven Boney-Gux Laraux, Yamaha
Anchorage Daily News