NOME — With his fist pumping as he ran beside his built-for-speed sled dogs, Dallas Seavey crossed the finish line first early Tuesday morning and entered the elite club of four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champions.
Seavey clapped his hands as the crowd on Front Street cheered beneath strings of multicolored lights strewn between street lamps.
He reached the finish line at 2:20 a.m., smashing the race record for the second time in three years. And he's only 29.
"It's just another day of mushing, man. It's what we do," the Willow musher said underneath the burled arch marking the finish line.
His six sled dogs ate a frozen snack as his wife, Jen, passed black dog booties to bundled-up spectators in the zero-degree cold.
Seavey finished the Iditarod in 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds. That topped the record he already held, trimming his 2014 time by a little more than an hour and 44 minutes.
"I like that time," he said.
He gave a thumbs-up to the cheering spectators, many of whom held up cellphones to take photographs.
The finish line doubled as a Seavey family reunion. Dallas was greeted by his wife, Jen. A few moments later, he hugged his grandfather Dan Seavey, one of the Iditarod's pioneers. His 5-year-old daughter, Annie, also was there along with Seavey's brother, Danny, and mother, Janine.
And 45 minutes after Seavey claimed victory, dad Mitch Seavey arrived in second place -- in a time that also bettered the 2014 record.
Garlands of yellow roses were draped around the necks of Dallas' lead dogs, litter-mates Reef and Tide. It was a familiar routine for Reef, a 4-year-old male who has now run on three championship teams.
"What makes Reef such an awesome, awesome sled dog and such an awesome lead dog is his drive to go," Seavey said. "He doesn't care if it's 40 or 50 mph winds or day seven or eight of the Iditarod -- when you put a harness on him and hop on the sled he starts barking and lunging."
A team fit to win
By the time Dallas reached Nome, he had whittled his team down to six dogs: Reef, Tide, Lobben, Candle, Ripple and Barley. He dropped Steiger in Safety, 22 miles from the finish line, and dropped two others in White Mountain, a checkpoint 77 miles from Nome.
He left White Mountain with a 39-minute lead over his dad. Mitch Seavey ran 10 dogs from White Mountain to Nome, but Dallas' smaller team was too fast to catch.
"It's a pretty bomb-proof bunch," Dallas said. "It comes down to the cream, not how much milk you've got."
He said he had to rethink his strategy before that, along the Yukon River. He had fewer dogs than he had planned for after Glitter and Hero unexpectedly got sick with a virus and were sent home. He started to keep the runs "a little bit shorter," he said.
Seavey increased his lead on the way to White Mountain, and then he released two of the fastest runs in his 10-year Iditarod career.
He made the 55-mile run to Safety in 5 hours, 48 minutes, one minute faster than his previous best of 5:49 in 2007. Then he made the 22-mile sprint to Nome in 2:40, again beating his previous best by a minute.
During his record-breaking 2014 Iditarod, Seavey made the run from White Mountain to Safety in 7:25 while mushing through a ground blizzard.
"I still don't know how we got here so dang fast," he said at a press conference after his finish.
It could have been a combination of trail conditions and the level of competition, he said.
While the trail wasn't like the 2014 trail — which he described as perfect for record-breaking and bone-breaking — it was what he called "typical," meaning there was snow, but there was also dirt.
"We didn't have any super, super cold," he said.
Other teams also had big talent, he said.
"This is a new era of mushing," Seavey said. "... I think this Iditarod had more better teams than have ever been on the Iditarod."
Seavey's victory earned him $75,000 in prize money and his pick of a new Dodge vehicle. The win makes him the sixth four-time champion in Iditarod history and the fourth to win three races in a row.
A father-son pair
Dallas's stiffest competition this year came from his father, a 56-year-old who has already won the Iditarod twice. Mitch Seavey's win in 2013 briefly interrupted his son's championship streak.
Mitch topped his son's 2014 record by nearly an hour. Their 1-2 finish was a repeat of last year, when Dallas beat Mitch by more than four hours.
At 3:05 a.m., Mitch drove into Nome with 10-dog team that got tangled just before the finish line. He got off his sled and helped lead the dogs under the burled arch, where his family, Dallas included, was waiting. Father and son hugged.
"Hey, pop," Dallas said.
"Good job," Mitch said.
Mitch Seavey said he identified a problem with his team earlier in the race: He lacked a hardheaded leader, he said. Still, his dogs Woody and Pilot led the way to Nome.
Mitch's wife, Janine, said she admired how much her husband prepared for this year's Iditarod. She said she would like to see him win again, but she's also proud of her son.
"We win either way," she said. "We can't not win."
"I just say I hope a Seavey wins," he said.
At the postrace press conference, Mitch said he was proud of his son. Annie — his granddaughter and Dallas' daughter — sat by them.
"We're pretty much mushing head-to-head, going toe-to-toe at it," Mitch said.
Still, he said, there are just certain mushing questions father and son don't ask each other.
"It's an interesting dynamic to be biggest competitors and best friends at the same time," he said.
As the press conference ended and the building emptied, Dallas and Mitch Seavey sat at the side of the stage with Annie and their wives. It was time to get some sleep, the mushers said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing