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Joe Redington: 'Father of the Iditarod'

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published February 27, 2010

I n 1988, Joe Redington finished fifth in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. It was the best he would ever do, and while it was a solid accomplishment it didn't seem like such a big deal until you stopped to consider that he was 71 at the time.

That is only one of the remarkable things Redington did in connection with the Iditarod, a connection that lasted until his death in 1999 at the age of 82. For example, he thought up the race.

"Father of the Iditarod, as they say," wrote nominating committee member Frank Gerjevic in 1997. "Tireless, willing worker to get the race going and keep it going. A solid musher, tough old hombre. I don't think there would have been an Iditarod without his work."

The story of how the race began is an oft-told tale. Redington, a dog musher since coming to Alaska after World War II, told anyone who would listen about his idea of a race to Nome. By 1973, enough people had listened to make a race happen. Redington's dogs ran the race, but he didn't. During the leisurely 20 days it took the winner to reach Nome, Redington was in Anchorage, trying to raise the money to pay the prizes.

"When I guaranteed a purse of $50,000, we didn't have a dime, " Redington said.

In the years that followed, the race had its ups and downs. But none of its problems stemmed from a lack of hard work by Redington. He promoted the race tirelessly, trained other mushers, leased dog teams to racers and ran the race every year from 1974 to 1992. One of the mushers he trained, Susan Butcher, won four times. Redington never finished higher than fifth. But as many people associated with the race will tell you, the Iditarod isn't just about winning. And neither is the Hall of Fame.

"His hard work and dedication to the fund-raising and promotion of the race, plus being a great competitor for many years, should earn him a place in the Hall of Fame, " wrote reader David F. Schwantes.

Inducted 1997 Greatest accomplishment Father of the Iditarod Vital stats Born: near Kingfisher, Okla. Hometown: Knik Died: 1999, age 82 Best finish 5th -- 1975, '77, '78, '88 Fastest time 1989 -- 12 days, 2 hours, 57 minutes Race record 1974 11th 1975 5th 1976 Scratched 1977 5th 1978 5th 1979 10th 1980 Scratched 1981 14th 1982 17th 1984 7th 1985 Scratched 1986 Scratched 1987 33rd 1988 5th 1989 9th 1990 25th 1991 31st 1992 41st 1997 36th Awards Halfway -- 1988 First to Yukon -- 1988 Most Inspirational -- 1988, '89, '97 Sportsmanship -- 1990