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Which Johnson-Aklestad team will show up to defend their Iron Dog title?

  • Author: Mike Campbell
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 17, 2017

When the 33rd edition of the Iron Dog snowmachine race revs up at 11 a.m. Sunday on Big Lake, which version of the Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson combo will show up?

Will it be the defending championship team that roared to a convincing victory a year ago in 35 hours, 35 minutes — the fastest time since the race adopted its Big Lake-to-Nome-to-Fairbanks route?

Or will it be the previous year's team, which couldn't get past the Big Lake start line?

They aren't the only team of drivers that has experienced both triumph and tragedy on the rugged 2,000-mile course that is billed as the longest and toughest snowmachine race in the world. Virtually every winning driver has tasted ample doses of both.

While Aklestad, 31, and Johnson, 37, didn't taste victory until their 13th and 18th respective races, they remain relatively young in a race that can see successful 50-something drivers.

And they aren't the only former winners in the field.

Chris Olds of Eagle River, who's teaming up with Mike Morgan on Polaris sleds, earned back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.

Dusty VanMeter of Kasilof, racing with Chad Gueco, has won five times — first in 2000 and as recently as 2013.

Longtime partners Nick Olstad and Todd Minnick, both of Wasilla, have won together twice — and Olstad earned victory with a different partner in 2005.

Polaris driver Todd Palin has four titles, but none over the last decade, while partner Eric Quam won in 2008.

Expect racers to bolt from the starting chute. There's good snow cover, and this year, for the first time, a $5,000 prize awaits the first team to Skwentna, the first checkpoint on the journey northwest to Nome.

The total purse is $250,000, with cash payouts of $145,000 split among the top five teams. The champions earn $65,000, a big jump from the $35,000 that the runner-ups bring home.

Iron Dog start order

(Team number in parenthesis)
1) Todd Minnick/Nick Olstad (16)
2) Eric Watson/Andrew Zwink (18)
3) Joshua Plumb/Jordan Starr (9)
4) Remington Lessard/Tim Lessard (31)
5) Micah Huss/Ryan Sottosanti (2)
6) Shane Barber/David Spain (3)
7) Nick Petito/Jerrod Vaughn (5)
8) Brad George/Robbie Schachle (6)
9) Robert Menne/Daniel Thibault (4)
10) Tyler Bogert/Brandon Burmeister (25)
11) Troy Conlon/Ryan Folsom (36)
12) Jason Moore/Robert Strick (12)
13) Casey Boylan/Bryan Leslie (14)
14) Rurik Lindner/Richard Swenson (42)
15) Cory Davis/Ryan Simons (41)
16) Matt Heilala/Stan James (37)
17) Klinton VanWingerden/Kris VanWingerden (49)
18) Rob Cleary/Dave Hausbeck (32)
19) Chad Dow/Shane Grindle (39)
20) Kurt Steiner/Dieter Strobel (22)
21) Barney Anselment/Dietrich Nikolai (45)
22) Jason Gundersen/Josh Norum (28)
23) Tyler Aklestad/Tyson Johnson (8)
24) Mike Morgan/Chris Olds (10)
25) Tyler Drake/Shannon Jenkins (27)
26) Paul Johnson/Mike Telkamp (13)
27) Kyle Conner/Geoff Crouse (30)
28) Darrick Johnson/Kraig King (7)
29) Corey Berg/Luke George (44)
30) Chris Kruse/Paul Sindorf (23)
31) Chad Gueco/Dusty VanMeter (17)
32) Scott Franz/Nathan Haines (24)
33) Todd Palin/Eric Quam (20)
34) Charlie Potter/Alex Schwochert (15)
35) Harold Attla/Archie Beetus (19)