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As carnage increases, Iron Dog lead changes hands

  • Author: Alaska Dispatch News
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 20, 2017

If fans of the world's longest and toughest snowmachine race felt a touch of deja  vu on Monday, don't be surprised.

Just look at the front of the pack in this year's 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race.

Leading the racers into Kaltag, before leaving the Yukon River, is the team of defending champions Tyson Johnson of Eagle River and Tyler Aklestad of Palmer. They motored into the town of 200 at 4:59 p.m. Monday, having overtaken early leaders Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad on the 100-mile run from Galena.

That's exactly the position the Wasilla duo were in a year ago at the finish line, and this year Olstad and Minnick ran hard from the start, establishing a small lead that Johnson and Aklestad couldn't overcome for hundreds of miles.

Into Kaltag, Johnson's and Aklestad's lead was just 12 minutes. But the third-place team of Polaris drivers Kris and Klinton Vanwingerden of Big Lake, third into Kaltag, were an hour and 28 minutes back.

But the big change in the race on Monday was the carnage, leaving bruised bodies and damaged snowmachines. The list of teams that pulled out expanded to nine, leaving just 26 teams remaining on the trail two days into the week-long ultra-marathon.

Among the departed was at least one team considered a potential contender before the race. Mike Morgan and Chris Olds reportedly had a track fail on one of their Polaris sleds. Olds is a two-time champion who's found his way into the top-five 10 times.

The team of veterans Paul Sindorf and Chris Kruse "had to turn back to McGrath and scratch due to a gear malfunction problem that could not be overcome," they reported on their Facebook page. "It was not safe to continue in the severe cold temps without risk of injury in such a remote place. It was not an easy decision, but one we had to make."

They weren't alone. Trail temperatures plummeted below minus 40 at night, making the always-rugged Iron Dog particularly brutal.

There was even an uncomfirmed report of a head-on collision at the Poorman checkpoint that left one driver injured and his snowmachine badly damaged.