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Aklestad, Johnson on brink of second consecutive Iron Dog victory

  • Author: Mike Campbell
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 24, 2017

Cory Davis of Soldotna and Ryan Simons of Alberta leave the start line during the ceremonial start of the Iron Dog race on Feb. 18. With 300 miles to go on Friday, the duo was in position for a second-place finish. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Barring disaster, defending champions Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson should be able to cruise into Fairbanks on their Ski-Doos at midday Saturday to celebrate a second consecutive victory in the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race.

The duo arrived at the Yukon River village of Tanana at 4:11 p.m. Friday with a comfortable lead that ought to allow them a restful evening before they head for the Fairbanks finish line Saturday morning.

The second-place tandem of Cory Davis of Soldotna and Ryan Simons of Alberta, Canada, were 74 minutes behind.

Tanana is the site of a trading post established before the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867; during World War II, the town's airfield was used to help ferry U.S. aircraft to Russia. Today it may be best known as the location for the television show "Yukon Men." It's also where the Iron Dog pauses Friday to ensure a daylight finish Saturday.

Typically, the first team to reach Tanana — a town of about 300 residents — ends up winning. The finish is less than 300 miles down the trail, and big come-from-behind surges are difficult at the speeds the top racers maintain.

But breakdowns and crashes have happened. In fact, such a mishap Thursday knocked Wasilla racers Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad, the leaders into the halfway point of Nome, all the way down to ninth place.

But Aklestad, of Palmer, and Johnson, of Eagle River, have enjoyed a clean trip so far.

Once considered a hard-luck duo plagued by mishaps or mechanical failures year after year, the longtime partners may now be headed for dynasty territory — or at least a winning streak.

Last year's win was a long time coming and a tribute to their persistence. Aklestad entered a dozen Iron Dogs and scratched eight times before his first victory last year, Johnson's winless streak was even longer with eight scratches in 17 starts before frustration led to fame.