Musher Jason Mackey said on Thursday that he has dropped out of the 2018 Iditarod because he is tired of the "politics" of the sport.
"I don't really like which way the Iditarod is going," the 45-year-old musher said in an interview. "This isn't supposed to be a political sport and it is everything but a dog race anymore."
Mackey said he also lost his main race sponsor after a third-degree theft charge was filed against him last week. He is accused of stealing four dog crates that belonged to another musher, Alan Eischens, according to a charging document filed in district court in Nome.
"I lost my sponsor over that. My one and only major sponsor," Mackey said. "To compete at the top level you have to have a sponsor or be wealthy and I'm not wealthy."
Mackey, brother of four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, denies stealing any dog crates. He said his handlers had found "two banged-up junk kennels in a snow drift" in Nome and were told by race staff they could take them if they could "repair them to flyable status."
Eischens' wife, Tanjala, said in an interview Thursday that none of the 16 dog crates she brought to Nome were "banged up" or broken in any way. She said the crates were taken from the Nome dog lot soon before her husband finished the race with a team of 16 dogs.
She said she and her husband tried to contact Jason Mackey repeatedly after the race and never heard back from him, eventually resorting to filing a police report. Mackey maintains that he was never contacted by the Eischenses.
His first court date in the case is scheduled for Nov. 3.
By Thursday afternoon, there were 57 mushers signed up to compete in the 2018 Iditarod.
Earlier this week, Iditarod officials announced that four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey was the musher whose dogs tested positive for tramadol, a drug the race prohibits. Seavey dropped out of the Iditarod over how the race handled the drug testing issue, as did Michigan musher Laura Neese.