It’s a historic year for the Iron Dog, which has a new course, a new start line, a new finish line and a duo that could make a bid for the title “Team of the Century.”
Known as the longest and toughest snowmachine race in the world, this year’s edition will be nearly 400 miles longer than ever before, thanks to an extended race course that will take racers to Kotzebue and a handful of villages never visited by the race before.
The changes include a reverse running of the traditional course. Fairbanks will be the start line instead of the finish line, and Big Lake will mark the finish instead of the start.
The 2,400-mile race begins at 11 a.m. Sunday at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks, where 29 teams will leave in four-minute intervals.
Among the field are two-time defending champions Chris Olds of Eagle River and Mike Morgan of Nome, who will be going for a rare third straight victory.
In the 36-year history of the Iron Dog, only two teams have pulled off a three-peat, none of them in this century.
Both of the race’s previous three-peaters enjoyed their dominance decades ago — John Faeo and Dan Zipay (1986-88) and Mark Carr and Scott Davis (1997-99).
Olds and Morgan will be back on Polaris snowmachines as they make their bid for another win. They won last year’s race by about 20 minutes and took the 2018 title by four minutes.
This is the ninth time they have teamed up for the race, which requires riders to compete as two-person teams for safety reasons.
Iron Doggers will follow the Yukon River to the Bering Sea coast and then make a loop to Kotzebue on the trail used for the annual Archie Ferguson-Willie Goodwin Memorial race.
Racers then head to the halfway point in Nome before heading south the Big Lake finish.
In order to ensure a daylight finish on Saturday, Feb. 22, there will be hold at Rainy Pass before racers make the final push to Flat Lake, where the clock will stop ticking. From there they will travel at non-race speeds to the finish chute at Southport Marina.
“The hold is designed to allow us a daylight finish, and to congregate the herd a little tighter near the finish to add some excitement to the end of the race for the spectators on Big Lake,” Iron Dog executive director John Woodbury said by email.
Woodbury said race organizers are trying to spread the word about the logistics of the finish to cabin owners, recreational riders and other trail users in the Big Lake area.
“We plan to come off the Su River and use the SVWT to Trail 6,” he said. “We will have a mandatory express checkpoint at the Fish Creek bridge that is under construction, then take Trail 6 to finish the official timing as we pop out onto Flat Lake. From that official timing stop to the race, the teams will cruise at a safe speed across Big Lake.”
He said there will be volunteers along Trail 6 “so we can monitor intersection and blind hills and corners to the best of our ability in an effort to ensure a safe day for everyone on the inbound trails.”
Iron Dog champions
1984 — John Faeo/Rod Frank
1985 — Scott Davis/Gary Eoff
1986 — John Faeo/Dan Zipay
1987 — John Faeo/Dan Zipay
1988 — John Faeo/Dan Zipay
1989 — Scott Davis/Mark Torkelson
1990 — John Faeo/Bob Gilman
1991 — John Faeo/Bob Gilman
1992 — Dan Zipay/Evan Booth
1993 — Scott Davis/Bill Long
1994 — Evan Booth/Dan Zipay
1995 — Todd Palin/Dwayne Drake
1996 — John Faeo/Bob Gilman
1997 — Mark Carr/Scott Davis
1998 — Mark Carr/Scott Davis
1999 — Mark Carr/Scott Davis
2000 — Todd Palin/Dusty VanMeter
2001 — Tracey Brassard/Ken Lee
2002 — Todd Palin/Dusty VanMeter
2003 — Race canceled due to lack of snow
2004 — Mark Carr)/Dusty VanMeter
2005 — Marc McKenna/Nick Olstad
2006 — Dwayne Drake/Andy George
2007 — Todd Palin/Scott Davis
2008 — Marc McKenna/Eric Quam
2009 — Todd Minnick/Nick Olstad
2010 — Chris Olds/Tyler Huntington
2011 — Chris Olds/Tyler Huntington
2012 — Marc McKenna/Dusty VanMeter
2013 — Marc McKenna/Dusty VanMeter
2014 — Todd Minnick/Nick Olstad
2015 — Scott Faeo/Eric Quam
2016 — Tyler Aklestad/Tyson Johnson
2017 — Cory Davis/Ryan Simon
2018 — Chris Olds/Mike Morgan
2019 — Chris Olds/Mike Morgan