The leaders since the first day of racing, the Valley duo of Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad claimed the Iron Dog championship Saturday in Big Lake, where they drove their Ski-Doos across the finish line at 1:18 p.m. to win the longest snowmachine race across Alaska in history.
The win was their first together, but each man had previously tasted victory. Olstad became a four-time winner — he won twice with Todd Minnick (2014, 2009) and once with Marc McKenna (2005) — and Aklestad became a two-time winner, with his first triumph coming in 2016 with Tyson Johnson.
Aklestad, a 34-year-old engineer for MTA who lives in Palmer, and Olstad, a 37-year-old from Wasilla who works for Marathon Construction, set a course record by virtue of the race being held on a longer and arguably tougher course than ever before.
With nearly 400 miles added to take teams on a loop to Kotzebue and four other villages never before visited by the race, this year’s Iron Dog was 2,395 miles long. Besides the extra distance, teams contended with deep snow in the Interior that required round-the-clock trailbreaking by volunteers on Thursday and Friday.
Aklestad and Olstad logged 50 hours, 8 minutes and 3 seconds of race time to establish a record on the new course. Their average speed was 47.75 mph.
The second-place team of Mike Morgan of Nome and Chris Olds of Eagle River, winners of the 2019 and 2018 Iron Dogs, reached Big Lake at 1:48 p.m., 30 minutes behind the new champions. They spent 52 hours, 49 minutes, 55 seconds on the trail.
Third place went to Brett Lapham and Zack Weisz (54:38:34), followed by the fourth-place team of Kruz Kleewein and Kenneth Kleewein (56:59:17), the fifth-place team of Troy Conlin and Todd Palin (61:28:39), the sixth-place team of Andrew Gumley and Klinton VanWingerden (61:54:07) and the seventh-place team of Kazimir Cizmowski and Zachary Cizmowski (62:26:10). Four other teams were still on the trail early Saturday evening.
The race began Sunday in Fairbanks. The extra miles and the deep snow took its toll on racers — of the 29 teams that began the race, 11 remain. The lastest scratch was the team of Tyson Johnson and Brad George, which was in second place Friday but called it quits at Rainy Pass, about 160 miles from the finish.