Unlike NASCAR where the driver simply drives and the pit crew takes care of the maintenance, Iron Doggers have to be skilled at both disciplines. When the race began in the mid 1980’s snowmachines were very undependable and needed constant wrenching and creative improvising. John Faeo, a 7 time Iron Dog Champ, was extremely talented mechanic who seemed to have a solution to address most issues that arose out in the middle of nowhere. Technological advances on the sleds over the past 30+ years have been remarkable, with efficient and reliable fuel injected engines needing very little attention. While it is safe to say that skills at wrenching is not as crucial as it used to be it is still a important factor in this toughest, longest, grueling 2000 mile affair.
Iron Dog race teams are leaving Nome in a different order from which they arrived due to times being adjusted for “on the clock” repairs and maintenance. The average time most teams spent on repairs was about 10 minutes which reflects on the remarkable reliability of these sleds from all 3 manufacturers.
The longest time needed was 29:11 by team #14 of Boylan and Leslie. Team #8 of Tyler and Tyson spent the least amount of time of all the teams, as they only needed 2:26 to prepare their Skidoos for the next 1000 mile leg. Todd and Nick of team #16 arrived first in Nome but are headed out 1.5 minutes behind team #8 since they spent 18:37 minutes tending to their Polaris’s. Cory Davis and Ryan Simons only needed to 4:36 minutes to tinker with their Cats, so the top 3 teams are leaving closer together than when they arrived.
Some speculate that the longer work time by Team #16 was a part of their strategy as a major storm has moved onto the Bering Sea Coast. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for heavy snow and local blizzard conditions reducing visibility to one half mile or less. Racers can also expect winds gusting to 50mph which makes finding the trail next to impossible. It could be that team #16 decided to let someone else lead the way out into conditions quite similar to navigating in a bottle of milk.
It is going to be very interesting to see how this race unfolds with this arctic storm throwing a monkey wrench into the best laid plans. Team #8 will leave Nome at 8:00 this morning and head east towards White Mountain. Race rules require a 10 hour layover in either Koyuk, Unalakleet or Kaltag.
Rebecca Charles, a hard core Iron Dog fan who has also covered the course in the Trail Class, points out that the weather affects not only the racers but also the airplanes which follow the teams with the crucial parts that may be needed. She observes: “This storm will make for interesting strategy since team pilots may not be able to fly or land where they are needed. Many pilots took off from Nome yesterday to stay ahead of the storm, so wherever they landed is where the guys spare parts are. If the heavy snow starts to accumulate, another question is push through the storm and break trail or let your competitor do it for you? The trail back through from Unalakleet to Kaltag is usually destroyed by now from all of the race traffic so staying our front is often a good idea. Strategy is everything today.”
But after enjoying the comforts of ‘Nome Sweet Nome’ and enjoying a banquet together it is back to the trail. Pictured below is Klint of Team #49 the “Sons of Thunder” relishing some yummy chocolate chip cookies fresh from Heather’s oven.
Rebecca also shared this tidbit: “Racers can have 2 assistants for their garage work in Nome. Some teams fly up a couple of master mechanics, but some depend on their fellow racers. For example team 17 assisted Team 6 since they both ride Skidoos. It’s not often in racing that you see a competitor step up and help you without ego or concern for the impact on their own positioning, but it happens every year in the Nome garage. This is a perfect example why the Iron Dog family is THE best racing community.”
This photo by Kolin Darby Smith shows Schacle and George of team #6 lending a hand to team #17 Gueco and VanMeter
Teams are already swapping positions as the race along the coast to Unalakleet. It appears Team #16 is having trouble and are now quite a ways behind the #41 and #8. We are waiting on any news as to why Team #16 has slowed.
Rebecca Charles had this report on Team #28: “Word is Team 28 had a high speed ‘get off’ also and have bent handle bars, but will try to make it to UNK for repairs. That must be where their pilot is.
The Iron Dog Oracle makes this observation: “Looks like they (Team #8) are about 8 minutes ahead of Team 41 as they left Koyuk. Team 41 has made up over 20 minutes on the leaders and we are just getting started. Koyuk to Shaktoolik will be the real test to see if Davis/Simon can reel in Aklestad/Johnson. Great racing for sure.”
Also Team #4 has scratched back in Nome. It seems that they got 15-20 miles from Nome and Dan Thibault had a bad crash resulting in a broken A-arm. Hopefully no broken Real-arm! 🙂 With the scratch of Team#4 that leaves 20 remaining teams of the original 35.
** Just in: Sounds like Nick Olstad had a mishap so they are limping along towards Koyuk in need of an A-arm and a shock. And Team #4 that just scratched is sending them parts. They will probably take their 10 hour layover in Koyuk. And it doesn’t help that Nick also injured his shoulder.**
And more from the Oracle: “Team 16 crashed. Nicks sled is damaged. Both a-arms and a shock. They are towing to Koyuk now to make repairs.”
And also this about Team #28: “Broken handle bars and damaged steering post. They are going to limp to Unalakleet for repairs. Lots of nasty crashes today. The visibility is horrible with the storm on the coast. So far today 3 teams have knocked themselves out of contention by crashing. ”
Kolin Darby Smith took this video of Team #8 leaving Nome this morning.
The racers have to take 20 hrs of lay over between Nome and Tanana. At Tanana everyone will hold up for a Saturday morning restart. Tanana is about 700 miles from Nome. On Saturday morning they will release the first handful of teams based on how far apart they were when they reached Tanana. After about 2 hours they will release the rest of the teams on a 10 minute intervals. The exact sequence and spacing will depend on how many teams are left in the race at that point.
The idea is for all the remaining teams to cross the finish line in Fairbanks during daylight hours between about 2pm and 5pm on Saturday. Even if your course time is 20+ hours behind the leaders you will cross the finish line within a couple hours of the leader. All the teams families will be in FBX for the finish. Everyone will receive the same basic welcome at the finish line, even the teams that are over 20 hours behind.
Many many wrecks and scratches this morning! Once it is daylight and snowing and blowing it is hard to see any definition in the terrain. So more than likely guys are just going along and are suddenly airborne by a wind drift or slam into a piece of ice or drift wood. It is much easier to make time at night when the headlights are able to create definition and shadows.
Team #7 and Team #4 have scratched today and numerous other teams have damaged sleds and are limping them to the next checkpoint. Team # 20 of Palin and Quam are headed back to Nome.
Brad of Team #6 hit the same big snow drift that took out several other teams. Here they are in Nome assessing the damage. New windshield, hood, side panels, etc and they are back on the trail.
Jeff Erickson: “Team #8 flew (literally) in (Unalakleet)…and out. The race is on…they weren’t messing around.” They checked out of UNK South 15 minutes ahead of Team #41 so it is some intense racing up front!
** Update #3**
The Team #8 of Aklestad/Johnson on their Skidoos has arrived back onto the Yukon River exactly 14 minutes in front of Davis/Simons riding Arctic Cats so this is shaping up to be a good race out front. Both teams are taking a 10 hour layover in Kaltag.
So much has changed today. The flat white light and blowing snow has definitely made for some very poor visibility resulted in quite a few nasty ‘get offs’ (aka ‘crashes’). Lots of teams scratching today. Heard Palin has suspension trouble and is back in Nome. Palin was intending to bring parts to repair Olstad’s sled since the weather is preventing planes from flying to Koyuk. But he had his own troubles and ended up back in Nome. But it sounds like between the resourcefulness on the Iron Dog family and the village folks they found the parts needed for Team #16 and they are on the trail currently checked out of Shaktoolik.
This video by Harley Huntington of Nick Olstad coming in to Koyuk is pretty self explanatory of their slow times. He rode that machine for over 60 miles like that!
Here are the current stats of how it stands for the top ten teams.
You need to keep in mind that the times the teams were released in Nome are not exactly according to the times they arrived. It can lead to some deceptive positioning. It’s all about course time now. So Minnick and Olstad are actually ahead of some of the teams they are currently “behind”. Should I say that again? 🙂 And Team #17 of Gueco and VanMeter are not as close to the top 2 teams as it seems, but they are also now in Kaltag taking a 10 hour LO.
At this point we have 18 teams left in the race….half the field is gone. Such as it is in the longest, toughest snowmachine race in the world.
This footage from Rebecca Charles of Team #6 leaving Nome gives you a glimpse of the ‘lovely’ weather and lousy visibility the racers encountered.