2017 Iron Dog – Not Over Yet?
Trophies were hoisted in the air, over-sized checks were presented to the top three teams, and as of now, it seems everyone is still holding their breath as it doesn’t appear that the 2017 Iron Dog is even over.
As I write this, please keep in mind that I’m trying to relay what happened, explain the situation, see things from both sides, and make sense of what has happened, and what could happen. I, in no way, am taking an sides in this matter and am just interested in seeing how this cookie crumbles.
Let’s take a look at the photo again:
Let’s hop in the Iron Dog Race Marshal’s shoes…
If I’m the Race Marshal, there are a couple things to notice. Firstly, we immediately see people pushing down on the bumpers of the sleds while they’re being re-fueled. I think everyone knows the implications of what has happened in that regard. What many aren’t discussing is the fact that Tyson Johnson is filling his sled, in the seated position, seeming to have driven close enough to a full fuel jug, grabbed it out of the snow, got the caps off the fuel tank and the jug, and hoisted/inverted it to fill his tank. Could an innocent bystander have handed him the jug, unknowingly giving him ‘assistance’? Possibly. Could he have done just what was detailed above? Absolutely. Either way, what is seen in the photo, regardless if he was even handed a fuel jug, is contact with the sleds. According to the implicit rules, the only penalty for this is….disqualification.
**EDIT: It has been made clear that Tyson Johnson is certainly not sitting on the sled but leaning against it**
Iron Dog specifically reminded the racers of this rule at several race meetings (including at a racers meeting in Nome) and with no race officials the refueling point , they have to make this rule specific and the penalties harsh. A 100% no-touch rule was in effect. The Iron Dog has to not care which racers were being assisted at this particular location, and unfortunately the situation at hand was the defending champs and soon-to-be returning champs were the ones caught up in the mayhem of it all.
The marshals hands were tied and the rule was enforced. If they hadn’t done this, it would have been easy for another team and/or sponsor to have a cut and dried case against the Iron Dog. Again, remember I’m playing devils advocate.
Let’s hop in Team 8’s boots…
You’re clearly in the lead, and know your lead is substantial. How substantial? You aren’t quite sure, but know its all but over for the racers trying to chip away at the lead you’ve amassed over the last 1,700ish miles of racing. Your run has been clean, and both yourself and your gear is in as good of shape as you could have ever hoped for.
You race into the refueling checkpoint, your machine is running, you have a helmet on, goggles on, and you’re focusing on getting in and out as quickly as possible. You’ve also got 1,700 miles of wear and tear on both your body and your brain, so you’re tired and likely might even be a bit mentally exhausted as well.
We saw in the Day 7 Update in a video interview with Tyson Johnson that the racers got to the checkpoint, began fueling, and after several seconds, looked back and saw the locals touching their sleds. Tyson Johnson reports that once they realized this, they asked them to not touch their equipment.
I think everyone also can agree that Team 8 really didn’t ‘need’ this help in the first place and whether it was given or not, is inconsequential to the outcome of the race. Heck, Tyson cratered one whole side of his sled in an accident on the Chena River and even considering this time and speed delay, its likely they still would have won with a 1 hour and 14 minute lead out of Tanana.
Yesterday we saw a press release from the Iron Dog stating that:
“In an effort to give Team 8 every opportunity to appeal the Rules or the final decision of the Race Marshals, the Iron Dog Board of Directors is calling a special session tonight to allow racers Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson to appear in person and provide their account of the situation, the reasons for their appeal and requested remedy.”
The gist of the situation is that the Iron Dog wants TnT to present their version of the events in writing. They want TnT to describe, to the best of their abilities, what exactly transpired at the fuel stop (keep in mind Iron Dog already has written testimony from several people at the scene in question). Also, from a brief timeline of events on the Iron Dog website, it seems that race officials are suggesting a slight change of story from the racers as neither of them made mention of telling the locals to stop touching their machines when first questioned about the situation.
The Iron Dog wants to discuss with them what options may be acceptable and hopefully work toward a viable solution for everyone. Does this look like monetary compensation for Team 8 as a ‘meet in the middle’ scenario?
The Iron Dog certainly does not want this bad press, but at the same time, overturning a very specific violation could also drum up additional bad press and reduced integrity and credibility of the event, in light of public pressure.
Was this a brief lapse in judgement and/or situational awareness by Team 8? Was this an overreaching penalty that shouldn’t have been enforced in the first place? I guess we will wait and see.
The 2017 Iron Dog is officially over, and an official statement has been made regarding the conclusion of the race and the upholding of the disqualification decision. Iron Dog posted a lengthy press release continuing to explain the appeal deliberations and the details surrounding the unanimous decision to uphold the ruling. I believe that Jim Wilkes stated the situation well:
“I’ve been involved with the Iron Dog since its inception and this has been the most challenging situation the organization has faced in its 34-year history. We know Team 8 racers, Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson are honorable young men and it is unfortunate that they are in this difficult position.” (emphasis mine)
One question that has been going across everyone’s mind is “What about next year?”. Will sponsors be hesitant to support both the racers and/or the organization itself? Will racers be hesitant to invest both the time and money in preparations to compete in the event? What will the rules state next year? What will be in place to ensure this never happens again?
The answers to these questions will be answered, but not right away. The Iron Dog has been an Alaskan tradition for decades, spanning across two generations now. What do I hope for? I hope that, over time, some of these wounds would be healed, and that everyone will remember that the Iron Dog family can overcome this stain that is now on the race, and that, perhaps, we could see a third generation champion.