If the first day of the 2019 Iron Dog had to be summed up in one word, for both participants and racers alike, it would have to be ‘whiteout’. Making your way to the new race venue at Deshka Landing meant driving through a veritable blizzard before parking and walking through heaps of fresh fluffy snow to see the racers decked out in their familiar vibrant colors, high-vis orange helmets, and smelling 2-stroke exhaust as the racers left the starting chute in 2-minute intervals.
Its worth mentioning that seeing the racers lined up in the starting chute is not just signing up and showing up. Getting to the start of the race is the culmination of a year (or several for a few teams) of preparation for both the racers bodies, and also tweaking, tuning, and trialing their equipment against hundreds and thousands of practice miles. Practice runs for these teams mean that several racers have seen the coast at Unalakleet already, and some teams have logged more than 3,000 miles on their practice machines before making the necessary tweaks and adjustments to the fresh race machines. Leaving the starting chute in the Iron Dog, which is aptly dubbed the longest, toughest snowmobile race in the world, is a testament to these racers dedicating time, money, and other resources to begin their way along some of the toughest and gnarliest terrain Alaska has to offer.
Racers woke up to about 8” of fresh snow overnight. Before and during the start of the race the snow continued to fall and another foot is expected to accumulate on the south side of the Alaska Range today and into the night. Team 20 was out of the gate first and made a quick trip to Skwentna. They were the fastest team to Skwentna by a good margin where they decided to take a 6hr layover to get out of the snow and flat light. The remainder of the racing field pushed on and made good time up to Puntilla Lake. It is expected that most teams will push on and attempt to make it to the McGrath checkpoint his evening.
The above video shows the first 3 teams barreling into McGrath, roughly 350 miles from where the flag first dropped on the racers this morning. It has also been unofficially reported that roughly 20 miles before McGrath Teams 8 and 16 have possibly crashed into one another. The extent of the damage to the machines and/or the riders is not certain. With the weather as bad as it is in McGrath, currently, we are hoping that there aren’t any significant injuries to the riders.
A quick facebook video revealed a machine being ridden by two racers which are suspected to be both riders of Team 16 sharing one sled. Along with the possible injuries are unofficial reports of some significant damage to one or more sleds from Teams 8 and 16 as well. A Facebook post shared this information:
“Team 16 Update: Todd Minnick of Team 16 is being Airlifted to Providence in Anchorage…. a more detailed update will be provided at a later time. Todd and Nick wanted to thank everyone for their support and wish all the other racers the best of luck!”
Adding to the carnage coming into McGrath are reports of Team 31 Conlon/Menne having machine issues as well and are limping toward the checkpoint. If many machines need parts, it might be a tall order finding any since the weather grounded most of the parts planes from leaving the Wasilla area.
According to a KTUU article, Tyler Aklestad is quoted as saying “Todd Minnick didn’t see me, and re-ended me at about 50-60 miles per hour, totaled both sleds,”. Both Team 16 and Team 8 will be forced to scratch from the race. Aklestads sled was damaged badly in the crash to the point where it took 3 different teams to help them get the two sleds apart. It sounds like the rear triangle brackets that hold the rear suspension in on Aklestads sled are ripped from the chassis.
This development leaves the field wide open as both pair are extremely strong contenders for the top prize in this race.