‘Once the fox left Galena, the hounds had to give chase’ was an apt comment from a race fan last night in regards to Team 6 leaving Galena yesterday evening to complete 748 trail miles for Day 6 of the 2021 Iron Dog race, forcing the hand of the teams to follow. Cold temps, running in daylight, having access to aerial support from team planes, parts availability, and actually having the luxury of taking a long rest without having to get up in the middle of the night to begin riding in the cold all added up to being the right call for these racers.
Currently there 14 teams still making headway on the trail, which leaves 6 teams being forced from the race due to mechanical issues, some semblance of bodily injury, or sometimes both. Teams 8, 32, and 40 were all forced to scratch yesterday but information was not forthcoming before the update. We made mention of Team 8 doing a considerable amount of work on one of their Ski-Doo machines, but despite the mechanical aptitude and talent from most of the guys running this race, sometimes problems encountered on the trail can be insurmountable for even the most savvy of mechanics, and this was apparently the case for Chad Gueco and Cody Moen of Team 8. Making a showing all the way from Utah, Team 40 Nelson/Thomas ran into what is being reported as a blown motor out of Shaktoolik South. No details on what caused the motor failure, and if they had the same overheating issues that Teams 8 and 6 both experienced. Lastly it is being reported that Team 32 Mountain/Sommer hailing from Nulato crashed outside of Unalakleet. They were able to make it back to the checkpoint for further inspection of damages and decided to throw in the towel once they arrived.
35 below zero ambient air temperature was on the menu for racers to order up on the trail in McGrath, sprinkling a significant amount of windchill on top of that hearty helping of cold. Track shocks were a bit of an issue for a few teams on the rough section of trail between Ruby and McGrath late last night. Team 6 George/Schachle gave up a good distance of trail to Team 14 last night as they had to change broken rear shock just south of the Poorman checkpoint before making their way through Ophir and then to McGrath for a rest. Team 39 was also familiarized with track shock replacements as we are learning that Troy Conlon and Shane Barber both had to replace rear shocks while in McGrath. You can hear the team in the video below discussing plans for shock repairs with one of the locals.
Additionally you can see in the photo below that the right ski on one of their Polaris machines was being replaced. The video below the photo shows how you change a ski in 35 seconds.
Casey Boyland and Bryan Leslie were the team to watch yesterday. Despite getting into a ‘rubbing is racing’ scenario with Team 5 causing a crash, their long run was clean, quick, and consistently just a bit faster on split times versus their competitors who were generally close by.
The ‘impound lot’ in McGrath this morning looked a bit like the game ‘one of these things is not like the others’ where the two Ski-Doo’s driven by Brad George and Robbie Schachle of Team 6 seemed a bit out of place in a sea of Polaris machines. This race was one of the first (if not the first ever) where only two manufacturers showed up to the starting line. Yamaha machines fell out of racing’s graces several years ago (and hasn’t won since 1990) and while Arctic Cat dominated in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s their race program has undergone some restructuring as that company was absorbed by the Textron brand a few years ago, just after Cory Davis and Ryan Simons won for them in 2017 . While most of the teams, given the circumstances, have done extremely well, the Polaris machines will put up stronger numbers this year versus Ski-Doo. That being said, there are dozens and dozens of uncontrolled variables in a race like this and many of the teams either just have a brand preference, or ride with whichever brand might have better local support, mechanics, etc. At the end of the day, it’s largely a Ford/Chevy argument. There will always be staunch supporters on each side, but they’re both great machines.
The top several teams have already made it to Puntilla Lake this evening declaring a variety of layover times to complete their necessary requirements before the finish tomorrow. Teams are held here to allow for a mid-day finish in Big-Lake tomorrow. Mechanical failure, crashes, and teams limping across the finish line is nothing new for a race of this caliber as teams in the first and second positions on the trail are just 28 minutes apart. Each mile closer to the finish, not only minutes matter, but also seconds. While it seems that this is Team 14’s race to lose at this point, anything is possible.