With the top teams leaving the Puntilla Lake checkpoint this morning, just 28 minutes separated Teams 14 and 6 as they made a fairly short (in Iron Dog terms) dash to the finish line. That amount of separation in a race like this, with such little trail remaining, seemed almost like an insurmountable feat for Brad George and Robbie Schachle of Team 6 after seeing Casey Boylan and Bryan Leslie of Team 14 having what could be described as an almost textbook run for over 2,000 miles. One Facebook fan commented ‘Team 14 percent for the win’, and frankly I wouldn’t have argued with him given the circumstances.
Nothing is for certain in life, and the Iron Dog is no exception. Details are a bit sketchy since much of it is coming second-hand through Facebook postings, comments, etc. but what I’m gathering is that somewhere past Shell Lake (photo above), one of their machines lost a motor. With time of the essence, the team decided to immediately begin towing the dead sled toward the finish line, as they had a considerable lead at that moment and knew they were racing for the win.
Coming across the Willow Swamp it is being reported that they lost the jackshaft in the machine that was towing the dead machine. This forced them to undergo a field repair swapping the jackshaft out of the dead machine back into the towing machine, which for these guys and minimal tools is still only a 45 minute job. (EDIT: The prior mention of jackshaft issues was not correct. Both of Team 14’s machines had engine issues and the racers were able to break what sounds like a seized motor free enough to run on one cylinder to cross the finish line)
In the screenshot above you can see the GPS locations for Team 6 as they overtook Team 14 who was making trail repairs to their machine. In the Facebook Live video that was posted at the finish line, Brad George and Robbie Schachle were seen to be celebrating what they thought was their second place, and very respectable, finish amongst some of the best racers of their kind likely in the world. After several hugs from friends and family, you can see someone talking to Brad George, and a moment later he shouts ‘Robbie, WE WON!’. Team 6 passed Team 14 in the swamp somewhere and was not even aware that they had done so.
This is a gut-wrenching loss for Team 14, running into as bad of luck as you could in such a short amount of time, and on the flip-side a momentous victory for Team 6, pulling off the win despite being oblivious to that fact even after they had completed the race, finishing 32 minutes ahead of the team they thought they had lost to.
Household names Mike Morgan and Chris Olds of Team 10 finished 1 hour and 1 minute after Team 14 towed across the finish line to complete the top 3 podium. Team 49 ‘Sons of Thunder’ Gumley/VanWingerden pulled off a fourth place finish.
Inspirational Team 21 Hale/Hale fought tooth and nail to finish this race, and making repairs as far along as Shell Lake was more of the rule and not the exception for this team of brothers. At the Shell Lake checkpoint, they discovered that the suspension mount on one of their sleds was cracked and was nearing complete failure. The team made quick work of making it trail-worthy with some rope they had on-hand and were back on the course quickly finishing their first Pro-Class Iron Dog race in 13th position out of 21 teams that started this race.
The annual Red Lantern award goes to team that crosses the finish line last. This will be Team 20 completing the race not just in last place but also before the other teams that were forced to scratch from the race, making even completing this feat an impressive endeavor. This Iron Dog was a race just like it is every year filled with lots of drama, twists and turns, leaderboard shake ups, and lots of camaraderie and respect for each other as teams make this annual race across the frozen north that is Alaska in the longest toughest snowmobile race of its kind.