Update #10 It’s OVER!
As expected, Team 8 ‘TnT’ pulled across the finish line to complete what was a long-time coming for both riders. In Tyler Aklestad’s 13th and Tyson Johnsons 18th Pro-Class Iron Dog race, they’ve claimed the top spot. At the finish line Tyson spoke into the mic and said ‘It’s about time!’ Putting 2,031 miles on their Ski-Doo sleds across Alaska while averaging 57mph is worthy of a 1st place finish!
Congratulations to Team #8 Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson Iron Dog 2016 Champions. #alaska #fairbanks #irondog #irondograce #irondog2016
Posted by Iron Dog on Saturday, February 27, 2016
Second across the line was Team 16, the ever-familiar front runners Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad with a course time just 37 minutes off the winners. Though the local boys of Team 28 arrived at the finish line 3rd, physically, their course time put them in 4th place. Towing the last 250 miles of the river, still racing to get a podium spot, Team 6 made it to the finish, still under tow, to claim their 3rd place finish. For rookie Robbie Schachle, this is a very impressive first run at this. It will be interesting to see how Robbie develops as an Iron Dog racer in the future if he decides to continue racing.
Rounding off the top 5 was Team 10 Morgan/Olds putting a few bucks in their pockets in spite of clutch issues early on and another broken crankshaft in Nome. The top 5 finishing teams are awarded cash prizes and must complete a post-race inspection of their required gear/equipment to claim their prizes. The prizes for the finishers are:
1st place: $65,000
2nd place: $35,000
3rd place: $20,000
4th place: $15,000
5th place: $10,000
Note that Team 8 was also first to arrive to Nome, which means they add those $10,000 checks to the $65,000 that they split. On paper it looks like not a bad day’s work for 35 hours and 35 minutes worth of work, but when it’s all said and done, we all know that this race takes much more physically, emotionally, and financially than what is reflected in the course time.
Team 14 and 33 in
Posted by Team Barber Racing on Saturday, February 27, 2016
The total purse for the 2016 Iron Dog race was $145,000 to include dozens of contingency prizes available to both the veteran and rookie Pro-Class racers.
As far as how the field looked at the start versus who finished, here’s the breakdown by manufacturer. 41 teams started, and 18 of those scratched.
19 Polaris Teams (9 scratch) – 47%
12 Ski-Doo Teams (2 scratch) – 16%
8 Arctic Cat Teams (6 scratch) – 75%
2 Yamaha Teams (1 scratch) – 50%
By those numbers, the clear dominating manufacturer was SkiDoo.
Included in those scratched teams were two more high-profile teams in this race. Team 20 of Marc McKenna and Scott Faeo along with Team 11 of Shane Barber and Todd Palin were two more Polaris teams forced from the race. Scott Faeo and Shane Barber both suffered engine trouble, forcing the scratch.
As of writing this, all of the Pro-Class teams that did not scratch have finished the race. Over a 2,031 mile race, having the first and last teams separated only by a handful of hours is pretty incredible. Again, my hat’s off to these racers, their families, the support networks that they have, and also to the Iron Dog staff and volunteers who make this race happen. We enjoyed following the race to give you updates and hope to see you in 2017!
Update #9 Flying to Fairbanks!
It’s all Team 8, and with trouble brewing for those behind them, its likely we will see them be first to see the waving checkered flag in Fairbanks.
It appeared that Team 8 had maintained their lead as they checked into Manley at 9:05, just 65 minutes after leaving Tanana putting their split at just under 64mph, which isn’t anything terribly crazy. Team 6, however, towed into Manley where it appears that Robbie Schachle had motor issues between checkpoints. We’re also hearing that Brad George may have wrecked on the trip as well. Apparently these issues weren’t terrible since the latest update as of 11:15am showed them checked out of Manley, only losing ground to Team 16 Minnick/Olstad. Rules state that machines must leave checkpoints under their own power, so the racers must have gotten their SkiDoo machines fixed up enough to leave under their own power. It appears that in the video on the Iron Dog page that the tow rope is being carried and they hooked up to tow right after leaving the checkpoint.
Starting the race with 41 Pro-Class teams, the trail has claimed 17 teams in total. With nearly 60% of the teams still on the trail, this is actually a bit more than typical, when it isn’t uncommon for half of the entire field to have to call it quits.
With mild temperatures and good running conditions, the racers were expected to complete the remaining 291 miles of river running in what is almost always 4.5 hours. The name of the game here is to protect your machines, make up as much ground on the teams ahead of you, if possible, or if you’re Team 8, survive until the finish. Out of Nenana, they’re holding onto that 38 minute lead in front of Team 16.
Not much has happened in the way of position changes short of the #2 spot, with the exception of household Iron Dog names Faeo/McKenna of Team 20 scratching out after Tanana. I don’t have any information as to what happened, but with as many motor issues that we’ve seen this year, that would be my guess.
We can expect the first place team to arrive at the finish line in approximately one hour! Stay tuned!
Update #8 Maintaining and Hustling
It’s a sprint up the trail as Team 8 appears to be holding a lead that is buffering just over a half hour between them and Brad George and Robby Schachle of Team 6. Team 8 appeared to be cruising along, conserving their sleds, playing it like true veterans. Team 6 has their work cut out for them and know they need to make up time.
From Koyuk to Shaktoolik, George/Schachle made the 58 mile distance in just 38 minutes. This included a fuel stop and accelerating from Koyuk and slowing down to enter the Shaktoolik checkpoint. The average? 91.57mph. Nobody is faster than Team 6 so far on the Southbound run as the duo was clocked in at 98.6mph across Golovnin Bay and then again at 98.6mph across the Norton Sound. Don’t let my previous statement fool you too much though regarding Aklestad/Johnson running conservatively as they made the same distance with an average of 88mph. Either way you slice it, these riders are pushing their minds, bodies, and machines to the limit…for hours on end.
There are a lot of people rooting for Team 8, and nobody wants this win more than Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson. This has been looming over their heads for a decade. Three years ago they had an hours lead with just under 200 miles to go when one of their sleds had a stator go bad, giving up their victory. Last year they made it less than a half hour from the starting line when Tyler Aklestads sled had a major motor issue and the closest place to fix it was in Anchorage, which would’ve put them hours behind the leaders. This team likely deserves a little luck this year. So far the run has been very clean and it appears to be theirs to lose at this point since they have amassed a lead so large with the miles to the finish dwindling by the hour.
Between Nome and White Mountain earlier this morning. Video from Blue Mountain Lodge
Posted by Iron Dog Team 21 – Brown/Dean on Thursday, February 25, 2016
Today most of the field will run to Tanana and then hold up for the final push into Fairbanks tomorrow with an anticipated finish around noon. Team 8 was 5 minutes faster than Team 6 from Katlag to Galena, stretching their previously lead back to nearly 40 minutes. Ruby to Tanana is the longest leg of the trip, spanning 120 river miles. It takes teams nearly every drop of fuel that the sleds can carry to make it without running out. On years with fresh snowfall, teams will often trade-off who is leading as breaking through even a few inches of fresh snow burns more fuel than the trailing partners machine. These guys carry 15 gallons of fuel with them on this segment of the course. In a perfect year, that’s enough fuel to get them the entire 120 miles. In years with lots of snow it’s not enough and they have to use strategy. Some times when there is a foot or more of fresh snow on the river from a overnight fall, locals will trek out from both Tanana toward Ruby and Ruby toward Tanana to break a trail for the racers. This race has the attention of every village and villager on the Yukon River right now.
Leaving Ruby, Team 6 and 16 appear to be running neck and neck as they pilot their machines at wide-open-throttle over rough ice and a winding trail. Imagine running like that for 600 river miles, at the edge of control almost the entire time. Being on the edge of control does still mean that there is opportunity for anything to happen in this race despite the lead that Team 8 is sitting on. The closest Iron Dog finish put the top two teams only 13 seconds apart and racers were ‘trading paint’ the last 60 miles from Nenana to Fairbanks.
Nine minutes before 2:00PM, the front-runners pulled into Tanana and are the first to arrive for what is almost the biggest party of the year in that village. Locals will welcome all the racers into their homes and they will cook up big feasts for everyone. There will be a big gathering at the school tonight as well. Race officials will release the teams about 8am tomorrow morning with a similar release as in Nome. The first few teams will go out based on their actual separation, then after that they will release them on 10 minute intervals.
Koyuk appeared to be the final resting place for our favorite Arctic Cat riders Team 26 Beech/Armstrong. Despite all the adversity they faced, Murphy hit them with a broken crankshaft, forcing them from the race. They are very disheartened but their support network at home is glad to have them heading back home for stories, jokes, and laughter!
You can’t miss Team 36 Conlon/Folsom on the trail, as they are riding and wearing the brightest colors they could find, and this team is putting a clean race together as well. Currently on 10 hour layover in Ruby, they will be making the long trek to Tanana themselves around 5:21pm, just on the edge of usable daylight.
In spite of two crankshaft/primary clutch issues on Chris Old’s Polaris, Team 10 is hoping for a solid top 5 finish. Their Facebook page states from who we can only guess is an Iron Dog Wife that ‘The machines are running good and the guys are feeling great.’
Posted by Gundersen/Norum Iron Dog Team #28 on Thursday, February 25, 2016
Conner/Koontz of team 33 are holding pace with the pack as they motor up the river as well. There isn’t any new news on their auxiliary light issues and it doesn’t appear that they are fighting belt/RPM issues either. We are hoping to see these guys break into a single digit finishing position…crossing our fingers for Kyle and Donald!
Team 23, the Father/Son duo of Sindorf/Sindorf, are on layover in Galena as well. They report only minor mechanical issues and note that one of the machines appears to be using more fuel than usual. They chalk it up to loose snow on the trail but also said they nearly ran out of gas between Kaltag to Galena, which is 95 miles. The long 120 mile stretch to Tanana might pose a problem if it is worse than they think. Kris lost an idler wheel, and both tracks need slight adjustment, but other than that, they are confident.
After a motor rebuild, Team 30 is still on the trail. An Iron Dog Wife reports on Facebook that they are worn out but looking forward to reaching Fairbanks. I can imagine the finish line is not only a mental relief of completing the longest, toughest race of its kind, but also sweet relief for the mind and body where much needed rest and relaxation can happen after a week-long beating across Alaska.
The field of scratched racers grew to 16 since the last update, and the breakdown by brand is:
Polaris – 7
Arctic Cat – 6
Skidoo – 2
Yamaha – 1
Included in that field was Team 24 Web/Gee who damaged a bulkhead on one of their Polaris machines when one of the racers ‘lawn darted’ right into a creek bank.
Showing great Iron Dog pride, Team 12 appears to be still having fun despite an early scratch with a quick shout out to their sponsors! 🙂
Here’s to our sponsors…
Posted by Iron Dog Team 12 on Monday, February 22, 2016
Looks like the leaders showed who’s boss on the long leg between Ruby to Tanana.
Team 8 = 1:41minutes = 71.2 MPH
Team 6 = 1:45 minutes = 68.57 MPH
Team 16 = 1:47minutes = 67.28 MPH
Just in case anyone was looking for the stark contrast of trail conditions this year versus last year, here’s a quick flashback to the brutal trail that pounded the racers in 2015
Stay tuned for the finish tomorrow!
Update #7 Flying Down the Coast!
Just how far apart are these teams? Well, the leaderboard was shook up a bit with all the wrenching going on in the Nome garage. Harriett Fenerty reports that in some cases there were 75 minutes (or more) used to make necessary repairs to get the sleds in shape for another brutal beating across Alaska, which is like riding from Big Lake to Skwentnta all over again…without burning a drop of fuel! This is where the strategy (and luck) of keeping your equipment in shape pays off…handsomely.
Rested, repaired, and ready to race, Team 8 was given the green light to leave Nome at 8:00AM, leading the pack as they head South on the coast with a 43 minute lead. Not wasting any time, they were already 15 miles out of Nome and pinging over 70mph down the coast.
The forecast called for light overcast and partially clear skies. With great weather the teams were thought to possibly push a bit farther than they normally would have but as of 3:30pm, the front-runners are holed up in Kaltag on a 10 hour layover. Many of the other teams pulled up a bit short and decided to take their 10 hours in Unalakleet . There is always a balance between pushing it hard but not riding too long to become exhausted.
Team 6 and Team 16 were traveling in each other’s snow-dust heading down the coast. Imagine the light overcast with 4 machines running 30 seconds apart going 80+mph facing into a hazy sun. A slight lapse in concentration and it could be over. In 2012, Shane Barber was leading his partner along the same conditions. At about 90mph, Shane hit a snow drift that he couldn’t see, bucking him off the sled, right into the path of his partner. Not seeing him in time, Shane was run over by his teammate at a speed in excess of 60mph. Shane suffered a broken leg and ribs, along with other internal injuries, a stark contrast to his running mate thinking he had killed him. Shane took a couple years off the race but is now back at it and as fast as ever.
Team 20 was caught on camera by Keith Manternach and John Woodbury and got some great aerial footage of the racers flying down the trail. The airplane has a ground speed of 122 mph, and you can get a feel for how fast the riders are pushing their machines.
Some great footage courtesy of – Keith Manternach & John Woodbury | Alaska SnowRider Magazine. #alaska #alaskalife #irondog #irondograce #irondog2016
Posted by Iron Dog on Wednesday, February 24, 2016
It looks like Southbound split-times are faster than their Northbound splits. So far, Team 8 was 17 minutes faster from Nome to White Mountain with a 75mph average, turning 1:04 on the clock. Team 6 Schachle/George made up two minutes on the leaders as they shaved the split down to 1:02. Minnick/Olstad of Team 16 put up 1:05 between checkpoints.
Picking up speed as they head south, Team 6 is making up time on the leaders for sure. It took them just over 3 hours to complete the first 250 mile section of the latter half of this race, averaging 92mph from Koyuk to Shaktoolik. I’ll type that again so it sinks in. 92MPH AVERAGE between Koyuk and Shaktoolik. 362 miles after the halfway point, Team 6 has whittled 10 minutes off the leaders.
One aspect of teams being bunched up closely together is the fact that they have to wait in line to fuel their machines. You can see from this photo that at least 6 machines are waiting to get fuel, which can negatively add valuable minutes to the racers time!
The winner of ‘fastest trail speed’ certainly goes to Josh Norum of Team 28, clocking in at a whopping 10,347MPH! The real-time GPS technology that has been integrated into the race has been fantastic for us to get a birds-eye view of where the racers are without waiting for dated reports from checkpoints. However, it isn’t without a glitch or two, as pictured below 🙂
The current red-lantern holders, Team 26, continue to stand their ground despite blow after blow of equipment troubles. On top of what they’ve encountered so far, they’ve now added a motor rebuild in Nome to the list of obstacles they’ve overcome. What a trip for Beech/Armstrong!
12 Teams have now officially scratched out of the race.
Arctic Cat – 5
Polaris – 5
Skidoo – 2
It seems that there have been a lot of reports of engine trouble with the Arctic Cat sleds. The rumor mill tells us that it may have been caused by a possible last-minute ECU issue that cropped up not long before the race. A few of the teams were hoping for a ‘re-flash’ of the ECU in Nome, which could certainly help the issue. Polaris is certainly not without their black-eyes as well with 5 teams scratching due to mechanical issues. So far the field of Skidoo sleds have been putting on an impressive showing
Team 5 had to call it quits shortly after leaving Nome. They reported a crank seal leak after Chvastasz blew a belt on his Polaris Switchback blew a belt, which got wrapped up behind the primary clutch.
The video clip below shows Team 9 getting a splash and go in Koyuk (south) along with an oil check before heading to Unalakleet. The first layover of 10 hours must be completed no later than Kaltag. The second 10 hour layover can be completed in either Galena or Ruby and ALL remaining layover hours must be completed before teams go to Tanana tomorrow.
Team 9Team 9 Koyuk SB gas and go to UNK. First LO of 10 hours must be completed no later than KAL. The second 10 hour LO can be done in GAL or Ruby. All LO must be completed before teams go to TAN tomorrow.#irondog2016 #irondograce #koyuk #alaska #team9
Posted by Iron Dog on Thursday, February 25, 2016
Not much action will happen in the next several hours as teams are burning off layover hours. Late this evening, the green flag will drop on the leaders and the race up the frozen ice will resume. We hope to update you early tomorrow if time permits. For now we will leave you with this amazing photo from Trevor Gridley Photography!
Update #6 Wrenching and Resting
As of 9:26AM on Wedneday morning, the entire fleet of Pro-Class Teams have made it to the halfway point in Nome, Alaska. Team 8 of Aklestad/Johnson on their SkiDoo sleds were first to pull into Nome, while Team 26 Beech/Armstrong arrived in Nome on their Arctic Cat’s 17 hours and 52 minutes later.
We interviewed Team 26 before the race and have been bummed to see them get hit with such a heavy dose of bad luck on the trail. Via the team’s Facebook, an update says:
Team 8 put up an impressive 1,108 mile run in just 14 minutes more than 21 hours. Literally the only way you could get to Nome any faster is by air. With an average of more than 50mph, these top few teams are really putting on a show.
11 teams have now officially scratched from the race. This is just over ¼ of the entire field of racers having to throw in the proverbial towel at only the halfway mark. I’m sure the level of disappointment is at an all-time high for some of these guys. We’ve talked about this before in our podcast, but preparations for this race last nearly a year, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and untold man-hours riding/practicing/wrenching/fixing/practicing some more, and the list goes on. These teams have sacrificed a lot physically, emotionally, and financially to run this race that almost only pays accolades and street-cred after you zero your balance with the winnings. Families all across Alaska (and beyond) have gone all-in for their racers and it’s important to keep recognizing these teams for their efforts, despite what has happened on this incredibly tough trail. I know I couldn’t do this race, and my hat is off to those who try. Well done, gentlemen.
Team 25 Bogert/Keim had to throw in the towel and gave us this information via their Team Facebook page:
Team 30 Crouse/Vaughn has had a heck of a run up to Nome as well, with a blown motor in Koyuk where they were able to get the machine back up and running right alongside Team 22 with the same issues. Both teams traveled to the halfway point together, but Team 30 encountered more engine trouble and towed into Nome where they will have to perform a second engine rebuild. These guys are certainly sticking it out and not giving up! Ryan Sottosanti and Micah Huss are performing the rebuild on Jerrod Vaughns Arctic Cat and after some time they suspended work where they appeared to have a team huddle and decided to take a break. For several minutes they looked concerned with what they were seeing which (pure speculation) could be rod bearing damage. At that time the new cylinders were still sitting to the side ready for installation.
Team 6 put tore into their sleds for a mere 7:13, which means their Skidoo’s were in great shape.
Team 6 tearing into their Ski-Doos
Posted by Iron Dog on Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Bobby Menne of Minnesota, the last minute fill-in racer gives us a bit of insight as to what a seasoned veteran rider who has never completed an Iron Dog race has to say about the degree of difficulty, danger, and mental toughness required for this event:
Team 4 performed maintenance in the shop for 22:30
Team 4 on the clock
Posted by Iron Dog on Wednesday, February 24, 2016
The race leaders performed a bit of maintenance on their machines and it looked like Tyler Aklestad (via the live feed) had something going on with his handlebars and/or brakes. He took a tumble and crashed about 25 miles from Nome, which apparently has damaged something on the sled. That said, the total repair/maintenance time was only around 9 minutes.
With both Team 20 and Team 10 having to perform complete engine rebuilds due to motor, the leaderboard leaving Nome is certain to change. These two teams estimated 1.5 hours of wrench-time if everything goes smoothly. These teams sit in positions 4 and 5, respectively, and when the lost repair time is accounted for, they will potentially leave Nome in positions 11 and 12 (not counting the other racers repair times). Team 20 is pictured here with a damaged piston. They were able to complete all the necessary repairs in 1:03:30.
7-time champion Scott Davis has this to say in an interview with KTUU’s Kari Bustamante:
Weather, equipment, and other factors mean nothing is for certain in the next leg of this race as the teams head up-river through the interior of Alaska, headed to Fairbanks. We’ll be updating you along the way.
Update #5 Race to Nome!
As of 3pm, Team 8 Aklestad/Johnson were a mere 50 miles from Nome, with nobody in the rear-view mirror. They could have towed the rest of that distance and likely still claimed the $10,000 prize for reaching the halfway mark before the rest of the pack. Johnson said the plan was to ‘Make everybody try to catch us. We don’t want to push our machines too hard, and we don’t want a chance of breaking something…’ It appears that their training run to Nome is certainly paying off. Teams 16, 6, 10, and 20 are still VERY much nwithin the realm of chipping away at this lead and with the race only halfway over, the fat lady isn’t even out of the dressing room yet. With an oft- battered coast to travel back down, miles of rough overland terrain, and a dash up the frozen interior rivers, anything could happen. With all that talk yesterday about the Polaris machines appearing to out-pace the ETEC motors in the SkiDoo sleds, it looks like the teams riding yellow are certainly holding their own, if not a touch faster on the coast. Obviously there are a ton of factors that can come into play when looking at GPS readings, but for now they’re absolutely flying. As far as happenings on the coast, it looks like Team 17 ran into trouble shortly after checking out of Unalakleet North. The team traveled about 5 miles and returned to the checkpoint. The tracker data told us that there was likely something wrong with Gueco’s sled as VanMeter was in the lead position and had to turn around to where his partner’s machine was stopped. As of 3:30pm they were back on the trail and whatever was ailing them before must have been sorted out. **Update: it has been confirmed that Gueco snapped a rear torque arm on his SkiDoo, causing them to turn around. So far we have had 8 teams scratch to include some front-running favorites such as Team 41 Davis/Simons and Team 2 Sottosanti/Zwink. The field of scratched sleds is split half and half between Polaris and Arctic Cat. The rumor mill is telling us that Team 41 blew the chain and gears on one of their Arctic Cat sleds, which took out the chaincase as well. They blew the motor and had a badly leaking oil injector. They scrambled to get parts and once they were off layover, they worked for 5 hours pulling and rebuilding the motor, sorting out the oil leak, and swapping the chaincase. In the end, they decided to throw in the towel and try it again next time. The team is very disappointed and an update from their Facebook page states: “Sad to say that team #41 had to scratch early this morning due to a couple of major mechanical issues. We all pulled an all-nighter trying scramble parts… But they decided it was best to bow out. These boys are tough and we’re supportive of all their efforts – good luck to all of the teams still out there! #irondog2016” We don’t have any concrete information as to what caused Team 2 to crash or what the condition of their sleds were in after they declared a scratch from the race, but all we have seen is that their team was looking for a coolant bottle for their Arctic Cat, hoping someone in McGrath would have one. The crash must have done enough damage to take out the coolant bottle underneath the hood of the machine. Coupling mechanical damage with maybe even a few bumps and bruises is likely what was causing them to travel at about half the speed of the front runners the previous day. Sottosanti is normally able to keep up with the fastest teams on the trail, so this is certainly out of character for them.
Team 28 heading to Nome
Posted by Iron Dog on Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Team 16, though in great positioning, was not without issues either. Sometime during the run North yesterday, their auxiliary LED lights quit working. This caused them to have to slow down significantly on the overland section between Kaltag and Unalakleet this morning. With all of today’s riding to happen in the daylight, it wasn’t much of an issue, but they lost a bit of time in the darkness of the early morning.
We mentioned it before, but Team 33 is still battling auxiliary LED lighting issues as well and have also experienced a Check Engine light come on mid-day yesterday on one of their Polaris machines. They are experiencing a random misfire followed by a bogging engine. It is clearing up for them but seems to be happening frequently. They will be getting assistance in Nome when they arrive to work on the clock which will allow them to hook up the Digital Wrench and see if they can pull the code and work out the issue. Our fingers are crossed for these boys!
You also saw a photo in Update #4 of Team 26 performing a track swap. Ryan Armstrong’s track shock broke in the rear suspension skid, which ripped the track on his Arctic Cat. Performing a track swap out in the snow is certainly no fun, but the warmer weather certainly made it happen faster. This team is good at wrenching and we hope they got it back together quickly.
Yesterday’s update was entitled ‘Speed on ICE’, but today’s update might as well be. John Dean had the SkiDoos of Team 21 flying up the Norton Sound between Shaktoolik and Koyuk earlier this morning. They AVERAGED 76mph for the 65 mile trip, which is very impressive.
If you were to look at Team 4’s, Thibault and Menne, Polaris machines (pictured below after over 600 miles), you wouldn’t think anything of it if someone told you they had just been pulled off of a trailer. These sleds are flawless and with some clean riding up toward Nome, they could very well be in a place to eke out some impressive positioning later in this race.
In spite of getting a bit of a break with their first run-in with equipment troubles, Chris Olds of Team 10 is getting another dose of bad luck as he has now snapped off his second primary clutch in under 1000 miles. The team made it to White Mountain and will tow to Nome in hopes of making repairs. From the looks of the photos it appears that the end of the crankshaft is actually still attached to the clutch, along with the bolt, which means a complete engine rebuild is in order if they have any hopes of continuing their race as no motor swaps are allowed during the Iron Dog as a rule. Nome may be the end of the road for Morgan and Olds. What is almost as equally impressive is that they were towing at 51.3mph coming around Cape Nome…that’s quick for towing a dead snowmachine! The rules state that the machine must leave a checkpoint under its own power and may not be towed from checkpoint to checkpoint. Reports are that Team 10 checked in and out of White Mountain under their own power, then returned to rope-up and head to Nome (video below)
Posted by Iron Dog on Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Nome the hard way
Posted by Iron Dog on Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Adding to the list of growing Polaris and Arctic Cat sleds that have called it quits, Team 30 Crouse/Vaughn have blown a motor on of their Arctic Cats, which is likely going to force them from the race as well. As of 7pm, they haven’t been put into the ‘scratched’ category, but we will see. On the Polaris side of this coin, Team 20 has towed a dead sled into the yard in Nome where we learned that Faeo is also suffering from a blown crankshaft. This year’s SkiDoo snowmobile is proving to be unbelievably reliable compared to the competition.
Just as a point of interest, here is what the Farewell Burn normally looks like for racers. They were blessed with a bit of snow cover over this section, which was likely well-received.
Teams will take a mandatory 24 hour rest in Nome in which they will spend it getting some much needed sleep, attending a racers banquet, and making the necessary repairs to their sleds before making the next 1,000 mile jaunt across much of Alaska on the way to Fairbanks. Stay tuned…
Update #4 Speed on ICE!
Speed, but not speed alone begins to separate the pack of Pro-Class racers in the 2016 Iron Dog. Speed, coupled with consistency is where you start to see teams create distance from each other.
McGrath looked like a snowmachine sales lot with all of the racers machines lined up in neat rows, staged in what is referred to as the ‘impound lot’, ready to be fired up and ridden on the merciless trail for several hundred more miles.
Overall the fleet of machines looked in as good of shape as you would expect for this far into the longest/toughest snowmobile race on earth, and some carnage certainly found its way into the races of a few teams.
Team 11 Palin/Barber ran into shock trouble yesterday when the cap of Shane’s sled came unscrewed. The team was able to get it back together and on the trail where they limped it to Puntilla and declared layover, waiting for the parts plane. Weather prevented the plane from delivering the parts and they were forced to limp the machine another 200 miles to McGrath where parts were waiting, burning up 6 hours of layover in the process.
We mentioned in the last update where Cody Barber of Team 14 ran across a tree in the trail just before Nikolai. The tree hit him in the face, knocking him off his sled, and the machine flew off into the trees, tearing off the whole front side of his Polaris. He was able to ride the machine without an entire right ski for 75 miles!
Team 39 had a similar fate, though we don’t know exactly what they hit to cause the damage.
Team 48 hit a rock coming out of Puntilla and forced them to make field expedient repairs to the upper/lower control arms of the machine. This is certainly what caused them to slow down for an hour or so yesterday during great daylight racing hours.
The aforementioned speed and consistency is what stretched Team 8 Aklestad/Johnson’s lead as they dashed for the coast, passing up what would have commonly been an 8 hour layover checkpoint.
Second out of McGrath today was Team 6 of Brad George (son of Iron Dogger Andy George, whom he raced with several years prior) and rookie racer Robby Schachle. Known locally as being a natural talent on anything motorized, and especially a sled, Robby is a rider who can take on a feat like this race nearly in stride. Just over two weeks ago, he flew to Michigan, climbed on a sled he had never seen before, made 300 out of the 500 laps in the I500, and boosted his racing partners positioning from 37th to 12th. The guy can flat ride, and these early stages of the race are proving this to be true.
Team 8 is ready roll out as the first team to leave McGrath. Departure time is 10:53:32 this morning.
Posted by Iron Dog on Monday, February 22, 2016
Team 33 Conner/Koontz ran into auxiliary headlight issues last night during the very dark and snowy conditions, forcing them to slow way down as it is easy to outrun your headlight without all the extra candlepower hanging off the cowling. Because of this, they were both a bit disappointed in their pace to McGrath but chose to slow the pace and preserve their sleds. Donald has also reported some center shock issues, which they plan on addressing in Nome. The next 90 miles of the race out of McGrath will be very rough on the Polaris Rush center shock, so we will see how that pans out.
It also looks like our boys in Team 26 Beech/Armstrong ran into some pretty serious issues as they are pictured below performing a track swap in McGrath. We hope to keep you updated on their situation as well.
An open water section downstream from Galena is forcing racers to take a detour of 25 miles overland instead of racing on the frozen ice of the Yukon River. This will greatly slow their pace as seeing speeds of 70 and 80mph is quite common on the river.
The flat and fast conditions that normally greet the racers is nothing to take lightly since conditions can change quickly, as proven by the video from Rebecca Charles showing a section of the river which appears to be a jumbled mess of broken ice chunks and shelf ice.
Although the Yukon River is generally flat and fast, there are intermittent sections of tangled ice. We are taking it super easy, but the pro guys will be flying through here!#irondog2016
Posted by Rebecca Charles on Monday, February 22, 2016
The speed of the Polaris Axys is on full display down the river this evening. The Polaris machines of Team 16 made up 6 minutes on the gap between them and Team 8 in just 60 miles. Todd Minnick’s Polaris pinged 93mph on the river while 83mph was the best GPS reading we saw out of Tyler Aklestad’s SkiDoo. The Polaris machines averaged 74mph for 55 miles between Ruby and Galena where the SkiDoo machines averages 71mph. This seems like a small gap, but over hundreds of miles, this means you can gain an edge where you might not have it on an overland trail.
The run up the Western coast of Alaska will be high speed. You can bet that you will see GPS readings near the 100mph mark for long stretches of time. The longer legs of the Polaris sleds are going to pay off for the teams riding that brand. (In practice, it was rumoured that the Polaris sleds of Team 16 had about 6mph over the SkiDoo’s of Team 8, which is proving to be the case in the race as well).
Just as I get done typing that, Tyson Johnson of Team 8 pinged an impressive 96.2mph! Short of some catastrophic crash or equipment malfunction, it appears that the dash up the coast is all but Team 8’s to lose.
For now it appears that teams will hole up in Kaltag for another 8 hour rest after a LONG day of riding. Weather appears to be mild for the racers this year, which I’m sure is a welcome experience after year’s prior fighting temperatures in the -40°F range!
It seems like it’s always something with this race, and the video clip below is no exception! WOW!
Snow…lots of snow. It’s odd that mentioning snow in a snowmobile race is significant, but this recent storm that rolled through much of Southcentral Alaska put an early twist on what is the usual pace and tempo of this race.
Just as the weatherman forecasted, the massive storm that was predicted hit the racers in full force as they neared the Puntilla Lake checkpoint. The average pace from the Happy Valley Gorge up to Puntilla was about 15 mph. The deep snow (much deeper than anyone had anticipated) and super rough trail was really taking its toll on how fast these guys could push their machines.
All of the front runners and most of the more experienced teams holed up at this checkpoint to wait out visibility. Strangely, many of the rookie teams pressed on, breaking through the fresh snow and packing a trail for the veterans, which was thought to give the more experienced teams an even bigger leg up on their less experienced rivals when they began again, but it looks like these teams traveled down the trail toward Rohn much faster than we had anticipated.
Looking at the split times, it was apparent why they holed up in Puntilla. These teams got pounded in the deep snow. Team 33 was nearly leading the pack, speed-wise, from Shell Lake to Puntilla. When Team 20 and Team 8 were going 10mph, Team 33 (Conner/Koontz) were quadrupling that speed at 40! As mentioned previously, starting at the rear of the pack was initially looking to be a disadvantage. With the big snow-load through the pass, it is apparent that being a ways back actually helped. This goes to show you that you can never tell with this race!
I got word via satellite text from Kyle Conner of Team 33 that ‘We get done with our 6 hour at 10:14 here in Puntilla. We took it here with about 20 other teams because of bad visibility and 18” of fresh powder on the trail. There should be a good trail now since a few teams went through’
Here’s a quick video of what the racers didn’t have to encounter since Mother Nature covered much of this nastiness with a fresh blanket of snow via trail class racer Rebecca Charles.
This is the burn and “the glacier”… one of my favorite spots on the trail. A neat little climb up a glacier in the middle of the Farewell Burn. #irondog2016
Posted by Rebecca Charles on Sunday, February 21, 2016
Rainy Pass Lodge is not a big place. They have room for roughly 20-30 guests and half of those rooms are probably full with race spectators. Its guessed that a lot of the guys crashed out on the floor for a few hours to try and pass the layover time before jumping on their sleds for a night ride up the trail. All teams must take 30 hours of layover on the way north between Big Lake and Nome. Layovers can be as short as 6 hours and as long as 14 hours. Once you pull into a check point and declare a layover you are not allowed to even touch your sled. You cannot tip it over or even raise the hood to look at a drive belt. Touching the sled is a time penalty or possible disqualification.
One of our race informants heard from the wife of Jerrod Vaughn (Team 30) that the blizzard was ‘really bad’ and the trail had ‘deep snow and huge holes’. The trail was described as a ‘stuckfest for 20 miles’.
From Puntilla Lake to Rohn is approximately 60 miles. Teams pushed through Rohn and it appears that most of the teams went directly to McGrath and have declared an 8 hour layover. Here’s a photo of the Rohn Roadhouse. You can see that it is not very large to accommodate racers and/or volunteers.
Second to arrive in McGrath was Team 14 Barber/Lapham. Here’s a video of Brett Lapham describing what they encountered on the way to McGrath.
Posted by Iron Dog on Monday, February 22, 2016
Team 36 Folsom/Conlon were the first team to arrive in McGrath. From the video, it appears that they seem happy with their decision to push on and also mentioned Team 14’s issues with Cody Barber’s mishap with the tree across the trail.
Posted by Iron Dog on Sunday, February 21, 2016
He also confirms that there was snow (although a ton of ice as well) across the Farewell burn, which was a stark contrast to last year where teams went dozens upon dozens of miles across open tundra.
Team 36 first in to McGrath.
Posted by Iron Dog on Sunday, February 21, 2016
Team 10 Update: Morgan/Olds took their 6 hour layover in Skwentna and were able to get their busted clutch off and install new parts. They made it to Puntilla before all the other teams got off their 6 hour layover. This meant that team 10 was leading the pack at that time through Ptarmigan Pass headed to Rohn. They managed to put a little distance between themselves and Faeo/McKenna. Without the broken clutch, they would’ve been in the same deep-snow stuckfest that everyone else had been…blessing in disguise?
Here’s a quick before/after from a gear drying rack that was erected for the racers. McGrath knows a thing or two about what the racers need at this point on the trail!
Team 49 Update (via Facebook): Klint crashed pretty bad. Kris towed him and his machine to Deshka Landing where they thought they could take his sled home from and work on it. After talking to the Race Marshall there (who said they had to tow back to the Big Lake checkpoint if they needed to wrench) and Klint had recovered from the crash enough, they decided to run back to Big Lake to see how the sled ran enroute and then try to fix the bent sled there. When they got back to the river they decided to continue on to the Skwentna checkpoint instead of Big Lake. Klint’s sled needs some work but apparently they decided to work on it at the Skwentna checkpoint and try to make up time lost. So. There you go – they are back in the race.
Advance reports from trail class racer Rebecca Charles say that the river run from McGrath to Ophir is excellent and that from Ophir to Poorman it starts to get a bit choppy. Rebecca reports that from Poorman all the way to Galena is smooth with only about 20 miles that is a bit of rough ice.
Here’s another quick vid of her ‘fast and fun’ run on the Yukon River. Pro-class teams will be hot on their heels on this same portion of the trail very soon.
Update #2 They’re OFF!
Butterflies had to be fluttering in the stomach’s of the racers as they waited in the chute for their turn to leave the starting line. Every two minutes a team left the chute until all 41 teams were on their way.
Annnnnnd they’re off!!! Praying for a safe and fast race for all these guys! Let’s go team 33! #irondog2016
Posted by Iron Dog Team Conner/Koontz on Sunday, February 21, 2016
It appears that it hasn’t taken long for the proverbial cream to rise to the top as Team 20, defending champs Faeo/McKenna are out front, taking names almost immediately. They started in 6th position and quickly worked their way to the front of the pack.
Team 4 of Anchorage’s Dan Thibault and Minnesotas Robert Menne are appearing to have no trouble keeping pace with the fastest riders around as well. Thibault’s original partner Marcus Jensen hurt his back some time ago and was not recovering fast enough to commit to the race. Thibault was looking for a new partner and after speaking with Cory Davis, he was informed of a racer out of Minnesota who might be up for the task. Eight hours later Menne was getting picked up from the Airport with a ticket to Nome in his pocket. This team will be interesting to watch as they have made some 11th hour changes that hopefully pan out.
The leading teams were already to the second checkpoint just before 1pm and over the next 60 miles they will climb up through the Alaska Range until they reach Puntilla Lake. This is where the trail is going to get very rough and racers will have to fight a tight trail littered with trees close to the trails edge. Even a slight lapse in concentration can mean serious equipment damage if a racer makes an error hitting a rock, tree, frozen ground, etc.
Arctic Cat team 41 Davis/Simons are running faster than anyone else on the trail at that time with maybe the exception of Team 8 Aklestad and Johnson. Team 8 started in 28th position and they have whittled it all the way down to 15th place so far.
While the front of the pack sets a blistering pace across some of the roughest terrain Alaska has to offer, there are already several teams that appear to be in big trouble. Shortly after 1pm, it appeared that Team 49, who left the gate in 2nd position were nearing the back of the pack. In fact, it appeared that they were headed East back toward the highway. This is not a good sign and they might already be in a position of scratching since the speed of which they are traveling might indicate towing a dead snowmobile. If this is true, it means that half of the Yamaha and half of the 4-stroke entries are already done only 2 hours into a 7-day race. On the same token, Team 18 Cruise/Pomrenke started in 4th position and appeared to be slightly off course, losing time, and may have been a bit lost on the trail, losing positioning. Team 12 slowed to a crawl at about 1:15pm and at that time had lost positioning all the way to 40th place. While front-runners were going up river at 65mph, this Arctic Cat team was traveling at 15-17mph with the GPS markers stacked on one another…also indicating a possible towing situation.
In a strange turn of events, Team 10 Olds/Morgan call for a layover in Skwentna, much too early. In a Facebook video below, Chris Olds is seen talking to a spectator about an apparent clutch issue. He says the whole inside sheave of the clutch blew apart. They are now hoping to get the old clutch off the crankshaft without the proper clutch puller or any way of holding onto it. I hope to get more updates on this situation soon.
Posted by Iron Dog on Sunday, February 21, 2016
Rebecca Charles has been posting great updates as one of the racers on the Trail Class who left the starting gate a day before the pro-class teams. They ran into issues where one of their team hit a rock and badly damaged one of the front shocks and upper/lower control arms. Here’s a great video of their parts plane dropping them fresh parts…Iron Dog style! 🙂
Update #1 (Pre-Start Info)
Low snow…it seems that everyone who stumbles into a conversation about ‘The Longest, Toughest Snowmobile Race on Earth’ at least mentions the lack of snow. Along with this are the seemingly more common warm temperatures, the on-and-off rain throughout the winter, and just overall goofy conditions to be running a 2,000 mile race on machines designed for conditions much different than what almost everyone in Southcentral Alaska is experiencing. The good news? There’s snow out there, and racers will encounter all the tough trail conditions that they seem to year after year.
The ceremonial start of the 2016 Iron Dog was completed yesterday in downtown Anchorage. Pro-class teams ran from 4th Avenue for about 20 miles until they reached Eagle River. Once they arrived, racers loaded up their sleds and scrambled to get to their respective garages/workstations for last minute wrenching and machine preparations before the official re-start this morning in Big Lake, which is about 60 miles North of Anchorage, and 10 miles north of Wasilla.
This years’ class of racers is littered with familiar names, past champions, and teams that, given some luck, could pull off some amazing positioning once they cross the finish line. As far as what these guys are riding, here’s the breakdown:
19 Polaris Teams
12 SkiDoo Teams
8 Arctic Cat Teams
2 Yamaha Teams
Pictured below is Team 8 leaving the starting line in Anchorage yesterday. Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson are always a team worth watching. After an unfortunate engine failure VERY near the start line in the 2015 race, they were forced to scratch almost before they even got started. This year they are sitting on THOUSANDS of practice miles and have even made a practice run to Nome about two weeks ago, which could be a massive advantage over the rest of the crowd, since most of the racers do training runs only several hundred miles in. Word on the street is this duo ran into a few motor issues on their practice sleds, so let’s hope they aren’t plagued with equipment troubles again this year.
Todd Palin’s 1995 Polaris Indy 500 that he won the Iron Dog with that year is pictured below. This tired iron has over 5000 miles on it and has been ridden regularly for the last 21 years. What a testament to a tough sled! Todd Palin is running with partner Shane Barber this year and are expected to do very well. In the world of sports, Palin is getting long in the tooth at 51, but if last years’ runner up, Scott Davis, has anything to say about that, being mid 56 didn’t mean much of anything. This team is running new Walker-Evans shocks this year and seem to have things dialed in.
Team 10 of Chris Olds and Mike Morgan should be a couple of household names for anyone who has followed the race in the years past. It might be safe to say that these two have an excellent chance at the podium this year. Olds and Morgan are fast, yet conservative riders, which can be a tough combo to pull off, but they seem to do it beautifully. Team 10 is also running the same shock setup as Team 11.
It’s no secret that Kyle Conner and Donald Koontz of Team 33 are one of our favorites. With 2,500 or so practice miles in their quiver, they should have all the kinks worked out and with a decent run are hoping for a solid top 10 position after crossing the finish line in Fairbanks.
Son of the aforementioned Scott Davis, Cory and his racing partner Ryan Simons are at it again this year on their Arctic Cat sleds. Team 41 was forced to scratch after Unalakleet South in the 2015 race due to engine troubles after what I remember to be a possible water ingestion into the motor on the way North toward Nome. This year brings them back to the start line but not with a ton of miles this year. Cory Davis is said to have around a total of 150 cross-country miles, and Ryan Simons says he has even fewer. This lack of trail time this year could certainly put a hamper on them but these two aren’t new to this. Last year, Scott Davis didn’t decide to run the race until roughly two weeks before the race began…and finished second. It will be interesting to see what Team 41 has in store this year.
Returning champs Scott Faeo and Marc McKenna will be riding their ‘white lightning’ Polaris Axys sleds toward Fairbanks and are reported to have a HUGE number of practice miles this year. Their machines are said to be ‘dialed in’ and along with a great starting position, this team has another strong chance of winning, short of something drastic happening on the trail.
Speaking of the starting order, this year it may mean more to the racers than in previous races. There is not much snow on the trail in the first 90 miles, as everyone well-knows. By the time the teams make their way past Skwentna and start to gain elevation into the Alaska Range, the snow gets deep. The trail is well broken and the trail-class teams have already passed through this area, but by the time the first 40 or so teams get through with fast spinning tracks complete with metal racing studs, it’s going to get rough…quickly. The 60 miles from the second to third checkpoint is already the biggest ‘whoop’ section anyone has ever seen. It has been reported that it’s 60 miles of 4 foot whoops (abrupt up/down hills in the trail).
It’s warm and a bit sloppy for the re-start in Big Lake…stay tuned for more updates and info!