Eighteen Pro-Class Iron Dog teams are still in the running for the top prize, as they make their way back toward Big Lake with the addition of the Kotzebue Loop. Amidst pandemic issues, an alternate course, a lack of layover options, and rule changes, what may be the most difficult thing to get your head wrapped around for the 2021 Iron Dog might be...'Who is actually winning?!' As I touched on yesterday, the rule that seems to be adding a bit of confusion is, the ability to add layover time to the mandatory 24-hour already in place. This means that, while these teams might be eating each others snow racing so closely, there might be a few hours of trail time separating them according to the race clock. Although not physically arriving first to Nome, Team 6 George/Schachle had the fastest course time between Big Lake and Nome. Courtesy of the Nome Lions Club this awarded them a $5,000 cash prize. Each racer received a second COVID test upon arriving in Nome, which was the first sign of a very different feel. Usually in Nome there is a whirlwind of activity at the 'halfway point' for these teams. In previous years, the streets would be packed with cars, hotel rooms fully booked, friends and family of each team interacting with each other, overall a buzz of excitement surrounding this event. This year, racers were met with a cordoned off garage, no additional outside help (though teams can choose to assist another team) for making mechanical repairs, and very strict protocols regarding outside interaction between basically anyone in the village and the individual racers. The Nome garage is the first and only time that racers are allowed a short 15-minute inspection of their machines which is granted to them 'off the clock'. Teams utilize this time to thoroughly inspect their machines, void of ice and snow, for loose bolts, worn, or cracked parts. They then make a game-plan for what might be obvious and known damage a well. Sometimes parts are on-hand, and sometimes racers have to 'make due' with what is available or prioritize one fix over another. The photo below, courtesy of Kyle Conner: Team 30 shows what a typical 'once-over' might consist of for a machine enduring the longest, toughest race of its kind: A few of the Facebook fan pages associated with the teams are posting what translate to some pretty clean racing. Not much time is needed for repairs/maintenance in the garage: -Team 5 used just a scant 3 minutes 38 seconds! -According to Team 30's post: 'BIG THANKS to Team 49's Klint VanWingerden & Andrew Gumley for their help on Team 30's wrenching. Blake and Kyle clocked in at 10 minutes and 9 seconds of active work time on their sleds in the Nome garage, which will be added to their overall course time'. -Team 21, the Hale brothers, are putting up an exceptional race so far this year. Isreal Hale is the first-ever double amputee racing in the Pro-Class. They are running a clean race as well reporting that they have only broken one ski and will only require some minor preventative maintenance in Nome. -Team 10 Morgan/Olds, who were the 2018 and 2019 champions, clocked in 7 minutes and 37 seconds for repair time. -Team 14 Boylan/Leslie clocked a wench time of 5:44 which consisted of 'No major issues, just tightening of bolts, seat change, and ski change.' -Team 49 Gumley/VanWingerden added 13 minutes and 22 seconds to their trail time. Team 30 returned the favor and assisted in these repairs. Racing will resume early Wednesday morning as the field departs Nome with the next breather available in Kotzebue as everyone will be required to take another 10-hour layover at this checkpoint. It will be a chilly day for racers as the forecast for this part of the state hovers around 25° below zero with winds from 10-25mph.