2024 Iron Dog - Day 6 Update

Firstly, my apologies for not getting a Day 5 update.  Tough Alaska weather was 'enjoyed' all over the state yesterday which delayed some travel for both remote workers and Iron Dog racers alike.

Yesterday was the day teams tackled all the necessary repairs and maintenance needed to get their machines in race-worthy condition to tackle the remaining 1,000 or so miles back toward where they started, in Big Lake. 

Teams are allowed two additional people to assist in this endeavor.  Often family and friends fly to Nome to help with this but also teams in many cases lend each other a hand, despite being adversaries on the trail.  This is a tight-knit community and the camaraderie of the event is strong within this group.

All wrenching time is 'on the clock' meaning the total elapsed time spent repairing and maintaining the sleds is added to the trail time for the teams.  In the entire field of teams, there was only one instance where teams swapped place due to wrench time.  Team 26 (Gugel/Gossett) and Team 17 (Dohrn/Dohrn) swapped places on the leaderboard as Team 26 managed all their wrenching in just 6 minutes while the Dorhn brothers of Team 17 added 23 minutes to their course time.

Across the board, wrench time was as little as a scant 3 minutes for the front runners in Nome, Team 33, all the way to just under 34 minutes for Team 34.  Despite the racers traveling ~1,482 miles, this really isn't a lot of work that happened...very impressive.

A low cloud/fog blanketed the Nome area as teams began leaving at 8am this morning.  Only two prior champions are still in the running as Mike Morgan of Team 6 chases down his past partner Chris Olds, of Team 10 who was just one position ahead on the leaderboard.

Stats from the halfway point:

-18 of 23 Pro-Class teams still racing
-2 of 5 champions still in the running
-8 of 11 racers NOT from Alaska still racing
-5 of 5 rookies still racing
-13 of 16 Polaris teams still racing
-5 of 10 Skidoo teams still racing

Southbound along the coast of western Alaska was met with much improved weather conditions as racers enjoyed blue skies, a shining sun, and substantially less winds.  Not only is this just more pleasant physically, it eases a big mental burden of trying to see where you are going in flat light, drifting conditions, and generally not having good visibility while traveling 60-80mph.

The biggest news of the day was the unfortunate fire that Team 14 suffered at the White Mountain checkpoint.  The video below shows Casey Boylan, after he had completed refueling, idling his sled for several minutes while his partner Bryan Leslie began fueling.  Once he pulled his Polaris foward a few more feet you can see a fireball shoot out the bottom of the sled.  Race volunteers responded incredibly quickly and were able to continually fight the flare ups as the fuel reignited several times.

I've watched and rewatched this segment of the video many times and the only thing that makes sense is some sort of overflow vent that was mentioned by racers after the incident. 

A very small amount of fuel burped from the gas tank neck which was quickly wiped up with an absorbent rag by the checkpoint volunteers.  By all accounts it looked like this whole thing was no issue at all.


Quickly the team declared a short layover at the checkpoint where they took a rest and then had the opportunity to clean the fire extinguisher powder from the engine bay.  In all, it appears that this incident only cost the team about 20 total minutes, a far cry from what it could have been.  These guys are very fortunate.  As other race fans commented "Only in the Iron Dog can you be literally on fire one minute and going 77mph the next!"

Regarding layover strategy, teams are allowed UP TO 40 hours of layover time on the southbound portion of the course.  Teams declare layover times in 1-hour increments and will need to very craftily figure out when, or when not to, potentially give up a position on the leaderboard to let another team break trail, run in the daylight with good weather, or make any other pivot to give a slight edge.  Racers will more than likely rest in Unalakleet (263 miles from Nome), Kaltag (348 miles), or Galena (434 miles).  

Farther south on the trail, much of the area was hammered with a warm-temperature blizzard which blanketed parts of the Yentna river and surrounding area by up to 27" of very wet and heavy snow.  This fact may throw a significant wrench in the works regarding the aforementioned strategy. 

As of 4PM today, many teams are holed up in Unalakleet likely taking a rest before pushing farther inland and up the Yukon river where they will probably meet more and more accumulated snowfall on the trail according to weather reports. Most teams chose a few hour layover at UNK South and are preparing for a fast evening of running easterly toward Kaltag, but more than likely Galena. Update: Teams 10 and 6 have already passed Galena and are headed toward Ruby.

As the night wears on, more progress will be made as the front-runners might be playing rocks-paper-scissors to see who is going to be the bravest and break trail through the heavy snowfall on the trail.


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