Several small villages in Northwestern Alaska eagerly await the first Saturday in April every year to help with, spectate, participate in, and cheer on the racers of the Kotzebue 220 snowmachine race. The race begins on the sea ice in front of the town of Kotzebue and has only four checkpoints. After racers leave the starting line, they travel eastward through Noorvik, Kiana, Selawik, then back to Noorvik and Kotzebue where they cross the finish line.
More fondly called the Archie Ferguson & Willie Goodwin Sr. Memorial Race, this 220 mile dash for the cash has been an annual event for decades with the first winner being Langford Adams in 1969 with a course time of 8:07:17, averaging just over 27mph. Given good weather and decent racing conditions, riders complete this same course between 2 and 3 hours and can average speeds of nearly 90 mph!
Generally there is a large showing of participants and this year was no exception. 65 racers in the Kotzebue 220 paid their entry fees and lined up on the starting line. The total purse for the 2018 race was $40,150. Sponsored by the local Lions Club, the group is divided into A (open), B (600cc), and C (fan cooled) classes depending on what type of machine the racer decides to run, with the top 3 finishers in each class taking home a cash prize.
Racers mostly come from the surrounding communities, but with a tight racing community in Alaska, often you’ll see riders from hundreds of miles away join in the fun. Notably are familiar names from the Iron Dog snowmobile race, including this year’s third place finisher Nick Olstad. Coming into the Noorvik checkpoint in the lead position, Olstad stopped to get fuel, which is where his whole race nearly ended. It is suspected that the fuel neck on the gas tank was filling too quickly out of the fuel jug, preventing the tank to vent. This caused fuel to spill out over the machine, where it made contact with likely the hot exhaust pipe, sending both Olstad and the machine up in flames.
Video via Doug Wicken
Video via Eric L Newlin
Seeing these videos is a great testament to the volunteer crew and how well this race is organized. You can see that the flames were extinguished almost immediately and that Olstad also started the ‘stop, drop, and roll’ technique to begin extinguishing the flames that were on his own body as well. Olstad was able to finish the race, but was no longer in prize contention after his harrowing ordeal.
The 2018 Iron Dog winner Mike Morgan was also a participant in the race and you can see him fighting for positioning against fellow racer Jarvis Miller thanks to this video posted on 907 Channel’s Facebook page.
After a day of racing, community involvement, a few safety scares, and a crowd of Alaskan’s enjoying some amazing springtime weather, a dozen racers left with cash or prizes to round out the day. A photo of the Kotzebue 220 race results can be seen below and be sure to check out the public photo album on Facebook as well.