1,089 miles into the worlds longest, toughest snowmobile race, the top six teams are still separated by less than one hour. The first team to check into the halfway point was Team 10, household names in this race, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds. Over the first half of the race from the start in Willow all the way to Nome, the team elapsed just over 21 hours of racing time and averaged 52 mph.
The stretch of the trail from Unalakleet to Nome is about 250 miles around and across the Norton Sound. This is typically a place where nasty storms cause all kinds of troubles for the teams. More often than not Irondog officials have had to alter the course or alter the race in this section of the course due to adverse weather or severely reduced visibility. In recent years the weather was so bad that all teams had to parade single file with no passing from Nome back to Unalakleet where the race was then restarted. Today, the Norton sound was beautiful. Race leader Mike Morgan was racing home today as he is from the city of Nome. Growing up, his parents owned a snowmobile dealership there. Being a local, he knows this part of the course better than anyone. That knowledge would really come in handy during a nasty storm. On a bright sunny day like today, the playing field is somewhat leveled.
Over the course of the next 42 minutes after the first team arrived in Nome, the top six teams also completed half of their race with Team 5 ticking off 21 hours and 45 minutes of overall time and averaging 50mph. It’s not often you have so many teams so close together. With the second half of this race consisting largely of flat and fast river running, fans and racers alike might be seeing this front running pack stay as close, or closer than they are now.
Yesterday we mentioned that Team 8 made up almost 30 minutes on the leaders, passing more than a half dozen teams along the way. Today, race officials have subtracted 20 minutes from Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson’s course time. The first ten minutes was awarded for rendering aid to the injured rider, Todd Minnick, who broke his leg in the collision. Johnson helped Minnick by riding double to the hospital in McGrath. The second ten minutes was awarded to Team 8 and also two other teams for a non-functioning fuel pump in Ophir.
As the teams left Unalakleet today heading to Nome, Team 8 was only 29 minutes out of the lead. 29 minutes is huge and almost insurmountable given the level of racers in this pack until you realize that Team 8 made up 30 minutes in one day and less than 450 miles. Racing is highly dynamic, and the Iron Dog is no different.
Clear weather, blue skies, and visibility perfect for running a sled at break-neck speeds for hours on end meant racers were doing just that. Hunched behind their windshields, these Iron Doggers had their throttles pushed as hard to the bar as they could, wringing out every single mile per hour they could out of their Polaris, Skidoo, and Arctic Cat machines pushing the speeds near the triple digits for hundreds of miles at a time.
After three days of racing action, teams will enjoy a mandatory 24-hour layover in Nome. Here they will be given a chance to work on their sleds performing repairs, maintenance, and hopefully ensuring their machines will race as well toward Fairbanks as they did toward Nome. A few teams have opted to take an 8-hour layover in White Mountain, as these teams had to secure their third mandatory layover on the northbound section of the trail.
We will offer a slight correction to the reporting on Team 15’s reason for scratching. Micah Huss first broke a front track shock south of Poorman. The team was able to remove the broken shock and continue racing. Roughly 30 miles outside of Ruby, the motor on Huss’s Arctic Cat sled started getting weak and blew up. After towing into Ruby, Team 15 decided that the motor was fixable but would need to tow another 60 miles to Galena for better access to tools and an overall better place to layover. After making this decision, they departed Ruby and got roughly 5 miles from the town where Selby’s sled met the same fate as his partners and the motor failed.
Team 44 towed into Unalakleet today and spectator Jeff Erickson reported that ‘Kyle said Mikes tunnel had damage and was leaking fluid.’ Coming off a snow drift, the machine landed with the rear of the sled impacting the hard snow first, folding the rear of the sled somewhat. The team made it to just outside of Kaltag before it was leaking coolant. They will be back on the clock at 8pm this evening and are determined to make it to Nome for more extensive repairs.
The video below shows a great aerial shot of Team 10 racing on ice just outside of Shaktoolik on the western coast of Alaska. The racers are blazing down the frozen beach and sea ice. This is a familiar location for Team 8 as several racing years ago Team 8 wasn’t as lucky and took a swim near this location.