Local teams compete in 2019 Iron Dog
The 2019 Iron Dog Snowmobile Race blasts off from Deshka Landing at 11 a.m. Sunday, February 17.
Forty-eight pro-class two-man teams will contest the 2,000-mile race through wild, remote Alaska in the dead of winter. It is billed as “The World’s Toughest Longest Snowmobile Race.” It’s a test of machines and a test of men as well.
This year eleven racers are from rural Alaska, with five of those originating in Nome. Polaris, the snow machine ridden by last year’s winners, is the sled of choice for eleven teams this year. Nine teams are on Ski-Doos and four ride Arctic Cat. There are no Yamahas entered this year.
“We have reports coming in from one community with a huge amount of snow, another doesn’t have much, and it’s storming like crazy on the coast,” said John Woodbury, executive director of the race.
Of concern is open water on the Chena River right at the finish. “We’re hoping the Chena River gets a little harder. It’s pretty soft water right now,” said Woodbury. “If we don’t feel it’s safe we’ll pull them off the river early probably do a yellow flag finish. The open water swath I saw was about 200 feet. It’s not right in front of Pike’s. There are people riding the river and pulling up right at Pike’s where we want to finish. We have a little time still but by the 23rd we’ll make a decision whether to finish right at Pike’s or maybe several miles down the river. The open water is significant. There’s a lot of it. We can’t seem to catch a break with that water this year.”
But the snow cover through most of the trail is good.
Team 10 is last year’s winner. Mike Morgan, originally from Nome, and his partner Chris Olds are riding their eighth Iron Dog as a team. They are on Polaris Indy XC 600 snow machines. “We’ve got a lot of work this time because we’re on an all new sled from Polaris,” said Morgan in an interview with the Nugget last week. “Not all new, the rear half is new. It’s got an all new suspension on it. We have to start from a fresh sheet of paper now, figure out everything all over again. We’re constantly in communication with Polaris testing and working the bugs out of it.”
The team has put in 2,500 miles of training before the race this year.
Micah Huss and Wes Selby are Team 15. Huss grew up in Kotzebue and now lives in Big Lake and Nome. In the summer, he is an equipment manager for Bering Straits Native Corporation. Huss and Selby are an Arctic Cat factory team. This is Selby’s first ride in the Iron Dog. Huss finished third in 2017. Last year he wowed the Nome fans by rebuilding his engine in an hour and nine minutes in the Nome Public Works garage. This year they built the team’s four sleds at Thief River Falls in Minnesota and shipped them to Big Lake.
“Right now we’re just doing our last minute stuff, making sure everything is finalized,” Huss said over the phone Sunday evening. “We go through the under carriages one more time and then we Red Loctite them. After this time we won’t touch them again. Not until after the race, hopefully.” Red Loctite is a thread-locking compound, which keeps everything tight and where it’s supposed to be.
As Arctic Cat owns the clothing company Motorfist, that’s what they’ll be wearing in the race. Like all racers, bunny boots are the footwear of choice.
Snow conditions have been changing the past few days as storm after storm hits Alaska. Nome has been hit hard. A storm on Monday and Tuesday caused flooding of the river at Unalakleet, which may present a problem as Iron Dog teams come down the river from the Kaltag portage. “I’ve been keeping in touch with a lot of villages and we’ve found the whole state is. I hope it’s not like last year but it sounds like it is. With more snow comes bigger ditches, comes bigger bumps, comes deeper trenches. Suspension plays a very big role in that,” Huss said.
Team 25 is comprised of Nome’s Nicholas Reader, a rookie, and veteran Nikolai Dietrich of McGrath. They’re on Polaris machines. Reader is an operator for Q-Trucking and has an impressive track record in the Nome-Golovin race.
Team 35’s Michael Oliver was born and raised in Nome and is running as a rookie. His partner Jerrod Vaughn of Anchorage has run the race every year since 2013. They are riding Polaris Indy XC 600s. Oliver is a diesel mechanic at a Chevy dealer in Anchorage.
Team 42 is mostly from Nome. Jarvis Miller is born and raised in Nome and his partner Amos Cruise of McGrath has been worked as a gold miner in Nome. Their primary sponsor is Nome’s Wilderness Ski-Doo and they are riding MXZ –RS 600 machines. Miller is a heavy equipment operator for the Alaska Department of Transportation and was overall winner in last year’s Nome-Golovin race. Both Miller and Cruise are rookies in the Iron Dog.
One difference this year is the halfway celebration will be in the Mini Convention Center rather than at the Nome Rec Center. Race expenses are being tightened down. The start of the race was moved from Big Lake to Deshka Landing because of concerns about the safety of the ice following last November’s big quake.
Two Nomeites will be running in the Trail Class this year. John III and Brayden Bahnke, father and son, will ride Ski-Doos, although not identical sleds. John is on a Renegade X 600 and the younger Bahnke will ride a MXZ 600. Brayden is a student at Mt. Edgecumbe. John Bahnke III operates Wilderness Ski-Doo.