Alaska gets set to go to the dogs this week. Iron Dogs, that is. The 2017 Iron Dog race starts February 19 on Big Lake, following a ceremonial start the day before in Anchorage. One of the faces of the 70 drivers is very familiar to race fans. Former Alaska First Gentleman Todd Palin is braving the elements once again. The four-time Iron Dog champ is teaming up with Eric Quam in hopes of conquering one of the most challenging events in all of sports.
Palin and Quam comprise Team #20. Both men will ride a 2017 Polaris Switchback Assault. Both snowmachines will be emblazoned with a very familiar logo, compliments of the team’s top sponsor. That sponsor is sure to bring a smile to the face of Palin’s wife, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and freedom loving Americans everywhere. Team #20 has the backing of none other than the National Rifle Association.
Winning or even placing in the Iron Dog always comes with a handsome reward. In this edition, a purse of $250,000 doles out $145,000 in cash to the top five finishers. The champs take home a cool $65,000, with second and third grabbing $35,000 and $20,000 respectively. This year there’s also an added bonus. Fast cash for being fast. Alaska Directional has contributed $5,000 to the 2017 installment of the Iron Dog. The first tandem to make it to the first checkpoint earns that prize. That first checkpoint is in Skwentna, around 90 miles from Big Lake.
The Palin-Quam ticket will battle thirty-four other teams, including the defending champions, Tyson Johnson and Tyler Aklestad. Palin and Quam also know a thing or two about winning it all.
Both Palin and Quam have tasted victory in this race. Palin is a four-time champion. Quam won it twice. But they’ve never captured the crown together. The two did team up in 2011, taking second place in a thrilling finish. Now these experienced racers hope to be top dogs as a duo.
Just finishing this race at all is a feat. The Iron Dog leaves its mark on man and machine alike. There’s no discrimination during the 2,031 miles of twists, turns, and often treacherous conditions.
Participation in this year’s race is particularly impressive from a Palin standpoint. Less than a year ago, Palin was involved in a serious snowmachine crash. His injuries included multiple broken and fractured ribs, a broken shoulder blade, a broken clavicle, knee and leg injuries; and a collapsed lung. He was put in intensive care. Palin didn’t return home until multiple surgeries were performed.
They grow ’em tough in Alaska though, so despite that near fatal accident, Palin is back on the dog for the 24th time.
“I’m excited about this year’s race for a number of reasons,” Palin said. A new snowmachine model that no one else is riding, a new partner, and frankly a new lease on life to name a few.
Expect Mr. Palin to have plenty of support as he embarks on this wild journey this weekend. Every year he is cheered on by Sarah Palin, his parents, his children, and lately, even his grand children. After all, Palin’s been at this since Bill Clinton was creeping around the White House. Todd and Sarah Palin are the parents of five children and now they’re grandparents as well, but back when Todd started his first Iron Dog they only had two kids, Track and Bristol. Willow, Piper, and Trig, as well as the grandkids have grown up with the remarkable event. The backing of his family has driven Palin in this endeavor. When the race gets its most grueling, Palin leans on his family inspiration.
The Iron Dog has plenty of history with the race beginning back in 1984. It also has a history of taking its toll on those brave enough to brave it. The route stretches from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks.
“It’s just a brutal, brutal race,” Palin said. “It includes some of the toughest terrain in the state.” Not only do the high priced, state-of-the-art snowmachines have to be maintained, but the athletes in the race have to take care of their bodies as well. “It’s a fine line of how to dress,” said Palin. “Over-dress and you start sweating, and that gets you dehydrated. You can leave Big Lake at 40 degrees above and arrive at McGrath and it’s minus 15. You have to expect everything and anything.”
That’s exactly what we are expecting. Blizzards, pitch blackness, frozen rivers, and wild animals will all likely play a part. The racers will attempt to maintain their snowmachines by repairing shocks, tracks, and engines along the way. At the same time they’ll try to stay healthy physically and mentally.
The Iron Dog and snowmachine racing in general may not sound too attractive to many in the contiguous 48 states, but for Alaska men and women this race and this sport are revered. The Iron Dog is tough, honest, and unique. Just like the people entered in it–just like those who call the Last Frontier home.
The 2017 Iron Dog has all the makings of an exciting one. And remember, there’s that added prize this year at the first checkpoint, so look for the thirty-five teams to punch it right out of the gate. We know Todd Palin certainly will.
Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla