They’re off! Again! If you thought NASCAR’s Daytona 500 had its share of drama, the state of Alaska has a real racing treat for you this week. The world’s longest, toughest race has begun and for the 25th time, Todd Palin is one of the participants.
Instead of stock cars, those who attempt to tame the Iron Dog do so on snowmachines. The annual event is a grueling race that has been thrilling Alaskans since 1984. The First Dude, Todd Palin is back on the course looking for his fifth crown. The Iron Dog is tough on man and machine. Palin winning the race four times is very impressive.
While NASCAR drivers had to deal with a bit of wind during the Daytona 500, the snowmachine drivers who are heading from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks will also encounter wind. But unlike the stock car racers, the Iron Dog crew will also face blizzards, pitch blackness, frozen rivers, and wildlife. This race is as rough as it is unique.
“You have to expect everything and anything,” Palin said. “It’s brutal.” One of the most brutal aspects is the terrain. The toughest surfaces in the state can be found along the Iron Dog route. Racers must take care of themselves and maintain their expensive snowmachines if they hope to contend. Many teams will start the big race, but not all will finish it. Temperatures ranging from 40 above to well below zero take a toll.
Suspension problems are common. Extreme cold leads to brittle parts. That, mixed with excessive abuse and the additional weight from gear, translates into a recipe for parts failing. Other racers will run out of fuel.
The diverse geography and varying weather conditions encountered by racers will prove to be challenging. While the Iron Dog is mostly a snow event, there are also large open plains with little or no snow. There’s one stretch where the trees are so close together, racers might only have the benefit of ten feet of visibility. Elsewhere, ice slides must be climbed. Strong side hilling skills are required of the Iron Dog teams.
The 2018 Iron Dog is underway with just under 30 teams participating. Each team is made up of two racers. Palin is paired with Iron Dog veteran Shane Barber, a racer he’s worked with before. To become a vet of the race, one must complete the full course. A racer is considered a rookie until reaching the finish line even if he/she participated more than once. Team #11 (Palin-Barber) started their latest quest for a title Sunday, embarking on a monster trail of twists, turns, and treachery. The Iron Dog spans a robust, unpredictable 2,031 miles.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was there to see her husband’s Team #11 start their journey. The Palin family has enthusiastically supported Todd Palin at the start and at the finish line each and every year. Along with Governor Palin, a few of the Palin children were also at the starting line to wish their dad the best on Sunday.
Todd Palin’s continued participation in this iconic race is something that was put in jeopardy less than two years ago. Palin suffered severe injuries in a serious snowmachine crash in March of 2016. Amazingly, he recovered enough to get right back on his snowmachine for last year’s race and now again in 2018. Palin is Alaska tough, just like the Iron Dog race itself.
To reach that finish line, teams will tackle weather conditions and repair shocks and engines. It’s a different adventure from checkpoint to checkpoint. But, Palin’s been here before. He knows what it takes to not only finish, but to win this challenging ordeal. So how do you tame this dog? “You just have to have a clean run and you have to be steady,” Palin said. “Everything has to click.”
The 2018 Iron Dog finishes in Fairbanks on February 24th. We’ll find out then what team was able to click this time around.
Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla