NASCAR’s biggest race turned out to be a wild one on Sunday, as multiple crashes played a major role at the Daytona 500. If you can’t wait another week until more racing action, there’s another race underway in Alaska right now.
This one however, is a bit different. While NASCAR drivers did have to deal with a bit of wind in Florida, those racing from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks will face not only wind, but very likely blizzards, pitch blackness, frozen rivers, and wild animals.
This, ladies and gentleman is the annual Iron Dog.
The Iron Dog is a grueling snow-machine race that has been stealing the show in Alaska since 1984. Todd Palin, former First Gentleman of Alaska is competing in the race for a 25th time. The event is rough on man and machine. The fact that Palin has won the race on four occasions is impressive.
“You have to expect everything and anything,” Palin told Breitbart Sports. “It’s brutal.” The toughest terrain in the state can be found along the Iron Dog route. Racers need to take care of themselves while also keeping their pricey snow-machines in shape. Many of the teams that start the big race fail to finish. Temperatures that can range from 40 above to well below zero can take a toll.
The most common issue is suspension problems. Extreme cold makes everything brittle. Combine that with excessive abuse and the additional weight from gear, and parts begin to fail. Some will run out of fuel.
Racers encounter diverse geography and varying weather conditions. While the Iron Dog and snow go hand-in-hand, there are large open plains with little or no snow. There’s one stretch where the trees are so close that a racer might only be able to see about ten feet ahead. Elsewhere, ice slides must be climbed. Strong side hilling skills are required to get through this big dog.
The 2018 edition of the Iron Dog is underway with just under 30 teams participating. Each team consists of two racers. Palin is teaming once again with Iron Dog vet Shane Barber. To become a veteran of this race you must complete the full course. A racer is considered a rookie until reaching the finish line. Team #11 (Palin-Barber) began their latest quest for the title Sunday, embarking on a monster ride of twists, turns, and treachery that spans 2,031 miles.
Palin’s wife, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was there to see Team #11 start their journey. Some of the Palin kids were on hand as well. The family has been known to enthusiastically support Todd Palin at the start, and at the finish line each and every year.
Todd Palin’s continued participation in this iconic race is something that was put in major jeopardy in 2016. Palin suffered severe injuries in a serious snowmachine crash in March of that year. Amazingly, he recovered enough to get right back on his snowmachine for last year’s race and now again in 2018.
To reach that finish line, teams will have to tackle weather conditions and repair shocks and engines. It’s a new adventure from checkpoint to checkpoint. But, Palin’s been here before. He knows what it takes to not only finish, but to win this lengthy contest. 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.”
They’re off! It will surely be a wild week. The world’s longest, toughest race wraps up 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