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Iron Dog Pro Class takes off from Wasilla with rookies making up more than half the field

The teams left for a ceremonial start at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla, with flag drops from Gov. Mike Dunleavy to signify the ceremonial start.
Published: Feb. 20, 2022 at 10:43 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Many of the 29 pro class teams of two competing in the 2022 Iron Dog know what they are getting into for the next week ahead as veterans. However, 31 riders — more than half of the competitors — have yet to face the challenge that is dubbed ‘The World’s Longest, Toughest Snowmobile Race.’

The teams left for a ceremonial start at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla, with flag drops from Gov. Mike Dunleavy to signify the ceremonial start. Teams then cruised to Big Lake where the timed race actually began. However recent rain and warm weather led officials to change course at the start of the race.

“There has been a lot of anxiety, there has been a lot of prep work and the emotional rollercoaster is just incredible,” Team 38 rookie Dan Zimmerman from Nisswa, Minnesota said. “Especially being not familiar with the area and big Alaska is kind of intimidating to me, but I have met some really awesome people, I just love your state.”

Zimmerman teamed up with fellow rookie Jeff Stoll of Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the race and mentioned the phrase ‘bucket list’ when responding to why he signed up, as did fellow rookies Tad Covault of Team 18 and Matt Piatt of Team 22.

“I wanted to do it for years and years so, just finally had the means to put it all together and found a partner to do it and here we are,” Covault said.

Covault is from Soldotna, and teamed up with another rookie in Jesse Bradley of Willow. Piatt is racing with teammate Greg Strohmeyer of Wasilla.

“A good friend of mine I grew up with, he talked me into it and it and it has kind of always been on the bucket list and he did it last year, it was his first year and yeah, so pretty much he got me fired up for it and decided let’s do it.” Piatt said.

Chris Collins and Douglas Wicken of Kotzebue on Team 12 are riding for suicide prevention and awareness.

“Everybody is just like on edge and at 100 but once you get off Big Lake, then it’s a sigh of relief and its just back to business as usual,” Collins said.

Months of preparation are necessary before even reaching the starting line and once the thumb hits the throttle, there is no turning back.

“The reroute we had to come up with yesterday,” Iron Dog Executive Director Bob Menne said after teams left Wasilla. “We pre-ran the course out to Big Lake and there was just too much water on Lucille Creek. It was two feet deep in some spots and it was actually flowing like a stream so we had to throw an audible and we are going to haul all the sleds out there and they are going to restart right by the lake, okay. So we just couldn’t have sent everybody out there, it wouldn’t have been safe.”

As teams arrive at the McGrath checkpoint Saturday night, the nerves have abided and it is time to enjoy the rewarding parts of the 2,645-mile journey across Alaska.

“When you see all of these little elementary sized kids on the side all waving and getting through the villages and stuff that is the best part because they are all like ‘yeah!’ and they’re out there at 10 below 20 below doing that for us so yeah its amazing.” Collins said.

Teams are required to take a 10 hour layover in McGrath before continuing on to Nome. The 2022 Iron Dog race can be tracked here.

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