Past champions, podium hopefuls prepare for 2023 Iron Dog start
WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - A total of 25 teams prepared for the start of the 2023 Iron Dog Pro Class on Tuesday morning at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla. The teams lined up their snowmachines to go through a tech inspection and safety expo, as well as draw the racing order ahead of Friday’s start in Big Lake.
The 2,503-mile trek across Alaska is tabbed, “The World’s longest, toughest snowmobile race.”
“We’re all hanging out here getting to talk about trail conditions, what training woes we may have had,” said Tyler Aklestad of Team 7, the defending Iron Dog Champions. “It is a great opportunity for the comradery of the race to kind of start to come together as well as a little competitiveness (to start) amongst the racers. It is a great event and I look forward to this every year.”
Aklestad, alongside Nick Olstad, will be looking to repeat as champions, with some sweet-looking sleds hoping to carry them to victory once again.
”I think (our sleds) are definitely looking good,” Aklestad said. “If it’s a fashion contest, I think we are doing alright. Now, we just have to do the rest of the thing, put it together.”
Team 14′s Casey Boylan and Bryan Leslie are among the number of teams looking to dethrone Team 7. The team has run into some bad luck over recent years. Team 14 was leading the 2021 Iron Dog down the stretch before a mechanical issue set them back to a runner-up finish. Last year, the tandem was in second place before having to scratch in Nome due to injuries suffered by Leslie on the way to the halfway point.
”I think what a lot of people do is they take their race when they have a bad race, and reflect on it,” Boylan said at the tech inspection. “What we try to do is, when we have a good race, reflect on it. Yeah, the outcome wasn’t good, obviously being in that position and getting second isn’t great, but there’s a lot of things that we did right that year that we didn’t necessarily plan for.”
All Team 14 can do is dust themselves off and hop back on the sled, like Noorvik resident Jim Baldwin of Team 4. The 48-year-old is making his fourth attempt at completing the Iron Dog since 1999.
“I am going to finish, yep, I have already got my mind made up,” said Baldwin, who’s teamed up with fellow Noorvik resident Steven Williamson.
“A few nights ago when I was going to bed I thought about what happened last year, because last year we didn’t make it home,” Baldwin added. “We got up to Kotzebue but we didn’t make it to Noorvik. It kind of made me feel like I tucked my tail between my legs when I finally showed up to home after I had scratched, but I am excited to come through Noorvik.”
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