Last year, Scott Faeo became the first “second-generation” winner of the Iron Dog, following in the footsteps of his father, John Faeo, who won the first-ever Iron Dog back in 1984 (the elder Faeo remains to this day one of the winningest Iron Doggers in history with victories also in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1996).
And so, like the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with names such as the Mackeys and Seaveys, a tradition is born in Iron Dog, with its Faeos and Davises.
“Having our first ‘second-generation’ champion ushers in a new era of an Iron Dog that begins to resemble other world-class events with a rich history such as NASCAR,” said Iron Dog executive director Kevin Kastner. “I believe it illustrates that Iron Dog has staying power, a rich culture of competitors and a bright future that is learning to celebrate its past.”
With such a rich past this year promises to be one of the more nail-biting races ever, as the quest for race dominance continues. Scott Faeo will be pursuing yet another win, pairing up this year with four-time champion Marc McKenna. Cory Davis, son of Scott Davis, who shares the distinction of being a seven-time champion alongside John Faeo, will be champing at the bit as well.
“It is a little pressure,” Faeo acknowledged of this year’s race. “But last year was as tough as it gets, because there was a lot of pressure with Scott (Davis, who was trying for win No. 8). It’s hard, but it’s also a good thing. I kind of take that stuff and feed off of it.”
The action all begins in downtown Anchorage, Saturday, Feb. 20 – although there are plenty of chances to meet the racers beforehand, such as at the Safety Expo on Wednesday, Feb. 17. This year’s field includes 41 teams, including 45 veterans and 37 rookies. They are representing the manufacturing field, with the largest percentage racing Polaris, followed by Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat and Yamaha. They come from the city streets of Anchorage to the far-flung Bush communities in Alaska to the northern reaches of the Lower 48 states.
Anchorage will surely be bustling. After the influx of spectators and fans last year, businesses are gearing up for an exciting day.
“We’re planning to work with a few key partners to help get the word out to the Anchorage businesses who could benefit from our events,” Kastner said. “The most notable who helped us previously are Visit Anchorage, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, EasyPark, Alaska Mint and our amazing volunteers who will be canvassing the area to get local businesses up to speed on the events for 2016.”
Those who want to glimpse the racers as they gear up can wander the downtown streets, snap selfies, look at gear and learn more about what it really takes to race from Anchorage to Nome to Fairbanks in one piece. It’s the perfect place to pick racers’ brains and wish them luck, too – because in any given year, anything can happen. The race changes constantly – the weather, the sleds, even the team pairings.
This year’s racing lineup is indeed a shakeup from last year’s race roster. Champions Faeo and Eric Quam, who busted out a 41 hour, 46 minute, 52 second win last year, won’t have a chance to repeat the effort together. Faeo will be riding with McKenna; Quam is not racing.
“Eric (Quam) was wanting to retire and we were having the big banquet and Marc and Eric are good friends,” Faeo said of last year’s awards reception. “Eric was totally committing to not going, and him and his wife were saying I should go with Marc.”
In the end, Faeo said, everything just worked out. With Quam retiring and McKenna’s last partner, Allen Hill, planning to sit the 2016 race out, they agreed to combine their winning ways for a bid at 2016.
“It was kind of a good chance for both of us to try it out,” Faeo said.
Other changes include longtime frontrunner Todd Palin, who is racing with Shane Barber (who paired with Ryan Sottosanti last year) instead of Tyler Huntington, who also is not racing this year.
Some teams, however, decided to stick with what works. As Rookies of the Year in 2015, Cody Barber and Brett Lapham (racing as Team 14 in 2016) decided if it wasn’t broke, they wouldn’t try to fix it. The Team No. 39 duo placed fifth among the 20 finishing teams in a time of 46 hours, 13 minutes, 12 seconds in 2015 and were one of only two rookie teams to complete the race.
This year, the men are a little older, a little wiser.
“We are going to do what we did last year and maybe pick the pace up a little bit in spots,” Barber said. “But our plan is to go out, get a lot of training in and see what pace we are confortable riding at because every year is different.”
Other changes have been added to the 2016 race as well. For many years, the less competitive category known as the Trail Class also held its own race. Those teams, sometimes just two people but often being a caravan of up to seven or eight riders, leave a day earlier and finish their race in Nome.
All of that will remain the same, Kastner said, except for the name. Now the event is being called the Recreational Ride to put emphasis on the fact that it is most definitely not a race.
“The Iron Dog Board of Directors takes safety very seriously, as does the entire organization,” Kastner said. “In the past, some participants have stretched the boundaries of what was intended for the recreational rider by racing in an unsafe manner, at odd hours of the night. In an effort to further cement in the minds of would-be Iron Doggers that this event is not a race, we have changed a few things about the recreational ride to Nome along the Iron Dog/Iditarod trail.
“Using the term Recreation vs. Trail is a bit of psychology and being more literal about the intent of this class of events. The recreational rider is just that, a rider, not a racer.”
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