Team #8: Aklestad/Johnson

The 2021 Iron Dog is slated to begin in two weeks out of Big Lake, Alaska. Although the race route has been slightly adjusted and COVID-19 precautions put in place, the world’s longest snow machine race will come to Nome as the usual halfway point.

23 teams are currently entered in the Pro Class, including the Nome duo of Jarvis and Jordan Miller. They are joined by reigning champs Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad, as well as previous winners like Mike Morgan, Chris Olds, and Todd Palin.

Also registered to race are the Hale brothers who are rookies in this year’s pro class, but winners of last year’s recreation class.

“The teams will only have air support available to them from Big Lake to McGrath, that’s on the northbound. And then McGrath back to Big Lake southbound.”

– Mike Vasser, Interim Executive Director of Iron Dog

That’s interim executive director of the Iron Dog, Mike Vasser. As of today, he says the race trail is set up and will be marked soon.

Iron Dog trail map showing the racers going to Nome before completing the Kotzebue loop and returning to Big Lake. Photo from Iron Dog website, 2021

Racers will speed across 2,600 miles of Alaska terrain, through the usual 22 communities. However, Vasser says this year they’ll be going to Nome before starting the Kotzebue loop into the Northwest Arctic Borough communities.

“There won’t be a halfway banquet in Nome. The garage will be off limits to everyone except for racers. There will be no mechanics. Racers can help other racers this year in the garage and we will have COVID testing for the racers as they arrive into the garage. The racers will depart [Nome] on Wednesday morning instead of Thursday morning because the race starts on a Saturday instead of a Sunday this year.”

Besides skipping the halfway banquet and ceremony in Nome, this year’s race will also start and end in Big Lake to accommodate for COVID-19. Vasser says some of the layovers in McGrath, Galena, Nome, and Kotzebue will involve regular testing for racers.

“We did lay out layover locations, and each community they’re staying in has different regulations, so we are still working to finalize those details in the next five to seven days. I know it’s getting close to the start, but the communities are changing, it seems daily, based on the vaccination rate that is happening.”

According to Vasser, the plan is to have the group of Pro Class racers stay together during their layovers in communities along the trail.

This year’s Pro Class teams are scheduled to depart Big Lake on February 13th, with the newly named Expedition Class leaving two days earlier. According to Vasser, the start will be dramatically reduced to only allow racers and their families to be present.

The Iron Dog race has only been cancelled once in its almost 40-year history. In 2003 the race didn’t happen when warm weather and poor trail conditions sidelined the event.

Image at top: Team #8, Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson, arrive in Nome during the 2017 Iron Dog. Photo courtesy of Matthew McGee.

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