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Another Seavey Iditarod Win; Kaiser May Finish 14th

Two days before he crossed the finish line in Nome, Alaska, Dallas Seavey’s lead was beginning to widen between himself, Aaron Burmeister, and his father, Mitch, in the 43rd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

In Koyuk, 808 miles into the race with 171 miles left to go, Iditarod Insider asked Seavey how he was doing fighting fatigue. “Does it look like I’m fighting fatigue?,” Seavey responded as he prepped his dogs for the 48-mile run to Elim after a four-hour rest. Indeed, he and his team looked well-rested and eager to get back on the trail.

His strategy through the race: Secure speed in the team by keeping them well-fed and well-rested. Stay focused, make good decisions, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. And keep the run fun for the dogs. “If it’s not fun for everybody, why are we doing it?,” he said.

Seavey won his third Iditarod title early on March 18, crossing the finish line in Nome at 4:13 a.m. Alaska time. His run time: 8 days 18 hours 13 minutes 6 seconds. His father, Mitch, who finished third in 2014 and first in 2013, won second place; Burmeister was in position to finish third.

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Aliy Zirkle, who finished second three consecutive years to a Seavey (the 2014 race was settled by 2 minutes 22 seconds) was in position to finish fifth, behind Jessie Royer.

Seavey’s kept a steady, disciplined pace throughout the race. In addition to a mandatory 24-hour rest and two mandatory 8-hour rests, Seavey and team averaged four hours of rest at half of the other checkpoints and maintained speeds ranging from 6.25 to 8.92 mph – with bursts of 10.08 to Nulato and 11.42 to Kaltag en route to Norton Sound. That gave him and the team time to not overwork it when trail conditions were poor or the weather turned. 

The win seals the Seaveys’ place as the current First Family of Sled Dog Racing: It’s the Seaveys’ fourth title in four consecutive races and their fifth overall. Dad Mitch won in 2004 and 2013; Dallas won in 2012, 2014 and 2015. It’s the first time in Iditarod history that a father and son team finished first and second in the same race.

In nine Iditarods, Dallas Seavey now has seven top 10 finishes, finishing first or fourth in the last five races. Six Seaveys are Iditarod veterans. Dan Seavey, Dallas’ grandfather, placed third in the first Iditarod.

As the top five finishers were crossing the finish line at Nome, Pete Kaiser, Yup’ik, winner of the highly regarded Kuskokwim 300 mid-distance race in January, was in 14th place. He had been in the top 10 for much of the race, but got caught in blowing snow and had trouble finding the trail to Shaktoolik. Kaiser’s career-best Iditarod finish was fifth in 2012.

John Baker, the last Iditarod winner not named Seavey and the first Inupiat to win the race (2011), was in 22nd. Richie Diehl, Dena’ina Athabascan, the 2014 Iditarod’s Most Improved Musher, was in 24th. Chuck Schaeffer, Inupiat, was holding steady at 46th. Seventy-eight mushers entered the race; 69 are expected to finish.

Schaeffer’s finish will be significant on several levels.

One, this is the third Iditarod for the 60-year-old from Kotzebue and the first he will have finished (he scratched in 1985 and 1991). When he and his team cross the finish line, it will be something nine other mushers and teams that started this year’s race will have to strive for next year.

Second, consider who will have crossed the finish line after him. At this writing, Schaeffer was leading Jim Lanier of Chugiak, veteran of 18 Iditarods and two-time sportsmanship award winner; and Rohn Buser of Big Lake, two-time Kuskokwim 300 champ and son of four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser. Heck, early in the race, Schaeffer even led Baker, the 2011 champion and a fellow Kotzebue Inupiat; and Allen Moore of Two Rivers, two-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest.

Third, Schaeffer trained hard this year in preparation for the Iditarod and his confidence was high going into the Kusko 300 in January. But he scratched 133 miles into that race out of concern for his dogs’ well-being. Then, Alaska Hall of Fame musher George Attla Jr. passed away.

Schaeffer, whose mushing career includes second- and third-place finishes in the 1991 and 1992 Kuskokwim 300, and fifth-place finishes in the 2011 and 2012 Kobuk 400, talked a bit before the Iditarod about what Attla meant to him. As the 2015 Iditarod neared, he said the highlight of the race for him would not be contending for a title but mushing through Huslia, Attla’s hometown.

Schaeffer and his team took their mandatory 24-hour rest in the prior checkpoint of Galena. And they stayed in Huslia for 19 hours.