Defending Iron Dog champions go separate ways in this year's race

Posted: Thursday, February 05, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Marc McKenna and Eric Quam begin their Tesoro Iron Dog title defense Sunday, just not as teammates.

The two collaborated for a victory last year, but have selected new partners for the upcoming 2,000-mile snowmachine race.

It's the world's longest and deemed the toughest snowmachine race that can produce broken parts, broken limbs and even partnerships.

McKenna, 34, traded partners and machines. He'll team along side three-time champion Dusty Van Meter and ride a Ski-Doo rather than the Arctic Cat that carried him to the finish line first last year.

Quam, 38, will stay with the Arctic Cat this year, and his new partner will be rookie Bradley Helwig this year.

"Occasionally, (racers) get out there on the trail and find out they don't get along," said Iron Dog treasurer Jim Wilke, a former racer. "If things don't go well, occasionally there's a bit of finger pointing and muttering going on.

"It's a team sport, but just by the nature of it you can sit there for hours thinking about what that other idiot just did. That's a lot of time to stew. I know, for example, one team member who crashed and the other guy was so disgusted he wouldn't even talk to him."

McKenna and Quam aren't the only racers with new partners. Nine returning racers have come back with new partners.

Only six teams are back from last year's race. That includes Dwayne Drake and Andy George, who placed second.

Additionally, Scott Davis, who is tied with John Faeo for the most wins in race history, has teamed with Todd Palin since 2002.

Long-term Iron Dog partnerships like such as the Davis-Palin tandem are rare - but few racers switch both partners and machines as much as McKenna.

Since he started competing 10 years ago, McKenna, a two-time champion, has teamed with six different racers: Skeeter Creighton, Mark Torkelson, Tyler Aklestad, Nick Olstad, Quam and Van Meter.

He's competed on the machines of all four major manufacturers.

"He's wound pretty tight, he's pretty aggressive," Wilke said of McKenna. "You have to calm him down. He tears stuff up, and that can be tough on partnerships."

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