Snowmobile racers prepare for start of Tesoro Iron Dog

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Alaska's First Gentleman will be among the favorites when the world's longest snowmobile race begins Sunday.

Todd Palin, who's married to Gov. Sarah Palin, and partner Scott Davis are defending champions in the Tesoro Iron Dog and have 11 titles between them, including seven by Davis.

The pro-class race begins at 11 a.m. Sunday in Big Lake and covers 1,971 miles, much of it in remote Alaska.

Racers travel in pairs for safety reasons, with each racer driving a sled.

They follow the Iditarod Trail from Big Lake to Nome and then backtrack on much of the same course to the Yukon River and eventually the Tanana River for a finish in Fairbanks.

A record 40 teams have entered. Davis and Palin will be chased by five teams that include at least one former champion.

Dwayne Drake of Fairbanks won the 2006 race with partner Andy George of Wasilla. The pair scratched last year after George crashed into a log about 200 miles into the race and they fell behind waiting for parts to fix his snowmobile.

Drake won the 1995 race teamed with Palin.

Six to eight teams stand a good chance to win the $25,000 first prize, part of a $100,000 purse, Drake said. The key is consistency, he said.

"Don't break and keep her moving, that's the biggest thing," Drake said. "Every time you stop and do one little thing that adds up and pretty soon you're way behind."

Also back is last year's runner-up team, Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson. The two hard-charging riders from Southcentral have yet to win the race but finished just 48 minutes behind Davis and Palin in 2007.

The trail should be in better shape than last year. Drivers were pounded by a trail lacking snow. Of the 28 teams that started the race, only 12 reached Fairbanks.

"Overall we're seeing better conditions than last year," said executive race director Laura Bedard.

The Farewell Burn, a notoriously rough 90-mile section of trail 250 miles into the race, has more snow this year than last, when it was practically bare, she said.

Temperatures, however, could be far colder, with interior Alaska communities routinely reaching minus 40 this week.

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