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FAIRBANKS - Gov. Sarah Palin has taken on an unusual role: waving a checkered flag for the winners of the 1,971-mile Tesoro Iron Dog snowmobile race - a team that includes her husband.
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Todd Palin and Scott Davis won the world's longest, toughest snowmobile race just before noon Saturday.
Their green and black Arctic Cats glistening in the sun, Davis and Palin crossed the Chena River finish line at 11:52 a.m. with their arms raised.
"That was awesome," said 42-year-old Todd Palin.
He and Davis ran the race in 38 hours, 7 minutes, 57 seconds, an average speed of about 52 mph. They beat Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson by 47 minutes, 58 seconds in what boiled down to a two-team race by the end.
Aklestad and Johnson had a trail time of 38:55:55, almost five hours ahead of the third-place team.
It the first win for the team of Davis and Palin, who had finished second in three straight races since teaming up five years ago. Beside the $28,000 in prize money, the victory was especially sweet for the 47-year-old Davis, who hadn't won since 1999.
On Saturday, Davis joined John Faeo as the winningest Iron Dog participant in the 24-year history of the race.
"I was beginning to think it wasn't going to happen again," he said.
Aklestad, 21, and Johnson, 27, seeking their first Iron Dog win, hounded Davis and Palin over the last 600 miles on their speedier Ski-Doos.
After leaving Nome almost 45 minutes behind Davis and Palin, Aklestad and Johnson gradually ate away at the lead and were 11 minutes behind by the time racers reached Ruby on Friday.
But Johnson had just pulled within sight of Davis and Palin on the Yukon River when he turned around looking for Aklestad.
"I looked back and didn't see Tyler," he said.
Johnson backtracked to find Aklestad with a dead machine a mile or two behind him. They managed to restart it after five or 10 minutes of electrical work.
"We unplugged a few things and got it running," Johnson said.
But one of the things they unplugged was the power to the handwarmers on Aklestad's handlebar grips. The two riders had to switch back and forth from sled to sled to keep their hands warm enough to drive.
They made it to Tanana, but ended up losing 22 minutes on the 120-mile leg.
They began making up time until Aklestad ran out of gas 20 miles from Manley.
"I don't know what happened," he said. "We had some other things going on at that point and maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention."
Johnson towed Aklestad into Manley where they fueled up. But then they couldn't get Aklestad's snowmobile started until they discovered a faulty fuse. By then they had lost 17 minutes to Davis and Palin, a deficit too great to overcome without the leaders breaking down or crashing.
For Johnson, coming in second was the best finish of his nine-year career, and it marked the first time in three tries that Aklestad has finished the race. But although they won $15,750 of the $75,000 cash purse, neither felt much like celebrating.
"It's a little bittersweet," Johnson said. "If it wasn't for a few little things, we would have had it."
For Davis and Palin, winning was about perseverance.
"It's 2,000 miles; you just keep plugging away," Todd Palin said.