NOME - A man on a snowmobile crashed into the dog team driven by Iditarod champion Lance Mackey in the All Alaska Sweepstakes, seriously injuring a key animal in Mackey's kennel.
Mackey broke down in tears Saturday telling how a veteran race dog, Zorro, was injured as the animal rode in the sled's basket.
The snowmobile driver has not been identified.
The 408-mile All Alaska Sweepstakes is a race from Nome to tiny Candle and back. The race was first held 100 years ago. The winner-take-all first prize is $100,000.
Mackey, a Fairbanks musher, has won the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race between Anchorage and Nome and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, the last two years.
He was in third place in the Sweepstakes at around midnight Friday just 20 miles from the finish line when two snowmobiles came up fast from behind.
"I was flashing them like mad with my headlamp," he said. "I was shining my headlamp right in his face, but they kept on coming at me. I jumped aside, and by 30 feet further up the trail, there was a snow machine sitting on the middle of my sled."
The machine impaled the sled bag with its runners.
"Three or four dogs were sucked underneath and Zorro was trapped in the sled bag," Mackey said.
The accident happened several miles west of the Safety checkpoint. The driver who hit Mackey and his partner on the other machine helped Mackey right the mess, then left as Mackey continued on.
Mackey said his $3,000 sled, made by Canadian Hans Gott, made it to Nome but was ruined. It was of no consequence compared to his dogs, he said.
"That's only material," he said. "I would give my life for my dogs. I can't make anyone know how important animals are to me."
By midday Saturday, Zorro was on a commercial flight to Pet Emergency, a veterinarian facility in Anchorage, for medical treatment. Zorro had broken ribs and perhaps internal injuries.
"If he lives, I don't think he is going to want to race to Nome again," Mackey said.
A team handler accompanied Zorro. Mackey remained in Nome with his team. Several other dogs had injuries, but they were not life threatening, Mackey said.
Mackey made a plea for race officials to keep snowmobiles away from the trail at the end of the race, a growing safety issue.
"Running from Safety to Front Street is almost suicidal," Mackey said. "I almost got hit on the way into Nome during Iditarod and then was almost hit half an hour later."
Safety Roadhouse, about 22 miles east of Nome, operates as a bar during the race and attracts spectators on snowmobiles. Mackey said he wanted to focus attention on trail safety.
The 9-year-old injured dog has been a star in the teams that won Alaska's two major long-distance races the last two years. Last year, Zorro became ill at White Mountain near the end of the Iditarod and did not get to finish the race.
Mackey contacted media in Nome on Saturday saying he wanted to give the snow machine driver a chance to come forward "like a man and make it right."
"Just make it right. That's all I want. I don't bear him any ill will, but I want him to make it right."