As the 35th annual Iron Dog snowmachine race, billed as the “world’s longest, toughest snowmobile race,” gets set to wave the green flag, the biggest storyline may not be who’s racing, but rather who isn’t.
For one, the defending Iron Dog champions are skipping it. That includes Soldotna rider Cory Davis, who last year captured his first Iron Dog title to add to the family collection, joining the other seven won by his father, Scott. Also missing this year is veteran Kasilof rider Dusty VanMeter, a five-time race champion.
However, Cory Davis said in a text message he will be competing in the Flying Iron Freestyle Show on Saturday and Sunday in Big Lake, the starting venue for the race on Sunday.
“That’s the plan but we don’t have any firm plans,” Cory said. “But we will be back.”
Cory, 29, and teammate Ryan Simons of Alberta, Canada, last year won the Iron Dog after the race leaders were disqualified for receiving illegal assistance.
Davis said in a text that he and Simons are skipping this year’s race due to “very busy workloads,” and to allow Simons to heal up from a back injury.
The win was the first for Cory but not the first for his family. Scott Davis, 58, has seven Iron Dog victories to his credit, and has raced nearly every year since the race’s inception in 1984.
Davis said he is unofficially retiring this year, with no plans to race it in the future.
“I guess I’ll never say never,” Davis said.
Scott Davis will still be playing a role in the race, a grueling 2,031-mile marathon that stretches from Big Lake to Nome, then from Nome to Fairbanks. Davis said he will be helping build sleds for team No. 7, consisting of James West of Nome and Aaron Bartel of Anchorage.
Davis said vision problems in low light and flat light during the race has become more of an issue in recent runnings. Davis’ most recent Iron Dog effort came in 2015.
“That’s one of the things that starts to go,” Davis said about his sight. “I’m 58 years old and noticed that I’ve started wearing glasses working on the stone mill and losing visibility.”
Combined with the more frequent weather conditions that have plagued the race in recent years, Davis said the hassle of putting together a complete effort has become too much.
“I certainly didn’t want to be that guy out there just to race and be slow,” he said. “If I think I don’t have enough miles in practice on that trail, I wouldn’t do it.”
The race starts Sunday in Big Lake with 29 Pro Class teams entered this year. The ceremonial start in Anchorage was scrapped this year due to financial feasibility.
However, the race-winning team will receive $60,000. Additionally, the top teams from each manufacturer will earn $10,000 each, including Arctic Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo.
Overall, that brings the total race purse to $228,396.
While no current peninsula racers are entered this year, former Soldotna racer Ashley Wood is back for another go. Currently a Wasilla resident, Wood, 29, is trying to finish the race for the first time.
Wood’s father, Rick, holds a long history of snowmachine racing on the Kenai Peninsula, although he never ran an Iron Dog.
Ashley naturally caught the racing bug from her father and began competitive riding in 2005 as a teen.
Wood is teamed with Polaris rider Rachel Kidwell. The duo teamed up in 2015 in hopes of becoming just the second ever all-female team to complete the race, which would make them the first all-female finishing team since Jackie Page and Missy McClurg in Feb. 2001.