Scott Faeo and Eric Quam cruised their Polaris snowmachines side-by-side across the Iron Dog finish line in Fairbanks on Saturday afternoon, enduring a brutal course to claim the $50,000 top prize in the epic race.
The first-place finish at 12:32 p.m. by the Mat-Su racing duo concluded a challenging 2,000-mile run through almost unthinkable conditions for a snowmachine race, including hundreds of miles of trail that included dirt, open water and rugged terrain.
“It was just unreal,” Faeo said. “We just went through so many obstacles.”
The victory by Faeo adds to a rich family legacy. His father, John Faeo, is a seven-time Iron Dog winner, and they become the first father-son duo to win the race. It marks the second Iron Dog victory for Quam, who took the title in 2008 with former partner Mark McKenna.
The elder Faeo, who greeted his son at the finish line, said watching his son win was even better than winning himself. It didn’t hurt that the victory preserved his record seven victories, a mark he shares with one of this year’s runners-up, Scott Davis of Soldotna.
“It’s awesome,” said John Faeo, who grinned as he clutched a cigar. “These guys ran a good, conservative race.”
The runners-up were Anchorage’s Aaron Bartel and Davis, who finished 46 minutes later and won $35,000 for the showing. Allen Hill, of Big Lake, and McKenna, of Anchorage, claim $20,000 for the their third-place finish.
Two-time champion Tyler Huntington, of Galena, was the top Interior racer in the race, joining with Wasilla’s Todd Palin to take ninth place.
The race, which runs from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks, was highlighted by unusually rough conditions this year, as warm weather left much of the course free of snow. The team of Randy Gravatt and Dieter Strobel were even forced to scratch from the race on Wednesday when their machine sunk in the normally frozen coastal waters off the Seward Peninsula.
Just 20 of the 37 pro-class teams that started the race were still active on Saturday. The scratches included 2014 champions Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad, who ended their race on Saturday in Nenana. Peninsula riders Ashley Wood, Mark Carr and Cory Davis also scratched.
Quam dubbed 2015 “the year of the tussock,” after bouncing over an endless supply of the bone-jarring mossy humps. He figured that about 300 miles of the course was either dirt or solid ice, and said the temperature never got below 10 degrees during the entire run.
Their water-cooled snowmachines rely on a supply of splashing snow and ice to keep from overheating. On dry parts of the trail, Quam and Faeo would carry bags of snow to pack on top of their heat exchangers to keep their machines cool.
It’s the first Iron Dog that Faeo and Quam ran together, featuring a partnership between a rising young racer and a veteran.
Quam, 44, said not many racers his age win the grueling Iron Dog, and that he relied on the energy that Faeo, 31, injected into the team. Faeo said Quam’s trail savvy provided a crucial balance.
“Eric’s been awesome,” he said. “A guy with a lot of experience, a great rider. I’ve learned a ton from his this year.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.