Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race volunteer Lonnie Kay Brooks, of Kenai, reports on a musher's position just after midnight during last years race, while behind her Allen Dowell, of Kenai, enters data in a computer. Brooks said she may field more than 100 calls for race updates throughout the evening while only sleeping four to five hours, "and thats never all together," she said.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Sitting in a shack that’s not much bigger than a bathroom, staying up all night and answering hundreds of phone calls may not sound fun to most people, but some of the Tustumena 200 Race Association members think it is.
“It’s a ball. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but I enjoy it immensely,” volunteer Lonnie Kay Brooks of Kenai said in regard to working race central.
Located in a tiny shack in front of the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof, race central is the central nervous system for the T-200 race, providing communication between race officials and checkpoints and up-to-the minute information for the general public.
“It’s pretty much the brain of the race while it’s being run,” said volunteer Allen Dowell of Kenai.
Dowell enters data into the computers as it comes in a duty that requires him to start setting up at 10 a.m. Saturday and stay until the last musher crosses the finish line.
“The ham radio operator gives me the information, and I log it into the computer. As the mushers arrive and leave checkpoints, I log it in, and we keep the Web master updated for the Web site,” Dowell said.
“Everything is logged in as accurately as possible because money is involved for the mushers, and because the fans want to know exactly how their fa-vorite musher is doing,” he said.
Brooks is on the T-200 board of directors, but she is not above sometimes continuously answering phones from Saturday afternoon until early Monday morning as part of working race central, a duty she has volunteered for the last four years.
“It gets real intense. I’ve worked 40 hours solid answering hundreds of calls, but it’s fun. It never gets old,” she said.
Never getting old may be hard for some to imagine, considering the repetitive nature of the calls Brooks receives.
“The calls are mostly people wanting to know who’s in lead, who’s running where and have we heard from such and such,” she said.
In addition to answering phones, Brooks said she posts positions of mushers on the large board in race central, assists Dowell with anything he needs and generally does “whatever needs getting done.”
Dowell and Brooks said they enjoy the work for several reasons.
“I’m a dog lover and a dog racing fan. It’s an interest of mine. But, I’m too old to mush myself, so this is a good way to still participate in the sport and in the race,” Dowell said.
“It’s also a good way to meet people from around the state and out of state,” he added.
“It’s really exciting getting to know all the inside information like who’s leading, who fell asleep and took too long at a checkpoint and all the other interesting factoids,” Brooks said.
Brooks is an insurance representative by trade, so communication is second nature for her.
“I enjoy talking to others. It’s what I do for a living. I also work well under pressure and can multitask, so I like working race central. People have talked about splitting it in shifts, but I like it how it is now,” she said.
Brooks said the work can be chaotic and tiring.
“We may only sleep four to five hours, and that’s never altogether,” she said.
“I’ve stayed up for 36 hours straight,” added Dowell. “It’s tough to be awake that long.”
However, Brooks said she makes soup in a Crock-Pot and brings in snacks.
Dowell and Brooks said they intend to work the race for a long time to come.
“I plan on doing it ’til I give out,” Brooks said.
To contact race central, call 260-5630.
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