Lance Mackey tends to his lead dogs after winning the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on Sunday in Kasilof.
Photo by Will Morrow
Winning the 2007 Iditarod and Yukon Quest sled dog races in succession instantly transformed former Kasilof resident Lance Mackey into a national celebrity.
Four months after accomplishing what many deemed impossible, especially with many of the same dogs, Mackey joined American Pie star Jason Biggs, amongst many others, in Hollywood for a celebrity golf tournament benefiting cancer.
"It was a lifelong memory," he said.
Despite teeing off just twice before, Mackey described an addiction to the sport which eventually drove his wife to purchase him a set of clubs for Christmas.
"I liked it so much," he said. "So, I'll be playing a lot more."
Don't expect him to become a two-sport athlete any time soon, though.
"Let's just say I'm better racing than I am at golf."
He proved that on Sunday.
Battling intense winds and blowing snow, the three-time Yukon Quest champion finally captured the elusive Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race crown just minutes from his former home, crossing the finish line at the Tustumena Lodge at 4:55 p.m., 32 minutes ahead of Homer's Bill Steyer and 35 minutes ahead of Two Rivers musher Judy Currier.
"I honestly thought coming down here, I said I'd have a tough time staying in the top five with the field and the team that I'm driving, I'm not real confident in. There's a bunch of youngsters. And some of the ones that had raced earlier in the year didn't really pan out to my expectations," said Mackey, who know resides in Fairbanks. "I was a little optimistic coming here. I said if I can come in top five, that'd have been a great race."
In what he said was his sixth time entering the T-200, his best finish being third, Mackey said winning wasn't important to him. Watching his dogs finish strong and healthy was the primary objective. And despite finishing with 12 dogs, having dropped two at the last checkpoint 25 miles from the finish, Mackey who claimed roughly $7,500 of the $25,000 purse accomplished his mission.
"To see them standing there barking and screaming to go, that's what I'm looking for," he said. "So, it's a bonus to be here first."
As if people expected anything less. The brother of 1983 Iditarod champion Rick Mackey and son of 1978 Iditarod winner Dick Mackey, the 36-year-old didn't compete in the Last Great Race until 2001, when he finished 36th. He was diagnosed with throat cancer following the 2001 race, and scratched from the Iditarod in 2002.
Four years and a successful battle with cancer later, Mackey won the 1,049-mile journey on his sixth attempt, the same as his brother and father.
Now, he can add the T-200 to his blossoming resume.
As well as the necessary dogs to his upcoming Quest and Iditarod teams.
"They're all special," he said of his wins. "Ultimately, the main focus here is the two 1,000-mile races and I'm not going to jeopardize my team or my chances in those two races by coming here and racing real hard.
"We had 12 dogs finish, they looked good at the finish line, placing was right, what more could you ask for?"
Steyer was asking for a win, something he pulled out in last year's T-100, but he came up just shy.
"It would have been nice. It would have been cool," he said. "Second place, I'll take that."
Currier, like many others, dealt with canine issues, swapping out one of her lead dogs with roughly 15 miles remaining.
"I dropped one at the gravel pit. Shortly thereafter, the leader that I was using decided he didn't want to do it anymore," she explained. "He did great. He did really well for me (Saturday). I was reorganizing the team there for a while there."
It may have cost her second place.
But her highest finish in five straight years of running the race pleased her more than anything.
"I think it's great Lance won and Bill did well," she said. "I'm kind of tired."
Mackey, who had the fastest elapsed time after the initial 100 miles, finishing in 10 hours, 16 minutes, revved up his pursuit of Currier at the halfway point.
He departed his layover at the Clam Shell Lodge nine minutes before Currier and trekked 25 miles in two hours, 42 minutes. Just about three-and-a-half hours later, he arrived at Caribou Lake, gaining eight more minutes on Currier.
"There's some great teams behind me looking to take my spot, basically," Mackey said. "So, yeah, I picked it up a little bit and brought them home good and strong."
Taking off from the Clam Shell 15 minutes after Mackey, Steyer passed through Rocky's six minutes after the Iditaquest champion and gained another minute by the time he reached Caribou Lake. Mackey continued cruising, arriving at the Cabin Hopper's Gravel Pad at 2:25 p.m. He left three minutes later after dropping two dogs one for what he deemed a "mental" reason. If Mackey were to ever relinquish the lead, it would have been at that point. But that wasn't about to happen.
"I might have had more top-end speed on the fast packed trails, but the going got tough, his team was clearly tougher," said Steyer, who's previous best had been seventh. "That's where he pulled away."
Owning a 12-minute cushion over Currier and a 16-minute pad over Steyer, Mackey cruised to the finish.
"He's definitely the man," said Steyer. "He's one of the stronger mushers right now. He's real competitive."
Other notable finishes included Wasilla's Ryan Redington placing fourth (6:06 p.m.), Kasilof's Jon Little coming in fifth (6:10 p.m.), 2007 rookie of the year Sigrid Ekran, of Norway, finishing sixth (6:13 p.m.), and former Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, of Sterling, placing seventh (6:21 p.m.).
Last year's champion, Ken Anderson of Fairbanks, scratched, as did former Iditarod champ Joe Runyan.
Two Rivers musher Allen Moore crossed the T-100 finish line at 3:11 a.m. Sunday, 16 minutes ahead of Kasilof's Kristy Berington and 28 minutes prior to Fabrizio Lovati, of Italy.
Moore, who won the Copper Basin 300 two weeks back and was the first musher to depart the Tustumena Lodge at 12:02 p.m. Saturday, led the entire way.
"It's always nice to come in No. 1," Moore said.
Wasilla's Wade Marrs claimed the 50-mile Junior T, sprinting across the finish line at 8:03 p.m. Saturday, barely edging Seward's Travis Beals, who finished two minutes later. Clam Gulch musher Merissa Osmar, who captured last year's Junior T crown, placed third, finishing at 8:19 p.m., while Sterling's Fawn Wilson took fourth after approaching the Tustumena Lodge at 8:45 p.m.
When it was all said and done, Steyer echoed the sentiments of many.
"I am glad it's over," he said. "I'm going to have a good meal and drink a beer."
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