Iron Dog remains canceled despite efforts of racers

Posted: Wednesday, February 05, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Snowmachiners who had hoped to race in the Iron Dog 2000 this year tried without success Tuesday night to get the race's board to reverse its decision to cancel the race.

The board voted last week to cancel the 2000-mile race from Fairbanks to Nome to Wasilla, citing poor trail conditions.

Racers argued adamantly that the decision to cancel the $100,000 event because of scant snow and open water on rivers was made too soon, they said. Snow has now fallen along the Bering Sea coast, and conditions in Interior Alaska look better.

Safety concerns due to lack of snow were overblown, they said, noting that the race is always potentially dangerous. There is, they said, no way to make it absolutely safe.

''It's not safety. It's not trail conditions,'' said Wasilla's Todd Palin, a three-time champ. ''You can't sell me on that.''

Board chairman Curtis Green, a two-time Iron Dog veteran, countered that the decision was really based on a combination of those things, logistics and a pitiful weather outlook. Not even a last-minute offer of help from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which said it is going north to Nome on March 1 no matter what, could change that.

''I understand the concern, the frustration,'' Green said.

The board, he argued, made the best decision it could based on the facts available a week ago, and to change that decision now would be inviting trouble.

Once safety concerns were voiced, he noted, they could not be set aside.

Had there been a bad accident along the trail this year -- and there is a bad accident somewhere along the trail in nearly every Iron Dog -- the media couldn't have avoided shining a spotlight on it given discussions of prerace safety concerns, Green said.

A flurry of bad publicity, he said, might cost the 20-year-old race far more than a cancellation.

A group of about 50 people -- racers, some of their family members, former board members and others -- listened politely at Tuesday night's meeting. Some lobbied for a shortened version of the event, noting that in 1984 the Iron Dog started north of the Alaska Range in McGrath because of a snow shortage. Others wanted to roll the dice, noting that bad trail conditions this year might make people slow down -- actually lessening the chances of a bad accident.

As Palin noted, it's a lot easier to get hurt in a crash at 90 mph than one at 30 mph.

Such arguments, however, failed to sway the board.

''I'm sorry this has become such an issue,'' said Green, but the board is standing with its original decision.

He pleaded with racers, their families and friends to stand together with the Iron Dog no matter how difficult that might be.

''If we keep splitting, the Iron Dog is going to go down in flames,'' he said. ''Let's please stay together on this.''

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