FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The first musher to sign up for the 2001 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will be the first out of the starting chute Sunday when the 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Fairbanks gets under way at 1 p.m.
''Follow me, boys,'' John Gourley said to loud applause from the hundreds of mushers, race organizers, volunteers, veterinarians and locals who gathered at a Whitehorse hotel banquet room Friday night to draw bib numbers and starting order.
''I didn't really want this, but oh well,'' said Gourley, with a red-faced smile. He recently moved to Two Rivers from Wasilla.
One unexpected scratch before the race even got started left the field of mushers pared down to 31.
Sonny Lindner, champion of the Quest's inaugural run in 1984, withdrew from the race Friday. Race officials gave no official word on why Lindner withdrew.
Also suffering a setback Friday was Nenana musher Carrie Farr, who lost a dog to a dog fight Friday when three of her dogs got loose.
Whiskey, an 8-year-old team dog of Farr's, was killed by one of two other loose dogs. Farr said she didn't see the fight and does not know what happened. One of the other loose dogs suffered a puncture wound in one foot, but Farr said she thinks he'll be OK.
Farr less than a week ago lost Boulder, a top leader, to an infection in his leg. Farr is set to be the second musher out of Whitehorse on Sunday.
To the rowdy applause of his numerous fans, local favorite Frank Turner drew the No. 3 bib in his 18th running of the 18-year-old Quest. Turner endured good-natured heckling from the crowd about his historically long-winded speeches at the annual bib draw. He explained why he keeps coming back year after year.
''It's like never growing up, really,'' Turner said.
Mushers spent all day Friday in driver's meetings and had a day of relative calm Saturday to complete their final preparations.
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