At first glance, the three-year winning streak of Soldotna's Scott Davis and Kenai's Mark Carr in the Tesoro Iron Dog defies logic.
The Iron Dog, which begins when 37 Pro Class teams rip out of Big Lake at 11 a.m. today, travels through Nome and ends up in Fairbanks. Covering a distance of 1,971 miles, the snowmachine race is the world's longest.
And with that distance come more variables than are found in an algebra class.
"There's so many varieties of terrain and weather conditions that you go through," said Carr, who will be chasing the $25,000, out of a total purse of $100,000, that goes to the victors. "When you're going that far across Alaska, Mother Nature can throw a curve at you at any time.
"More than other race groups, you're racing against Mother Nature. Anything can happen."
All those variables would appear to make three-year winning streaks like that of Carr and Davis impossible.
But when they tear out of Big Lake today chasing their record fourth straight title, they will again rely on the best and only defense available against the Iron Dog's variables -- intense preparation.
Davis, who has competed in all but two Iron Dogs and has 10 top three finishes, including six wins, said being ready for anything is the constant that scuttles the variables.
"When you're riding over 1,500 miles, preparation shows up," said Davis, who has competed in all but two Iron Dogs. "I wouldn't call us better riders than anybody else, although we're definitely as good as anybody else.
"The key is not doing anything stupid and not breaking down."
Carr and Davis, who ride Arctic Cats, used that strategy to cover the course last year in 38 hours and 30 minutes of ride time, a new course record on the Wasilla-to-Nome-to-Fairbanks course that has only been used since 1998.
Davis, the owner and operator of Davis Block and Concrete Company, and Carr, a commercial fisher and commercial pilot, estimate they ride 6,000 to 10,000 miles per season, including 3,000 before the Iron Dog.
"We ride every day, even if it's only 20 to 40 miles," Carr said.
The amount of time they spend riding and testing culminates with 16-hour days heading into the race.
"We ride at night, when it's cold -- we make sure we hit every condition," Carr said. "We try to have every variable possible when we're practicing.
"This year, the weather's given us the opportunity to practice everything."
The duo also has an advantage being from the peninsula, where all kinds of terrain is packed relatively close together.
Although Davis will say time and time again that he can't stress preparation enough, other factors do go into the success of Carr and Davis.
"We have really good sponsors and good support," Davis said. "We also make a good team. We have really good chemistry."
Davis and Carr competed against each other since they were kids before teaming up for the Iron Dog.
"By riding together, we've been able to work on each other's weak points," Carr said. "Scott's always been better at tree riding and the slow stuff, so I've become better at that.
"I've always been better at things on the river, the high-speed stuff."
This year, the variables Carr and Davis will encounter along with the rest of the field have to do with warmer and wetter weather. One result of that will be open water in portions of the course, including on the Yentna River on the way to Nome.
Carr and Davis were going to fly over portions of the course a few days before the race in order to get a feel for trail conditions.
"So far, there's a lot more snow on the course than I've seen in other years," Carr said. "When you get deeper snow, the trail can get rougher.
"We've made some changes in our setup so we're ready for that."
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