TAKOTNA Dick Mackey has a challenge for any man big enough to try to break his Iditarod record.
''If anybody wants to beat it, some young buck is going to have to breed up five sons,'' says Mackey, an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner who snatched victory from five-time winner Rick Swenson with a one-second win in 1978.
The Iditarod this year is a story about fathers, their sons and a whole lot of dogs. There are four sets of brothers among the 87 mushers in the 2004 Iditarod three Mackeys, two Redingtons, two Burmeisters and two Smyths.
Adding Jason Mackey to the mix brought Dick Mackey's record to four sons who have competed in the 1,100-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. Jason, a rookie this year, joins brother Rick, an Iditarod veteran and 1983 winner, and brother Lance, who was 36th in 2001 and scratched last year. Another brother, Bill, ran the race only once, in 1984, arriving last in Nome.
Dick Mackey, 71, who rode Jason's second sled at the race start in Anchorage on March 6, said the family has one thing in mind for the 2004 Iditarod.
''This year, the main goal is to have Jason finish,'' he said.
Jason, a 32-year-old commercial fisherman from Kasilof, said it's been his lifelong dream to race in the Iditarod.
''The Iditarod just comes with my blood. It was bred into me,'' he said. ''I have always had to watch them leave and go home, and that broke my heart every time but not this time. This is my year to go to Nome.''
Rick Mackey, 50, racing in his 22nd Iditarod after taking a couple of years off, was 21 in 1975 when he raced for the first time. He was 29 when he won the Iditarod.
''We grew up raising dogs as little kids. We got hooked on it,'' said Rick, who is a sled dog kennel owner in Nenana.
Lance Mackey, 34, who also is a commercial fisherman in Kasilof, said it is an honor to be an Iditarod racer bearing the Mackey name.
''I'm running with some pretty good mushers,'' he said. ''I believe I learned a little with two champions in the family.''
Ray Redington Jr., 27, of Fairbanks is racing in his fourth Iditarod. It is younger brother Ryan's second Iditarod after having scratched in 2003.
Ray said he wants to win the Iditarod, something he believes his grandfather Joe Redington Sr. would have done if he started mushing earlier in life. Joe Sr., who died in 1999, is credited with helping found the race in 1967. He raced the Iditarod 19 times, the first time when he was 56 and the last when he was 72.
Ray's father, Ramie Redington, 58, has raced 14 times. He said he decided to sit out the 2004 race to give his sons a better chance. While Ray has his own kennel, Ryan is using his father's dogs for the race.
''Grandpa had 550 dogs, the largest kennel in Alaska,'' Ray Redington said. ''When you sit down at the dinner table, there's nothing else to talk about. What are you going to do?''
Ryan Redington, 21, lived with his father in Wasilla all winter to learn what to do to get to Nome this time.
''My Dad has been a great coach,'' Ryan said.
Ramey Smyth, 27, and Cim Smyth, 26, both of Big Lake, are the sons of Bud Smyth, who raced in the Iditarod six times. Cim has raced twice, and came in 27th last year. Ramey is in his 10th Iditarod, having finished seventh in 2002 and 2003.
Ramey Smyth said the good thing about having your brother in the race is having someone you can trust. The bad thing is that part of the help the family used to send his way now goes to help Cim.
''It's good and bad,'' Ramey said.
For Aaron Burmeister, 28, of Nenana, having his 24-year-old brother Noah in the race as a rookie is all good. Noah moved in with his brother the last couple of years to help train his team.
Aaron said he's gotten to know his younger brother like never before.
''We have just become best friends training these dogs and having so much fun together,'' Aaron said Wednesday at the Takotna checkpoint.
Their father, Richard Burmeister, 58, ran the Iditarod in 1979 and 1982, finishing 41st both times. On one of those races, he stopped outside Nome to pick up 4-year-old Aaron and give him a ride over the finish line.
''I had him on the back of a sled before he could walk. I probably should have been more careful with that,'' he said.
Aaron said his earliest memory actually is of his father riding him in a sled on the Bering Sea to meet the ice-breaker boat when he was 2 years old. He remembers the ride across the finish line in Nome, too.
''I remember my dad being the biggest hero in the whole world and knowing I would have to do that someday,'' he said.
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