Iron Dog Race Draws Generations of Alaskans
Families cover thousands of miles of trail in the Last Frontier
BIG LAKE - For some, one of the longest, toughest races on earth is a family affair.
More than a few drivers in the 2012 Iron Dog snowmachine race followed in the footsteps of their fathers, mothers, cousins or siblings, and it was the kind of family atmosphere veteran racer Unch Scheurch said kept him coming back year after year.
The ice at Big Lake was crowded with cars, trucks, multi-colored tents and dozens of sleds Sunday morning for the start of the race, and Scheurch said he crossed the orange spray-painted line in the snow ten times over the course of his racing career. This year, he said it was different.
“I raced with the dads, now we’re helping the kids out,” he said, beaming.
Dressed in a thin black sweatshirt despite the cold, Scheurch wore a race pass on a red lanyard around his neck and joined drivers and family members in the chute behind the starting line, separated from the growing crowd of spectators by an orange mesh fence.
Dozens of pairs of snowmachines crowded the corridor, emblazoned with sponsor logos and marked with fluorescent orange team numbers on the front windshield. Scheurch said he had helped customize the blue-and-white sleds of Team 13 for rookie racers Cody Barber and Brad George. Polaris Rushes, Scheurch said they were customized and unlike any other machine in the race.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “You wish you were out there but again, you know what they’re going to go through and you don’t want to be out there.”
Standing at over six feet tall, Scheurch wasn’t a small man, but he said the Iron Dog’s wilderness trail across 2,000 miles of mountains and coastline wasn’t easy.
It’s a trail Tammy Barber has driven, too. She said her son would experience some of the harshest conditions Alaska had to offer during the race from Big Lake to Nome to the Golden Heart City, but he was a “survivalist.”
“Being that I’ve been out there, I think it might be worse, I’ve seen the trail so I worry a little bit more,” she said. “But if they use their brains and make the right choices, they’ll do great.”
Petite and blonde and buried under a red and gray parka, she was Scheurch’s polar opposite, but she had donned a racer’s bib in 2010 and knew just how treacherous the trail could be. She said she also knew just how big of a role family played in the race.
“Once he found out, I didn’t see him for four days because they were working on sleds in Wasilla, so I was phone support and paperwork support,” she said, laughing and holding the mitten-clad hand of one of her youngest sons.
Barber herself comes from a family of professional drivers. Her father was a competitor in the inaugural 1984 race to Nome, she said, and her husband had raced “eight or nine” times as well.