Iron Dog Race Draws Generations of Alaskans
Families cover thousands of miles of trail in the Last Frontier
Now, she said her older son would follow in his family’s footprints. “And I will be!” said the little boy next to her, chiming in suddenly. “Oh great,” she said, grinning.
While it would be Cody Barber’s first race to Fairbanks, he said he’s been driving sleds for years, inspired by his father.
“I’m a third generation Iron Dogger,” he said softly, fur hat pulled low over his eyes. “I just kind of looked up to him I guess, traced his footsteps.”
He squinted his eyes against the mid-morning glare of the sun on the ice, and wore a bright orange bib pinned to the back of his black winter jacket.
“We’re not really in it to win,” he said. “We’re just going out to see that checkered flag.”
As the clock moved closer to 11 a.m., race officials began herding drivers and family members to the back of the chute, preparing to line the sleds into single-file starting order and send off the first teams. Barber and his family filed through with the others, exchanging slaps on the back and last minute encouragements.
Hundreds of spectators pressed up against the orange fence around the starting line, holding cameras, coffee cups and long-necked Bud Lights with Lime. Martin Buser, four-time Iditarod champion, stood near the edge of the crowd near the driver’s chute, taking pictures and catching up with other race fans.
Buser said there are a few differences between dog and machine, but the excitement of the race remains the same.
“They know how to go fast,” he said. “So I came. Maybe it rubs off a bit.”
Further down the course underneath the blue starting banner, the first teams began to line up and the classic rock blaring over the loudspeakers disappeared. The announcer stood on a short raised stage near the line, introducing the riders and sending them out at intervals.
Many of the riders were veterans with more than one race under their belts. After a ten-second countdown, each team would speed over the line and across the lake, snowmachines lunging forward off the starting line and spitting exhaust.
Cody Barber and his teammate were assigned the twentieth starting position: Sitting several hundred feet back in line from the starting post, they continued last conversations with family as the chain of drivers inched slowly forward.
When the team in front of them sped away, a race official beckoned Barber and George forward, stopping them just short of the orange line in the snow.
“Well we’ve got a little bit of a story with these two guys,” the announcer said. “Each one of them just turned 18 years old within the last month.”
It made them the youngest team to compete in the history of the 2,000-mile race.
They revved their engines. The announcer began the countdown. In the crowd, Tammy Barber watched her son.
“Three, two, one!” The announcer said. “See you in Fairbanks!”