The overhaul at the Iditarod continues as longtime CEO Stan Hooley will step down next month.

Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors president Mike Mills made the announcement in a statement Thursday morning. Hooley is expected to leave in mid-January. Current COO Chas St. George will take over on an interim basis while an assembled search committee looks for Hooley's replacement. 

Hooley has been with The Last Great Race for 25 years. He said an opportunity came along and now was the time to take it.

“I had decided I wanted to take advantage of another opportunity that had presented itself first a couple of months ago and the way it was looking up until about a week ago, I really thought my exit out was going to take place after the race. Unfortunately that time line changed about a week ago,” he said.

With so much change in race leadership recently, Hooley insists the decision to leave is entirely his own. 

“You’re actually the first person to ask [if I was forced out], believe it or not, which surprises me because of the timing," Hooley said. "It’s got nothing to do with dissatisfaction one way or the other, me with organization or the board with me. This is just an opportunity that presented itself that I feel like I need to chase.”

For Hooley, it was a decision to set himself on a path toward eventual retirement.

“I'm 61 years old. I’ve worked for nonprofits my entire life," he said. "This voice in my head says, 'You know if you want to retire, you're probably going to have to do something else soon,' and really what this is all about is that opportunity to do good things for myself and my family.”

A statement from the ITC board president early Thursday praised Hooley's tenure with the race.

“Stan’s dedication and contributions have been instrumental in establishing the Last Great Race on Earth as the international standard for long distance sled dog racing,” Mills said in the statement. “He has always championed what’s best for Alaska, the Iditarod, and most importantly, the sled dogs who run this great race. We, as the board, want to express our gratitude to Stan for his dedication to this institution, and wish him the very best on his next adventure.”

However, the timing of his departure makes for a challenge for the venerable event. The 2019 race begins in 71 days.  

“I’m the first one to acknowledge that this is not the best time of year to make a change,” Hooley said.

But he also says that he's leaving the organization in capable hands.

“The people that are largely responsible for the actual staging of this race, they’re still here," he said. "They’re going to do a great job.”

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