NOME, Alaska—Dallas Seavey's win in the 2015 Iditarod here in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday makes it four years in a row that either he or his father, Mitch, runner-up this year, have won the 1,000-mile trek across Alaska.
But Dallas, 28 of Willow, does not see their success as indicative of a Seavey dynasty, he said in a news conference after passing under the famed Burled Arch on Front Street. His grandfather, Iditarod veteran Dan Seavey, looked on, smiling.
"My dad and I are both competitors in this race, and the fact that we have won now, I guess, the last four Iditarods is kind of connected and kind of disconnected," Dallas said. "I don't know that it's related, other than we're related."
For one thing, there is no overlap in their kennels, meaning they do not share dogs and have separate breeding programs, Dallas said. Sure, the father and son talk about mushing all the time, he said. Few other people understand the sport at the detailed level that they do, he said.
Still, it could not have been more clear in this year's Iditarod — the first time a son and his father have finished first and second — that their teams are battling each other as much as anybody else, if not more.
"So we share ideas. At least, not the really good ideas. We keep those to ourselves, of course," Dallas said. "As far as the family aspect, I think the biggest part with my dad and I is we push each other. What dad wants to get beat by his son? What son wants to get beat by his dad?"
Dallas is now a three-time winner, with a streak of seven top 10 finishes, and holds the record for youngest champion after his win in 2012 at age 25.
Mitch has won twice and finished 13 times in the top 10, having run the race 22 times. The Sterling-based musher is the oldest-ever champion after his 2013 win at age 52.
Mitch, now 55, arrived here a little over four hours after Dallas as the sun started to come up in Nome, his nine dogs trotting up Front Street. Dallas was off sleeping somewhere, but his daughter Annie was there and gave Grandpa Mitch a hug.
With several microphones in Mitch's face, the father congratulated his son.
"It's really nice to see. And, uh, yeah, second place is not too bad. I wish I had won," Mitch said.
It also was an emotional moment for another reason, Mitch said.
"I love those dogs. It brings tears to your eyes, these little dogs chugging along with a smile on their face. They just ran a thousand miles," he said.
'What we love'
A police escort had guided Dallas and his team down Front Street and toward the end of the trail. People lining the street cheered as he arrived and yelled, "Good job!" and "Congratulations!"
After crossing the line at 4:13 a.m., Dallas got a hug from his wife, Jen, and quickly began giving snacks to his dogs, who had looked bewildered but excited coming into the finish chute. Race officials verified he had his required gear, standard procedure at all checkpoints.
“The wins are a result of doing what we love,” Dallas said shortly after crossing the finish line. “It takes a whole team to get us here.”
At the head of that team for about two-thirds of the race was his main leader, 3-year-old Reef.
“I think we’re going to be seeing him here under the arch for many years to come," Dallas said.
He said the team is the best he has ever had and is probably one of the best teams to ever run the Iditarod.
Reef's nose crossed the finish line after the team had run — with rest breaks and mandatory layovers along the way — for eight days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and six seconds. The time was more than five hours slower than his winning time last year, which is the fastest ever.
Like Mitch, Dallas had nine dogs in harness, but his team had also been carrying one dog in his sled bag for five miles before reaching Nome.
Both Mitch and Dallas have long preached the importance of pushing their dogs only as much as they can safely handle. Winning races is just a byproduct of having a solid team and making smart decisions, they have said.
“It's not about a position. It's not about trying to beat the team in front of you. It's about getting your team to the finish line as quick as they can," Dallas said.
Dallas said this year he had departed from his usual strategy, which is to hang back in the first half of the race to see which teams will run too fast and wear themselves out. That way he can get an idea of who his real competition is, he said.
The three-time champ calls it "building a monster," because in the second half of the race, his teams are often well rested by comparison and able to overcome poor weather, traveling faster in the final stretches than other teams.
But this year, Seavey admitted, he chose a different style. He had run the team close to the frontrunners nearly the entire way, for example arriving second at the "awesome" halfway checkpoint of Huslia.
It was still a pace his team could stick with, Dallas said.
"I honestly think good dog drivers have a style. Great dog drivers have all the styles," Dallas said. "And the best style for any given race is the best combination of your dog team multiplied by the trail."
In the 2014 race, Dallas' team had marched through a howling windstorm near Safety, 22 miles from Nome, to secure the win after the gusts knocked over Denali's Jeff King and his dogs, causing the then-leader to ask for help and scratch from the race. Then Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle briefly became the race's leader, but she balked when she heard about what happened to King. That opened the door for Dallas to beat her to Nome by just over two minutes, the race's second-closest finish.
Because of confusion in Safety, Dallas did not know that he had won that race until after he crossed the finish line and someone told him.
This year, Dallas said his position had been much clearer to him.
"It is different when you have time to think about it, but more importantly, when you have time to try and not think about it," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're racing for first or fifth or fiftieth. If you're racing, you're racing, and you need to do what's right for the team to get to the finish line as healthily as they're able to do."
Dallas Seavey is the Iditarod’s only three-time winner. The race has one five-time champion, Rick Swenson, and five four-time winners — Jeff King, Doug Swingley, Lance Mackey, Martin Buser and the late Susan Butcher. Mitch Seavey and Robert Sorlie each have two wins.
Tough race from Fairbanks
The 2015 Iditarod began in Fairbanks on March 9, two days after the traditional ceremonial start in Anchorage.
The race started in Fairbanks for only the second time in the Iditarod’s 43-year history because a lack of snow in Southcentral Alaska made the regular trail unusable. The race also started in Fairbanks in 2003.
This year's Iditarod, like the Yukon Quest, was characterized by frigid temperatures that dipped to 40 and 50 below in the Interior.
With the Alaska Range's steepness removed from the course, many had thought the race would be easier.
"This was a very tough race," Dallas Seavey said. "This was not the easy race some people expected."
Seavey wins $70,000 of the total $725,100 in prize money, $19,600 more than he received for his victory last year. Second place pays $58,600, third place pays $53,900, fourth place pays $48,400, and fifth place pays $44,300.
Staff writer Casey Grove is the News-Miner’s Anchorage reporter and is covering the Iditarod this year. Follow him on Twitter: @kcgrove.