FAIRBANKS — Two-time Iron Dog champ Tyler Huntington, of Fairbanks, will be racing with a new partner and on a new machine in the 2014 race.
Huntington, who sat out last year’s race with a broken hip he suffered in a training accident two weeks before the race, is teaming with perhaps the biggest name in the 2,000-mile race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks — Todd Palin, four-time Iron Dog champion and husband of 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
But Huntington said he’s not looking for any of the political fame and fortune that surrounds the Palin name, only a third trip to the winner’s circle in the world’s longest, toughest snowmachine race. To that end, Palin is an attractive partner.
“He’s a four-time winner, and I’ve won two times; I figure if you put those together, we might come up with a good combination,” Huntington said. “It always helps when you have a very experienced partner.”
Palin has plenty of Iron Dog experience. He has competed in the race every year since 1993 and has won four times with three partners, including one—Dwayne Drake in 1995 — from Fairbanks. Palin also won with Dusty Van Meter in 2000 and 2002 and most recently with Scott Davis in 2007. Last year, Palin and Davis finished in fifth place.
The 28-year-old Huntington, who won Iron Dog titles in 2010 and 2011 racing with Chris Olds, of Eagle River, and finished second in 2012 with new partner Mike Morgan, had to sit out the 2013 race after crashing during a training run on the Bering Sea coast in late January, only two weeks before the race was scheduled to start. Huntington, who had planned to team with two-time winner Evan Booth, of Nome, was thrown from his machine when he hit a piece of driftwood while going 80-90 mph during a training run with Booth.
The accident occurred 3 miles outside the village of Shaktoolik, and Booth had to ride into the village to get help while Huntington lay on the snow in 10-degree below temperatures and a 30 mph wind. Booth and some villagers loaded Huntington into a dog sled and towed him into the village, where he was then flown to Anchorage and underwent surgery.
His hip still hasn’t fully recovered, but it should be OK by the time the race rolls around, said Huntington, who missed seven months of work after the injury.
“I still know I broke it,” said Huntington, a roughneck on the North Slope. “It’s recovered pretty well, but I still have some limitations. I’m just going to have to train a little harder and get her back in shape.”
In addition to having a new racing partner, Huntington is also switching snowmachine brands. After racing on Polaris machines in his previous six Iron Dogs, Huntington is switching to Ski-Doo, a choice Palin, who had been a longtime Arctic Cat rider, made last year.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with what (Ski-Doo) has been coming out with the last few years,” Huntington said. “I thought I’d try something new.”
Ski-Doo riders Dusty Van Meter and Marc McKenna have won the last two Iron Dog titles, and there are more Ski-Doo teams — 19 — entered in this year’s race than any other snowmachine manufacturer.
Fairbanks Ski-Doo dealer Craig Compeau is sponsoring Huntington and Palin. Compeau said he was glad to hear hometown racer Huntington was teaming up with Palin.
“We’re excited about it,” Compeau said. “That’s a big deal for us.”
Huntington and Booth were originally planning to enter the race again this year but things didn’t work out for various reasons. Huntington said he sent Palin a text back in July asking him if he had found an Iron Dog partner yet and things transpired from there. Huntington said he doesn’t know Palin all that well other than as a competitor, but that will change this winter when he and Palin start riding together.
The 2014 Iron Dog is scheduled to start on Feb. 16 in Big Lake. As of Tuesday, there were 39 pro class teams signed up for the race, executive director Kevin Kastner said. The deadline to enter the race is Friday.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.