FAIRBANKS — It’s a comeback tale with the makings of a movie. After retiring from competitive sled dog racing in 1996, Fairbanks native Roxy Wright wrote the final chapter of her remarkable career when she captured her fourth GCI Open North American Championship title on Sunday at the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds behind Mushers Hall on Farmer Loop.
Wright started out the season by winning the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship nearly three weeks ago, her first Rondy title in 24 years and fourth overall.
On Sunday, the 66-year-old took home her first victory since she swept the Rondy and ONAC in 1993.
“It’s been like a fairy tale, winning the Rendezvous and then North American again,” said Wright, who also earned ONAC titles in 1989 and 1992. “When I retired in 1996, I never intended to come back and run. I never thought I’d be back out here racing and winning again. It’s a great honor and privilege to get to come back.”
The sprint-mushing legend had to hold off Buddy Streeper, who entered the weekend as the defending ONAC champion, throughout the three days of action.
At Rondy, the two were neck and neck throughout the three days and 75 miles of racing.
Although Wright bested Streeper by roughly two minutes at the Rondy, the ONAC proved to be much closer.
In fact, Wright entered the final heat with just a 19-second advantage over the defending champion.
In the end, though, she came out on top with a three-day total time of 223 minutes, 38.6 seconds after completing Sunday’s 28.8-mile final heat in 94:01.7.
Streeper, a Fort Nelson, British Columbia, native, took second with a total time of 224:02.6. He finished the third heat in 94:07.6.
“I was really focused on what Buddy’s time was,” Wright said of Sunday’s heat. “(Saturday) he was up to 54 seconds ahead of me, and I gained 38 of that back. So I knew my team was strong. It felt good today, when he wasn’t up on me by a minute out there. Sometimes he gained a little on me and I gained a little on him, but crossing the finish line it was a close, good one.”
“It was a good race,” Streeper added. “All you can do is run your own team and (the dogs) did their best job for me. I was happy with that.”
Streeper’s wife, Lina, took third with a total time of 230:06.3. She finished Sunday’s heat in 95:17.4.
James Wheeler, an ONAC veteran from Clam Gulch, completed Sunday’s heat in 98:23.0. His total time of 231:41.7 was enough for a fourth-place finish.
Rookie Amy Dunlap, of Salcha, finished fifth with a total time of 232:01.5.
On Sunday, Dunlap was registering some of the quickest times during the first few check points. However, one of her dogs took a spill near the finish line which caused her to finish the final heat in 100:07.4.
“I thought I had it,” Dunlap said. “My leader stumbled and went down. He’s my powerhouse, so it was unfortunate. But that sort of thing happens, and it was still a great experience for me.”
After all of the teams crossed the finish line, many wondered if Wright will race again.
She became the first to sweep the Rondy and ONAC since Arleigh Reynolds, of Fairbanks, accomplished the feat in 2013 and 2014.
This season, Wright trained and drove dogs from Reynolds’ kennel, but she doesn’t see herself returning to a starting line any time soon.
“I don’t plan on racing again,” she said. “If I do another 20-year hiatus ... I don’t think that’d work.”
After adding an exclamation point to her sensational career on Sunday, nobody would blame Wright if she decides this is the time to finally pick a secluded trail and ride off into the sunset.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bradjoyal.
GCI Open North American Championship
at Jeff Studdert Racegrounds
In order, Friday’s 20.5-mile heat, Saturday’s 20.8-mile heat, Sunday’s 28.8-mile heat, and three-day total
1, Roxy Wright, Fairbanks, 64:15.8-65:21.0-94:01.7—223 minutes, 38.6 seconds; 2, Buddy Streeper, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, 64:50.9-65:04.6-94:07.6—224:02.6; 3, Lina Streeper, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, 67:17.4-67:31.5-95:17.4—230:06.3; 4, James Wheeler, Clam Gulch, 66:24.3-66:54.4-98:23.0—231:41.7; 5, Amy Dunlap, Salcha, 65:02.3-66:51.6-100:07.4—232:01.5; 6, Emilie Entrikin, Fairbanks, 65:52.4-68:16.4-98:48.5—232:52.3; 7, Ken Chezik, Fife Lake, Michigan, 65:18.0-69:03.0-99:35.8—233:56.8; 8, Marvin Kokrine, North Pole, 69:55.7-68:42.5-98:57.5—237:35.7; 9, Don Cousins, Crooked Creek, Alberta, 66:40.9-69:26.0-105:08.0—241:14.9; 10, Mark Hartum, Edmonton, Alberta, 68:55.5-72:22.6-103:18.9—244:37.0; 11, George Attla III, North Pole, 69:06.8-70:51.3-104:51.6—244:49.7; 12, Andria Bond, Salcha, 70:32.1-71:01.6-103:24.1—244:57.8; 13, John Erhart, Tanana, 66:04.8-71:30.5-107:37.0—245:12.3; 14, Evan Hahn, Tanana, 67:59.8-71:26.7-108:20.1—247:46.6; 15, Michael Tetzner, Germany, 67:16.8-70:31.1-110:41.4—248:29.3; 16, Eddie Dayton, Big Lake, 67:15.4-74:38.6-112:44.3—254:38.3; 17, Dave Turner, Fairbanks, 74:57.2-76:10.0-105:44.0—256:51.2; 18, Luke Sampson, Noorvik, 69:39.1-73:18.7-114:23.4—257:21.2; Rob Peebles, Westlock, Alberta, 135:06.2, scratch; Jeff Conn, Ester, 148:08.5, scratch; Mike Fields, Fort Yukon, 153:29.6, scratch; Nikki Seo, South Korea/Salcha, disqualified.