FAIRBANKS — Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter did it again.
The dynamic snowmachine duo won the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks for the second straight year when they cruised into Fairbanks shortly after noon Saturday.
Driving Ski-Doo MX Z X-RS 600cc snowmachines, Anchorage’s McKenna, 34, and Kasilof’s VanMeter, 43, coasted across the finish line on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks at 12:38 p.m. to claim their second straight title in the toughest snowmachine race in the world.
It was the fourth Iron Dog victory for McKenna and the fifth for VanMeter.
Both men were greeted by their families and hundreds of well-wishers after crossing the finish line in the midst of Fairbanks’ Tired Iron Festival, also taking place on the river in the center of the Golden Heart City.
McKenna’s wife, Kristin, and daughters, Asa and Teya, were on hand for the celebration as were VanMeter’s wife, Evelyn; daughters, Kaiti and Shaelyn; and son, Brayden.
“It was a good race. We just kind of cruised,” McKenna said. “We never got carried away with trying to go too fast. We just kind of kept the pace and stuck with it.”
The duo was a little off the pace early in the race but wound up winning by about 50 minutes.
“It was not uneventful,” Dusty VanMeter said. “We had our woes. The first couple of days, we were down a little, but we made our push and got back in it.”
McKenna and VanMeter finished the race with a trail time of 36 hours, 58 minutes and 54 seconds for an average speed of 57.22 miles per hour.
While the team won the race by a wide margin, there were times when there was some concern.
“It was a little nerve-wracking leaving Nome with a four-minute lead and knowing there was someone right on your tail for hundreds of miles,” McKenna said.
Brian Dick and Eric Quam had been chasing the winners from Nome to Galena and were running four minutes off the pace the entire time. However, a broken jackshaft on Quam’s Arctic Cat forced the duo to tow the machine 50 miles to Tanana on Friday, giving McKenna and VanMeter the luxury of not having to push to the finish.
Still, neither of the winners was taking anything for granted.
“You never know until you get right there,” VanMeter said, pointing to the finish line. “We’ve had a couple of close calls on the river before, so you can’t count on anything until you get here.”
Dick and Quam eventually scratched Saturday in Nenana because of mechanical problems.
The winners collected a $50,000 paycheck in addition to winning the Donlin Gold $10,000 halfway prize for the third straight year.
The race offered a purse of $210,000, with $126,000 being cash and $84,000 in contingency prizes.
Both racers on the winning team praised their Ski-Doo machines.
“I think they are the best,” VanMeter said of his choice of machines.
“There are a lot of good machines out there, but these are the best,” he said. “I haven’t had any work on them for years.”
McKenna echoed VanMeter’s thoughts.
“Ski-Doos are the best,” MeKenna said. “They get unbelievable fuel economy, they don’t use a lot of oil and they don’t break down.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re in a league of their own,” he said. “These are identical to the machines we used last year.”
Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson finished second at 1:29 p.m. They had a trail time of 37:49:39 and an average speed of 55.94 mph. They received a $35,000 paycheck.
Third place and an $18,000 paycheck went to Mike Morgan and Chris Olds, who crossed the finish line at 1:57 p.m. for a trail time of 38:17.2 and an average speed of 55.26 mph.
The youngest team in the race, featuring 22-year-old Aaron Bartel and 19-year-old Brad George, finished fourth at 1:59, earning a $13,000 paycheck. They were on the trail 38:19:24 and averaged 55.21 mph.
Scott Davis and Todd Palin rounded out the top five and collected $10,000. They finished at 2:40 p.m. with a trail time of 39:20:33 and an average speed of 54.78 mph.
Sixth place earned free entry into the 2014 Iron Dog and went to Ryan Sottosanti and Andrew Zwink with a trail time of 42:14:30 for an average speed of 50.09 mph.
By Saturday evening, all 22 teams that left Tanana on Saturday morning had arrived in Fairbanks or scratched. Twenty teams completed the race, and 20 teams scratched.
Saturday’s other scratch was Cody Barber and Shane Barber because of injury. Information on the injury was not available Saturday night.
Other finishing teams and their trail times were: Chris Collins and Brad Reich. 44:17:20; Aaron Marks and Arnold Marks Jr., 45:24:06; John Faeo Jr., and Scott Faeo, 46:02:35; Stan Brown and John Dean, 48:12:26; Geoff Crouse and Jerrod Vaughn,49:18:23; Robert Strick and Steffen Strick Jr., 49:48:59; Bret Brown and Cody Kubitz, 51:45:51; Ryan Johnson and Andy Lachinski, 52:42:58; Steven Boney and Arthur Laraux, 55:21:21; Bill Wilkes and Wayne Wold, 56:02:00 (includes time penalty for finishing at Pike’s Landing); Roger Brown and Andrew Wessels, 58:04:14; Colby Hill and George Juhlin, 59:13:32; Vince Salzbrun and Michael Williams, 61:13:05; and red lantern winners Bo Phillips and Nathan Whitted, 69:19:11.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7581.