The 75th running of the Open North American Championship was one for the record books, with Blayne “Buddy” Streeper of British Columbia turning in a blistering performance Sunday to claim his seventh ONAC title.
It wasn’t the first record set this weekend with the top three mushers only seconds apart over the course of the three-day race at Jeff Studdert Racegrounds.
On Friday, Quebec musher Anny Malo set a record on the 20.4 mile course to take the lead, with Streeper close on her heels. On Saturday, another musher from Quebec, rookie Erick LaForce, turned in the day’s fastest heat and slipped into second place.
On Sunday, however, Streeper flew through the 27.9 mile course in 92 minutes, 10.9 seconds, breaking Egil Ellis’ 2010 record — despite having to carry a dog in his sled — to win his seventh ONAC. His total elapsed time was 219:47.7, eclipsing Malo by 2 seconds over three days and 70 miles of fast-paced action.
“We put on a really good show,” Malo said when the awards were being handed out. “I was third in 2019, second this year, so I’ll be back next year.”
After the race, Streeper told a story about his lead dog, Timber. He said he had had some leader trouble in the first two heats and was wondering who to put in front for the final day.
When he got up Sunday, his wife, Lina, said she had dreamed about the race. Streeper asked her who was in lead.
She said it was Timber.
“So I said ‘Timber’s going,’” Streeper said.
Then Streeper told a story about the dog, which had an inauspicious start to life.
Streeper said he was expecting a litter four years ago on what turned out to be an unusually cold April morning. He walked into the kennel and saw that one of the pups had been pushed off into a corner and was cold and unresponsive.
“He wasn’t going to make it,” Streeper said, but he picked up the pup, rubbed it and tried to warm it up. The pup responded, so he rubbed it some more, kissed it on its head and saw the pup stick out its tongue. The pup started nursing and thrived, and eventually took his place at the front of Streeper’s team.
Sunday’s race was again held under brilliantly sunny skies. While Friday and Saturday’s heats were 20.4 miles, Sunday’s was 27.9 miles with the added complication of having the last-place musher starting first, ensuring some passes along the trail and a little more drama. Eddy Dayton, who started off the series with a 22-dog string, by far the largest, still had one of the two largest teams on Sunday with 14. He ran into some trouble at the start, losing about 20 seconds before he got under way.
Nikki Seo, who trains in Salcha, was disqualified after improperly securing a dog into his sledbag.
Malo had the next fastest finish Sunday, 92:55.1. LaForce was third on Sunday at 222:19.5 with an elapsed time of 222:19.5, good for third place overall.
The 2021 race was held in memory of Gareth Wright, who won the ONAC twice and the Fur Rendezvous three times over a 60-year racing career. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Alaska Dog Mushing Association, which hosts the ONAC and for breeding a line of dogs he called “aurora huskies.” Wright died in 2019.
Streeper dedicated his win to the Alaska husky, especially Wright’s aurora huskies. For the victory, he received a check for $5,400 and will have his name engraved on the Governor’s Trophy for a seventh time. He previously won the race in 2007, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.
Open North American Day 3 results, 27.9 miles
1. Blayne “Buddy” Streeper, 14 dogs, 92:19.9; 219.47.7 overall
2. Anny Malo, 10 dogs, 92:55; 219.49.3
3. Erick LaForce, 9 dogs, 94:48.1; 222:19.5
4. Jake Robinson, 10 dogs, 96:16.8; 232:46.0
5. Michael Tetzner, 12 dogs; 99:05.5; 234:32.2
6. Ricky Taylor, 10 dogs; 100:42.5; 234:44.1
7. Marvin Kokrine, 11 dogs; 102:18.7; 240:21.8
8. Abigail Fox, 10 dogs; 96:56.7; 241:25.2
9. Beth Callis, 9 dogs; 101:20.3; 242:39.3
10. Eddy Dayton, 14 dogs; 106:55.8; 246:31.0
11. Tony Blanford, 12 dogs; 104:25.8; 247:53.4
12. Tom Huntington, 9 dogs; 111:46.9; 251:23.5
13. Frank Habermann, 12 dogs; 115:01.7; 255:14.7
14. Andi Huetten, 10 dogs; 106:35.7; 260:18.4
15. Dave Turner, 9 dogs; 107:02.0; 263:54.2