FAIRBANKS - Buddy Streeper’s plan worked just the way he wanted it to at the 2016 GCI Open North American Championship sled dog race at Mushers Hall.
Streeper, from Fort Nelson, British Columbia, sat in fourth place after the first heat on Friday before taking the lead in Saturday’s heat. On Sunday, Streeper claimed his second straight ONAC title at the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds.
“These are like thoroughbred horses. They want to get out and run,” Streeper said of his dogs. “So our first run was on Friday and I wanted to take it easy with them. I didn’t want to overrun them, I don’t want to make them go harder than they should.
“I just put myself in a good position. You can’t win the race on the first day but you can lose it. And we kept ourselves within eyesight of the leaders. Yesterday we made our push and today we closed it off.”
Streeper and his 14-dog team crossed the finish line in 96 minutes, 17.2 seconds, giving him a three-day time of 227:09.7. His time for Sunday’s 28.08-mile race was the fastest in the field of 20 mushers, who were racing with temperatures in the high 20s.
“It was a big warm up. I gauge my speed a little more accordingly,” Streeper said. “Yesterday was cold, hard and fast. We could really fly. Today, I knew it was going to be tougher. The trail was starting to deteriorate with the temperatures. So I held them back a little bit, made sure they were comfortable, took it easy for the first portion of the race.”
The win on Sunday gives Streeper four ONAC titles. Streeper joins Egil Ellis (12), George Attla (eight) and Roland Lombard (six) as mushers who have won four or more ONAC titles.
The Streeper family now has seven ONAC titles to its name. Amy Streeper, Buddy’s aunt, won back-to-back titles in 1995-96 and Eddie Streeper, Buddy’s uncle, won in 1985.
On Sunday, mushers started the race in reverse of the standings, meaning Streeper was the last musher to leave. But chasing the other mushers on the trails is a position he wanted to be in.
“What I can do then is I can gauge my race,” Streeper said. “I don’t have to set the bar. If you ask any major athlete, they like to see what the other guy did and then they have to propel themselves.”
“That’s what Jason Dunlap and Roxy (Wright) are doing,” Streeper added. “They’re setting the bar and then I get to see if I want to go over the top of it or match it. I can gauge the team’s performance for the finishing leg.”
Dunlap, from Salcha, was in second place overall entering Sunday but finished fifth overall after completing Sunday’s race in 105:00.7. Wright started third and finished runner-up, edging out Lina Streeper, Buddy’s wife, by 1.9 seconds.
“I knew she was doing very, very well and that she was a minute something up on me,” Wright said of Lina. “I only had I think a minute on her. I knew that she might get me. I can only run what’s in front of my sled. I can’t change dogs in the middle of the run.”
Lina, meanwhile, was unaware of how Wright, of Fairbanks, was doing during the race.
“I had no radio and I had nobody giving me updates,” Lina Streeper said. “I had no idea. I was just trying to go as fast as I could.”
Lina Streeper and her 12-dog team finished with the second fastest time on Sunday, crossing the finish line in 96:39.0. That time nearly erased the 1:04 she trailed Wright by entering Sunday.
“Last year, I had a really good on the run on the third day,” Lina Streeper said. “So I tried to remember how I did it last year and tried to do the same this year. Just go a little quicker and stay quicker.”
“Maybe I should have pedaled two more pedals coming up the hill,” added Lina Streeper, who finished sixth last year.
Wright finished Sunday in 97:40.4. Wright, racing with nine dogs, compiled a total time of 229:31.3 while Lina Streeper finished at 229:33.2.
“It doesn’t matter how fast anyone else is going, I have to run my team at the pace and the way they were trained to run,” Wright said. “Because if you let them go too fast at the start, then you’re not going to have any gas in the tank to come home.”
This weekend was the first time Wright had competed in the ONAC since 1996. She won the ONAC in 1989, 1992 and 1993.
“It’s a pretty awesome comeback after 20 years for a great grandma,” Wright said.
Despite the runner-up showing, Wright said she isn’t sure if she will compete in any more races.
“I gave all these young new mushers an opportunity to race me. A lot of them were just little kids when I retired,” Wright said. “Who knows what will happen? You don’t know what the future holds.”
Buddy, who has won every race he has entered in the last year, and Lina Streeper both race out of the Streeper Kennel.
“I’m really proud of that team,” Buddy Streeper said. “It’s a real good dog team. For her to get the experience now, to see what it takes to get to the elite level at this prestigious event, its great for our kennel.”
Mushers raced 20.8 miles on Friday and 20.26 miles on Saturday before Sunday’s 28.08-mile race. The extra eight miles on Sunday weren’t a problem for either Streeper team.
“In all honesty, I think I could have turned that team around and do it again. They’re that conditioned,” Buddy Streeper said.
“They did good,” Lina Streeper said. “I’d say they looked better today than they did the first day.”
Rob Peebles, of Westlock, Alberta, moved up from sixth to finish fourth overall in 233:31.2. Peebles and his 14-dog team finished the 28.08-mile race on Sunday in 99:54.7.
Dunlap, who posted the fastest time in Friday’s heat, compiled a three-day time of 236:36.8.
Contact sports reporter Tim O’Donnell at 459-7583. Follow him on Twitter: