With the 2016 Iron Dog recently completed, we caught up with one veteran team to learn exactly what it takes to run this demanding race. Whether it’s bad luck, bad decisions or bad planning, there are any number of circumstances that cause many teams to withdraw from the race before finishing. Just crossing that finish line, let alone winning, is the accomplishment of a lifetime.
Josh Millville of Chase Toys, Inc. (Unity, Maine) is a primary sponsor behind the #31 Ski-Doo team of Chad Dow and Tim Lessard. What follows is the experience of prepping for one of the world’s most demanding and grueling snowmobile races – the Iron Dog.
“I met Chad Dow in the spring of 2012. He was preparing to race in Cain’s Quest, a snowmobile cross country endurance race in Labrador. This was one of Chad’s first races and one that ended with disappointment. That race was a learning experience for both of us. It showed us that racing is full of ups and downs. After that experience Chad talked with me about his interest in racing the Iron Dog and asked if I would help.
Chad owns a local trailer manufacturing business called Nitro Trailers. He started this business on his own in 2012. During the first summer things were a little slow, so we turned our attention to snowmobile racing. I work at Chase Toys, a Ski-Doo snowmobile dealership located in the same small town as Nitro Trailer. Sponsoring Chad was exciting, but also a bit nerve wracking because we had never participated in something as big as Iron Dog.
Chad’s first year racing Iron Dog was 2013. He learned a lot in his first year. Unfortunately for Chad his partner was injured on day three and they had to scratch.
In the spring of 2013, Chad invited me to a meeting with Tim Lessard. Tim and his wife Carey own Grip n Rip Racing products out of Monmouth, Maine. They manufacture and design aftermarket snowmobile accessories. Tim is a former winner of Cain’s Quest, and has finished in the top three in every race he’s entered. In this meeting we put together a long term plan for Chad and Tim to race Iron Dog as a team. Preparing for Iron Dog is a big undertaking and nearly impossible for the racers to accomplish alone. We divided and conquered; Tim and Chad would build and race sleds and I would find sponsors and market our team.
Since a regular customer cannot order a factory race sled, our first step was to apply for race support from Ski-Doo. As a Ski-Doo dealer I pulled every string I could, and with the resumes Chad and Tim had they were approved. We’re proud to be partnered with the global leader in snowmobile technology.
My next step was to find sponsors. The entrance fee alone for Iron dog is $6,000 per team, and on top of that we had the price of two sleds, the truck, trailer and fuel to haul them to Alaska. Once there, we also needed lodging and spare parts. All in, the total cost to race is roughly $35,000.
To approach sponsors one must be organized and professional. Because I work for a snowmobile dealer I had access to numerous parts catalogs, snowmobile publications, websites and Facebook pages. I sat down and made a spreadsheet listing the name and contact information of every company in each and every publication and website I could get my hands on. I emailed every single company on that list and later followed it up with a phone call. There were a lot of no’s and a few yes’s.
The snowmobiling community is very generous. We were able to secure donated products and the advice of experienced people in the business. Some even gave a monetary contribution. This task was a one day a week job for the entire summer.
At summer’s end we were still short of our goals. We began to think outside the box and reached out to companies who market to snowmobilers, such as energy drink companies, beverage companies and internet forums. The results were modest at best. Next, we reached out to every large corporate company we could think of. The list quickly grew to more than 4,000 names. Our last ditch effort was to reach out to companies in Maine. We didn’t believe that the Maine companies would see the benefit of advertising on our sleds in Alaska 5,000 miles away, but we were very wrong. Within a month we had reached our goal. The people of Maine and New England loved the story of local guys traveling 5,000 miles to race in the “World’s Toughest Snowmobile Race”.
After we secured our sponsors we moved our focus to marketing ourselves. We attended The Maine Snowmobile Show, local grass drags and other snowmobile related events. We highlighted every step of our process, from the announcement of new sponsors, to our entrance on social media. We filed everything from the sled build to test ride and posted them to our social media sites. This helped build up the hype for not only our team, but for Iron Dog as well. Prior to 2012 I had never heard of Iron Dog and I’m sure neither had most Mainers.
Iron Dog is a grueling event and is as tough on the body and mind as it is on the snowmobile. Our team went out two weeks prior to the race to start preparing. Alaska is four hours behind Maine and jet lag definitely can play a factor, so being there early helped adjust the racers’ bodies and prepare for the race.
In order to get the snowmobiles to Alaska, someone had to volunteer to drive the 4,500 miles to Anchorage while towing a trailer full of all of the equipment needed for the race. This year we connected with a second team we sponsored from Maine, Wayne Dyer and Chris Kruse. Wayne was taking his sleds out to Alaska and worked with us to assist in our transport. This was a huge help to Chad and Tim.
We had sleds, sponsors, and a truck and trailer all lined up for the big event. Travel plans were secured and everything was in place for us to race Iron Dog. Then we were hit with some big news. Ski-Doo was debuting a new racing sled for 2015 and it was possible that we would be racing them in Iron Dog instead of the sleds we had been building and basing our plan on.
In October we were told this rumor was true, but no one knew what it was or when it would be out. Preparing for an event like Iron Dog takes months and not knowing what model we would be running was slowing down our planning.
In early January 2015 Ski-Doo released the 2015 Ski-Doo Iron Dog Edition 600 E-TEC. It was perfect. It had a combination of length, durability, and performance. The sleds were shipped directly to Alaska and arrived in mid-January. We had a little more than a month to build-up and prepare two snowmobiles or snow machines, as Alaskans call them. Lucky for Chad and Tim the sleds were as close to perfect as they could be, and with the help of Team CC Ski-Doo and Geuco Racing in Alaska they were able to build the sleds in one week. Korey, Danny and all the staff at Team CC and Geuco Racing are top shelf and their never-stop-pushing attitude worked well with ours, and a winning team was formed.
When building a sled for Iron Dog one must think meticulously. If it is riveted, you change it to bolts in case you have trouble later on and need to save time. If a component weighs 2 ounces, you make it weigh 1.5 ounces without compromising strength. If the lights are bright and something brighter is available, you change it."
"Iron Dog has been run for 30 plus years and 2015 was big as the start of the race took place in downtown Anchorage. The main streets were closed and snow was trucked in and filled the streets as racers ran a ceremonial start down Main Street in front of thousands. Unfortunately, another drastic problem was getting ready to take place. Winter had been especially warm in Alaska and snow conditions were nonexistent to say the least. The first 300 miles literally had no snow. Yes, you read that right; no snow in Alaska. Iron Dog’s response: “We don’t call it the world’s toughest snowmobile race for nothing.”
The race was brutal. Tim and Chad’s first day out was even more brutal. After charging from 34th to 2nd place on the first day, both experienced front shock failure. The shocks failed roughly 200 miles from the next checkpoint in a field of tussocks. A tussock is a large clump of dirt.The best way to describe a tussock is to picture driving through a frozen pumpkin patch.
Also mixed in was the low snow factor. When the shocks failed, the front A-arms and belly pan laid on the ground and were literally dragged 200 miles to the next checkpoint. It took Chad and Tim 24 hours on the clock to reach their next checkpoint. Very few teams have ever had to limp a snowmobile for that period of time. However, after an ordeal like that the snowmobiles were heavily damaged, and Tim and Chad needed to scratch. It definitely was not the finish we had hoped for, however, rather than get upset we all feel it rejuvenated us to go do it again and learn from it. We can’t wait for our next turn!”
Photos provided by Brian Geerdes