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100th Anniversary All Alaska Sweepstakes Race

Provided by Al Crane, Lead Race Judge, or by modern definition, Race Marshal

Centennial Anniversary All Alaska Sweepstakes Race Gains Momentum

The Nome Kennel Club and the All Alaska Sweepstakes Sled Dog Race Committee has named Al Crane Lead Race Judge, or by modern definition, Race Marshal for the re-run of the historic Nome - Candle Race and Bob Sept as Chief Veterinarian. In addition, Mark Nordman (present Iditarod Race Marshal) has been named to head a panel of five additional judges as required during the original Sweepstakes races. These men have brought to the race decades of cumulative experience in sled dog racing, administration and veterinarian care.

The race, born out of a need to relieve the doldrums of the long Alaska winters for the early gold miners of Nome, naturally included the winter land transportation mode of the era, sled dog teams. Large sums of money were bet on each team and there was tremendous pressure as word was passed along the telegraph lines for each entrant to win. However, winning in that 400 plus mile race did not mean pulling out all the stops and going for broke, but employing the use of great strategy and special care to get their dogs through some of the roughest and most inhospitable landscape in Alaska. From those early races have come most of the basic rules for present-day long distance or for that matter all sled dog racing; thus, all sled dog racing is tied inextricably to the Sweepstakes race.

The preparation and hype of the event is detailed in Ester Birdsall Darling's 1916 book Baldy of Nome-one in a series of books chronicling life in Nome at that time. As the entrants and public prepared for the Great Race, she wrote of the carnival atmosphere: Through the narrow streets, gay and fluttering streamers of the Kennel Club gold and green, they went. Banners and pennants shone resplendent under the cloudless blue of the April sky; and the crowds in high spirits and gala attire, eager and laughing, closed in upon them…and she writes of the arrival of the Queen of the event and her maids of honor. Presently the merry jingle of bells, and loud shouts, announced the approach of the Royal Sled. Covered with magnificent wolf robes…the Queen of the North dashed up to the Royal Box…in one hand she carried a quaintly carved scepter of ivory, made from a huge walrus tusk, and in the other the American Flag at whose dip would begin once more the struggle for supremacy of the trail. A Supremacy which is not merely the winning of the purses and cup, but is the conquering of the obstacles and terrors that beset the trackless wastes-a defiance of the elements, a triumph of human nature over nature.

At a mid June meeting of the Board of Directors of the Nome Kennel Club, Crane was selected as lead judge and was authorized as the spokesman for the rules, trail and other logistical aspects of the race.

According to Crane, the rules to be used in the 2008 100th year Anniversary race are the same seventeen rules as those adopted for the l917 race. These identical rules were used for the 75th Anniversary re-run in 1983. For the 1983 race, the Kennel Club included an Interpretation of the Rules Supplement, which will again be provided to each 2008 contestant in an updated version after a planned late fall Kennel Club meeting. Notable changes in the modern Supplement will address the updated concepts for dog welfare and care, such as the no whip rule, and ideas to incorporate additional protection for dogs not considered in the early Sweepstakes or in 1983.

A lot of effort and thought has gone into the supplement to interpret the 1917 rules. For those who think more rules are needed or that they should be changed, the Kennel Club notes that the rules worked in the early days and they worked again in 1983. Besides, Crane asserts, big changes in the rules or the trail or any other aspect of the race would alter the historic significance of the re-running celebration.

Crane's admonition to potential participants regarding the rules or the lack thereof is the same one printed in an excerpt from the Nome Nugget Mining edition 1908, The distance was made four hundred and forty miles in order to force the drivers to nurse their dogs, and to prevent the natural cruelty that would result from racing a shorter distance where it might be attempted to press dogs through in one continuous drive without rest. To further insure against any cruelty or over taxation for the strength and endurance of the dogs, a very salutary rule was adopted, that each driver must return to the starting point with every dog that he started out with and none others, so that the driver of each team, was forced to take the utmost care of each dog in order to comply with the rule.

Again Darling's book, Baldy of Nome, also describes in detail the preparation and running (and winning) of Scotty Allen, one of the Sweepstakes races most celebrated three time winners and Crane suggests that this book should be required reading by every entrant in the 2008 re-run.

The interest is high in adding another name to the premier list of winners, Scotty Allan, Leonhard Seppala, John "Iron Man" Johnson and Rick Swenson in 1983. Two time winner John Johnson's record of 74 hours 14 minutes and 37 seconds still stands. Allan and Seppala each won it three times; however, Allan ranked consistently in the top twenty best times six times, three more than his closest rivals John Johnson and Fay Delzene. Rick Swenson's time of 84 hours, 42 minutes and 4 seconds places him also in the overall top twenty best times under 85 hours.

When Swenson was asked how he rated the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race, he responded; "It's an historic event, and on a scale of 1 to 10 it's probably an 11. It's an 11 on historical significance, it's an 11 on its difficulty to finish, and it takes an 11 in dog care to win."

As for support for the event, the Nome Kennel Club announces that they have a good start on the funds needed for the race either in the bank or in pledges and welcome any sponsor interest. Crane says to be a part of this event in any way will be contributing to a slice of history in the making and that interest in the Race is growing every day. Because all long distance racing-including its rules-has its roots grounded in the All Alaska Sweepstakes, Crane says it is his goal to secure support of all dog mushing events, specifically Iditarod, Yukon Quest, Kuskokwim 300, Kobuk 440, and the Copper Basin 300, as sponsors in any form they choose-from information dissemination, to providing personnel-anything! Everyone should be included in this birthday celebration.

Crane can be contacted at

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