Nome Kennel Club holds first race of the season
For the winter season, Nome Kennel Club has planned a series of local sled dog races, having held its first one on January 27 with a 20-mile/10-dog and an eight-mile/eight-dog event for local mushers. At the start line were three dog teams run by Stephanie Johnson, Nils Hahn and Diana Haecker to tackle the 20-mile course and Cynthia Barrand to run the eight-mile loop with eight dogs from Stephanie Johnson’s kennel.
More races are planned: On Feb. 10, a 30-mile/12-dog race, a weekend campout race on Feb. 24/25 and the culmination of this year’s racing season will be the 200-mile Nome-Council race planned for March 24/25. The club also organizes the Nome Businessman’s Race that allows the public to race on a 3-dog team for a fee and it serves as a fundraiser for the club. It is held on March 16, during the Iditarod week.
All races and the Businessman’s Race start and finish at the City’s snowdump facility off Greg Kruschek Ave.
Founded in 1907, the Nome Kennel Club is almost as old as The Nome Nugget Newspaper. There were a lot of mushing races in Nome at the time and betting was a big part of the sport. The races were shorter, some three or four miles and some longer, going to Cape Nome or to Candle and back. Races were publicized by the wire services and that enabled even more betting.
The All-Alaska Sweepstakes began in 1908 and in the beginning the times were slow. The dogs were freight teams, heavy dogs with tremendous power. But in 1910 Fox Maule Ramsey brought three teams of Siberian huskies from Russia. One of Ramsey’s teams driven by Iron Man Johnson set a record, which stands to this day. The All Alaska Sweepstakes continued until 1918 and although there was still some racing interest in mushing, it died out.
The Nome Kennel Club came back to life in 1925 thanks to the exploits of the club’s best known musher, Leonhard Seppala. Diphtheria had appeared in Nome and the only way to get the serum to Nome was transportation by dog team. The few airplanes in the state were put away in Fairbanks. Serum for diphtheria was found in Anchorage and the Alaska Railroad transported it to Nenana. From there a relay of 20 dog mushers carried the medicine to Nome in 129.5 hours. The epidemic was avoided thanks to the mushers and their dogs.
From the time of the serum run up until WWII there was some racing, mostly over shorter distances. In the early years dogs had been an important part of the Nome economy. They carried freight for the mining companies. But development of infrastructure and modernization made the dog teams obsolete. Still, they also carried mail for the US Postal Service. The last dog team for the Post Office retired in 1962 on St. Lawrence Island.
When the Nome Kennel Club withered away a new club formed. The Arctic Club had a brief history but played an important role in mushing. They raised money and promoted races until 1962. Mushers who were racing at that time are still well-known today: Chester Topkok, Wayne Topkok, Isaac Okleasik, Doc Harris from the Kotzebue area and Wilbur Sampson from Noorvik.
In 1973, the beginning of the Iditarod brought a resurgence of dog racing to Nome. Interest in mushing grew with the popularity of the race. In 1974, Leo Rasmussen, Howard Farley, Ethan Windahl and Carl Glavinovich incorporated and brought back the Nome Kennel Club. It was incorporated it as a non-profit corporation and brought back racing in Nome.
Today, Kirsten Bey is president of the Nome Kennel Club. She presides over a membership of about 35 members. They elect a board of directors to supervise the functions of the club. The club promotes dog racing.
“We are responsible for and maintain the Topkok shelter cabin and we put in some trails which are used by mushers and anybody who wants to get out,” said Bey.
“Staking it is the main thing,” said Bey. The NKC marks and maintains trails that are not only used by mushers but also fatbikers, skiers, skijorers, and snowshoers.
Results from the Jan. 27 race:
1. Diana Haecker, time: 1:38:35
2. Nils Hahn, time: 1:40:18
3. Stephanie Masters-Johnson, time: 1:47:27
1.: Cynthia Barrand, time: 49:01