Given the growing national interest in Alaska’s unique Iron Dog race, my friend Ron Devito, publisher of US for Palin, and I, thought it would be fun if we collaborated on an interview with Todd Palin. Todd is an Iron Dog four-time champion, 20+ race veteran, family friend and my all-time favorite Dogger.
This truly Alaskan race takes drivers across 1,100 miles of remote, beautiful, Alaska. This long trail is dotted with many small villages, and wonderful people, from Wasilla to Fairbanks. Here is the 12 minute interview. Enjoy.
Todd Palin tells his story in this exclusive interview from LeadDog Alaska and US for Palin. LeadDog Alaska hosted the interview in which Palin answered questions from both site publishers.
How Did You Get Started in Iron Dog Racing?
Palin grew up around snow machines all his life. It was common for kids to drive them to school and have small races. When Palin settled in Wasilla, he first heard of the Iron Dog race from a buddy, Frank Woods. The pair signed up for their first race in 1993 finishing in fifth place. Because they had to get a snow machine welded up in McGrath, they were busted down to Trail Class, but that did not matter. Palin’s Iron Dog career was launched and his course was charted.
What Keeps You Wanting to Race?
“The Iron Dog gets under your skin. It’s very hard to shake away,” Palin said. He loves traveling through the remote Alaskan villages and catching up with friends he sees once a year. He said the Iron Dog race is like an “expensive gym membership,” and “what a guy does to get out of town for a week.”
What’s Been Your Worst Experience on the Trail?
Palin’s two worst experiences were losing race by one second in 2006 and breaking his arm in 2008. Stuff that he considers normal: accidents, getting stuck in rivers, falling into bodies of water, blown engines, broken chains, blown shocks. He’s never had to walk back on the trail. “All in all, it’s been great,” he said.
What is your most “warms your heart”, or “funny” memory?
Palin said he did not find anything that “warms your heart,” about the race, but it has had its funny moments. He said “coming across the finish line first is a big smile. Four times first is pretty awesome. So, I mean that’s the whole goal of participating in this race: to win.
What Drove Your Decision to Move from Ski-Doo to Polaris?
Palin’s move to Polaris brings him full circle. His first snow machine was a Montgomery Ward Sno Jet that wouldn’t start given to him by his dad. “If you can start it, you can drive it.” Palin got his buddies and made the Sno Jet start. A year or two later, Palin’s dad bought a 250 cc Polaris which he put a lot of time on. Meanwhile, his mother in Dillingham was a Polaris dealer and Palin himself was a Polaris dealer out of Big Lake. From his first Iron Dog race in 1993 till 1998, Palin used Polaris snowmachines. Palin sold his dealership in 1996.
Palin and his race partners switched to Arctic Cat in 1999. He remained Arctic Cat man for 13 years winning three out of his four championships on those sleds. Arctic Cat was the dominant manufacturer of the era and provided the most support.
In 2013, Palin switched to Ski-Doo, then in 2014 with Tyler Huntington. Ski-Doo’s ETEC engine and the snow machine’s chassis proved to be an advantage at the time. Arctic Cat had not developed a real Iron Dog sled.
In 2015, the full-circle return was brought on by Tyler Huntington. “He’s a Polaris guy and had a really good deal with the Outpost Dealership in Fairbanks,” Palin said. Huntington wanted to get back on Polaris, so Palin made the switch.
How Would You Describe This Year’s Conditions?
This year, over 300 miles of trail did not have one flake of snow on the ground. They were conditions more suited to an ATV, than a snowmachine. The Polaris Switchback® AXYS™ 600 snowmachines held up.
What are Your Own Iron Dog Plans for the Future?
Huntington Retires from Iron Dog
As previously reported, Tyler Huntington severely injured his hips and pelvis in a 2012 training accident. Huntington injured one of his arms in what was supposed to be 1,000-mile training run this year. Huntington had an accident and by the time Palin saw him, he T-boned Huntington’s sled, knocking both practice sleds out of commission. Huntington’s hips are “held together with screws and chains,” Palin said. “It’s amazing he even raced at all.”
The combination of Huntington’s injuries, the short training run, and the snowless conditions added up to a bad run where even finishing at all was a win. Palin and Huntington came in 10th place at the time the story went to press.
Still making His 2016 Decision
Palin is busy getting sleds back to the dealers, thanking sponsors and doing other post-race tasks. In next year’s race, Palin will be 52. He said he is one of the older guys in the Pro Class. With Huntington retired, Palin would need a new partner and that may also mean another snowmachine change. In past years, we have announced Palin’s forthcoming races in November.
Anything Else You Wish to Share?
Palin said Iron Dog races would not be possible without help from the manufacturers and sponsors, and blessing from the family. He said the race puts a lot of tension on the family and “without their support, I would have been done a long time ago.” Indeed, his wife, Sarah structured her February speaking circuit around the race and more than likely canceled a once-in-a-lifetime speech at Cambridge University to be at the finish line.
He said Iron Dog racing is like a marathon. “You have to put the time in or you’ll have a bad run.”
That’s it from LeadDog Alaska and US for Palin 🙂 Have a great day.
Todd Palin talks Iron Dog © 2015 Lead Dog Alaska and US for Palin
April 3, 2015