A Beginner's Guide to the Iron Dog

John Faeo is Iron Dog's Brett Favre.
John Faeo is Iron Dog's Brett Favre.
Hannah Foslien, Getty Images

What's the difference between a pit bull and a snowmachine racer? A lot more than chapstick. Three months after the race for the White House is decided, Todd Palin and teammate Scott Davis (pictured above) will join dozens of other competitors in Wasilla, Alaska, for the 25th running of the world's longest and toughest snowmachine race. While the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is older and receives more attention, the Iron Dog has been establishing its own legacy since 1984.

The Race: The Iron Dog begins on the second Sunday in February and ends the following Saturday. Racers in the pro-class division travel in teams of two, starting in Wasilla and following the Iditarod Trail northwest to Nome. From there, they motor east to Fairbanks, the terminus of the 1,971-mile journey over frozen tundra.

Rules and Strategy:

Racers are required to rest a minimum number of hours at a minimum number of checkpoints along the course, and typically spend 35-55 hours on their snowmachines. Deciding when and where to rest and how fast to travel can make or break an Iron Dog team's chances of finishing first "“ or at all. While snowmachines can reach speeds over 100 mph, higher speeds increase the likelihood of suffering a crash or mechanical failure. Racers are no longer required to carry any and all of the spare parts they might need from the start, but rules limit the amount of outside help that teams may receive.

Double the Fun: In 1993, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Iron Dog, officials doubled the race's original length "“ from 1,100 miles to 2,200 "“ by making it a round-trip from Big Lake, which is near Wasilla, to Nome. "It's too crazy," racer Dan Zipay ominously told the Anchorage Daily News before the race. "It's too far." Zipay and teammate Evan Booth were in the lead and nearing the finish when Zipay clipped a pine tree and crashed his snowmachine. Of the 21 teams that started the race, 12 had dropped out by the time Bill Long and Scott Davis capitalized on Zipay's poor fortune and crossed the finish line first. The round-trip format was later abandoned and Fairbanks introduced as the race's finish, with Nome serving as the approximate halfway point.

The Prize: The prize for the winner has grown and shrunk since the race's inception, but the 2008 total purse was more than $100,000, with $25,000 going to winners Marc McKenna and Eric Quam. The entry fee is about $3,000 per racer.

Iron Dog's Brett Favre: John Faeo, a Wasilla native, won six of the first eight Iron Dogs, including the first-ever race as a 28-year old in 1984. Even before he won his record seventh Iron Dog in 1996, Faeo was threatening retirement, only to return each year in hopes of adding to his impressive resume. He finally called it quits after the 2007 race. Faeo, 52, raced in a record 23 Iron Dogs and, at least so far, has given no indication that he'll come out of retirement in 2009.

Other Past Champions: Only 20 individuals have experienced the Iron Dog winner's circle. Davis won the Iron Dog five times prior to teaming up with Palin to win his record-tying seventh title in 2007. Davis and Mark Carr won three straight Iron Dogs from 1997-1999, while Zipay won five total titles with two different partners. No one has won both the Iron Dog and the Iditarod, but three-time champion Dusty VanMeter won the Junior Iditarod in 1987. Switching partners is quite common in the small world of snowmachine racing.

This Is Dangerous, Dude: No racer has died during the Iron Dog, but accidents "“ some of them serious "“ are prevalent. During this year's Iron Dog, Palin's snowmachine hit a barrel hidden beneath the snow, launching him about 70 feet over the handlebars. Davis loaded his partner onto his snowmachine and rushed him to a nearby clinic. Palin, who was wearing a helmet and body armor per Iron Dog rules, was released with minor bruises and would eventually finish the race with Davis, well behind the winners. While the competition is fierce, the Iron Dog code of conduct does suggest that all participants stop and render aid if they come upon another team in a life-threatening situation.

Battle of the Brands: NASCAR has Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Toyota; snowmachine racing has Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo, and Yamaha. Since the race's inception, Arctic Cat and Polaris have dominated the winner's circle. The competing manufacturers have offered bonuses in the past to teams who win the Iron Dog riding their machines. Iron Dog's last five winning teams have raced Arctic Cats.

Up To No Good in Nome: Controversy rocked the Iron Dog in 1995. After defending champions Zipay and Evan Booth were initially penalized three minutes for using a pump provided to them by a race official to siphon bad gas out of their snowmachines, several teams threatened to boycott if a more serious penalty was not levied. As race officials met to discuss the incident, VanMeter commented to a local news reporter, "[It proves] they got some special favoritism going on. [Zipay and Booth] are going to win no matter what." Race officials ultimately decided to disqualify Zipay and Booth, as well as the team of VanMeter and Carr for VanMeter's disparaging remarks. The decision helped clear the way for Palin to win his first Iron Dog title with Drake.

Cancelled: A warm winter in 2003 left parts of the Iditarod Trail snow-less. Citing safety concerns and potential environmental damage, the Iron Dog board voted unanimously to cancel what would have been the 20th running of the event. Most racers, including Davis and Palin, were unhappy with the decision. "Gosh dang it," Davis told the Anchorage Daily News. "You probably can't print what I really want to say. Just when you think you've seen it all." Some lobbied for a shortened version of the race, while Palin argued to no avail that the poor trail conditions might actually lessen the chance of an accident.

The Song: Yes, the Iron Dog has its own song.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Surprising Facts About Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris.
Chuck Norris.
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

For decades, martial artist and actor Carlos Ray Norris Jr. has been kicking his way into the hearts of action film fans. In addition to his competitive karate career, Norris has starred in a string of successful movies as well as the long-running CBS drama Walker, Texas Ranger. With Norris having reached the milestone age of 80 years old back in March 2020, we’re taking a look at some of the more interesting facts about his life and career.

1. Chuck Norris is a military veteran.

Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
Chuck Norris stars in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983).
MGM Home Entertainment

Born on March 10, 1940 in Ryan, Oklahoma, Norris was the oldest of three boys and a self-described “shy” child. After a move to California, Norris attended North Torrance High School. After graduating, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he became a member of the military police in the hopes of pursuing a career in law enforcement. It was in the service, while being stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, that Norris first discovered the martial arts. When he once found himself unable to control a rowdy drunk in a bar while on patrol duty, Norris realized he needed combat skills. He studied Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do before returning to California. When he was discharged from the Air Force in 1962, Norris began teaching the skills he had acquired to students.

2. Steve McQueen got Chuck Norris into acting.

Norris became a world champion in karate contests, which lent credence to his abilities as a martial arts instructor. He taught several celebrities the finer points of self-defense, including the Osmonds, Priscilla Presley, and Steve McQueen. Norris even trained Price Is Right host Bob Barker. But not all his schools were doing well, and after retiring from competition in 1974, Norris was looking for other opportunities. McQueen suggested that Norris try his hand at acting. McQueen was right—eventually. It took several years and nine films, but Norris had a breakthrough with 1982’s Lone Wolf McQuade.

3. Chuck Norris needed to obey a producer’s request in order to face off against Bruce Lee.

While Norris didn’t become a household name until the 1980s, his turn as a villain in 1972’s Return of the Dragon (also known as Way of the Dragon) opposite Bruce Lee wound up being a seminal meeting of two onscreen martial arts legends. When Lee was looking for an adversary for the climactic fight, he called Norris, whom he knew and was friends with. But the film’s producer insisted that Norris gain 20 pounds so that he would appear to be much larger than Lee on camera. “That’s why I don’t do jump kicks [in the movie],” Norris told Empire in 2007. “I couldn’t get off the ground!”

4. Chuck Norris founded his own martial arts system.

Taking the knowledge he had acquired over many years of training in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do, Norris developed his own unique martial arts system and philosophy that he eventually dubbed Chun Kuk Do. In addition to combat techniques, the system encourages students to develop themselves to their maximum potential and look for the good in other people. It was renamed the Chuck Norris System in 2015.

5. Chuck Norris once marketed Chuck Norris Action Jeans.

Thanks to his fame in the martial arts world, Norris was sought after to endorse athletic products. In 1982, martial arts equipment company Century recruited Norris to be a spokesperson for their Karate Jeans, which featured flexible fabric sewn into the crotch that would presumably allow the wearer to deliver a bone-crunching kick while looking fashionable. Eventually renamed Action Jeans, Norris promoted them for years.

6. Chuck Norris had his own cartoon series.

At the height of his popularity in the 1980s, Norris teamed with animation company Ruby-Spears for an animated series, Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. The show featured Norris and a team of martial artists fighting villains like Superninja and The Claw. Although 65 shows were planned, just a few aired. “We only did six of them, and then a woman at CBS said, ‘Those are too violent,’” Norris told MTV News in 2009.

7. Chuck Norris is a real Texas Ranger.

For eight seasons, Norris pummeled bad guys as the star of the 1990s CBS television series Walker, Texas Ranger, which became the first primetime show shot on location in Texas at Norris’s insistence. In 2010, Norris was named an honorary member of the Texas Rangers by state governor Rick Perry in acknowledgment of Norris’s work in raising awareness for the elite unit and for his work helping underprivileged youths via martial arts programs. Norris’s brother, Aaron Norris, who was an executive producer on the show, also received the designation.

8. Chuck Norris’s role in Dodgeball was a surprise to Chuck Norris.

Norris is generally good-humored about his persona and is often willing to poke fun at himself. But when he was asked to do a cameo in the 2004 comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, he passed because he didn’t feel like driving three hours to the movie’s set in Long Beach, California. When star Ben Stiller called to ask personally, Norris agreed, but didn’t read the script. He simply shot his scene where he offers a thumbs-up to the dodgeball competitors.

When Norris saw the movie in theaters, he was surprised at the context. “But in the end, when Ben’s a big fatty and watching TV, the last line of the whole movie is, ‘F***in’ Chuck Norris!,'” Norris told Empire in 2007. “My mouth fell open to here… I said, ‘Holy mackerel!’ That was a shock, Ben didn’t tell me about that!”