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.

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

6 Surprising Ways Baseball Actually Favors Lefties

Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If you grew up playing baseball, tee-ball, softball, or any other derivative of America’s favorite pastime, you might be familiar with certain positions left-handed people are unofficially prohibited from playing—you’ll hardly ever see a left-handed shortstop or third baseman, for example, because they’d be facing the wrong direction for any throws to the right side of the field. However, there are plenty of other parts of the game that are equally important as efficiently making outs at first or second base, and some of them can even favor lefties. Read on to find out how left-handed batters, pitchers, and more have an edge against their right-handed competitors below.

1. Left-handed pitchers have a better view of first base.

Since a left-handed pitcher faces first base when he’s gearing up to pitch, he can easily see if a first base runner is leading off (i.e. taking a few steps off the bag, with the intention to steal second base). This makes for some pretty spectacular fake-outs where a pitcher will feign throwing a pitch and instead flip it to the first baseman, who can tag the runner out before he can get a foot (or finger) back on the bag.

2. Left-handed batters are closer to first base.

Left-handed batters are simply standing a little closer to first base than right-handed batters. As former MLB player Doug Bernier explained for Pro Baseball Insider, an extra step or so can be the difference between getting thrown out at first base or making it safely there, especially if it’s an infield hit. That said, not everyone agrees the slightly shorter distance to first base is enough to give left-handed batters an advantage on infield hits in general. In a 2007 article for The Hardball Times, John Walsh argued that since lefties hit more ground balls into the right half of the infield—giving first and second basemen a shorter distance to cover to make the out at first—their one-step head start isn’t statistically significant overall.

3. Left-handed batters’ momentum is already carrying them in the direction of first base.

Even if a shorter distance to first base isn’t enough to give a left-handed batter the edge on every occasion, he also has the laws of physics on his side. When a lefty swings, the momentum of the bat is moving to the right—i.e. toward first base—so he gets to run in the same direction he’s already moving. Righties, on the other hand, swing toward third base and have to break the momentum to sprint in the opposite direction. Dr. David A. Peters, a professor of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (and baseball aficionado), calculated that lefties’ momentum means they’re able to travel to first base about one-sixth of a second faster than righties.

4. Left-handed first basemen are facing the right direction to throw the ball to another infielder.

If the ball is hit to a left-handed first baseman, he’s already in the ideal position—with his right foot closest to his target—to throw it just about anywhere else in the infield. This is especially helpful when there’s an opportunity to make an out at second or third base, which he’d usually prioritize over the first base out. A right-handed first baseman, on the other hand, might have to pivot as much as 180 degrees to get his left foot where it needs to be to throw it to another infielder.

5. Left-handed batters perform better against right-handed pitchers, which are more abundant.

In baseball, it’s generally agreed that batters fare better when hitting against opposite-handed (OH) pitchers, so much so that coaches sometimes stack their batting lineups with lefties when they know a righty will be pitching, and vice versa. “With the dominance of right-handed pitchers in the game,” Dan Peterson writes for gameSense Sports, “the left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a built-in advantage.” The advantage itself has to do with the direction of the pitches.

“With a right-handed release to a right-handed batter, the ball seems to be coming right at him,” Peterson explains. “The same pitch coming from the opposite side provides a better view across the body.”

6. Right field is shorter than left field in some parks.

detroit tigers comerica park aerial view
An aerial view of the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When professional baseball stadiums first started cropping up in the late 19th century, there wasn’t a league-wide set of dimensions to standardize their size and shape (in fact, for the most part, there still isn’t). Since the majority of batters were right-handed—and, as such, more likely to hit the ball into left field—some stadiums featured left fields that were significantly deeper than their right fields. Take Philadelphia’s Columbia Park II, which opened in 1901 with a 340-foot left field and a 280-foot right field. Those short right fields meant left-handed batters would have an easier time hitting home runs. While most modern stadiums have quite literally evened the playing field with more symmetrical dimensions, some of them still have discrepancies; the right field foul pole at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, for example, is a whole 15 feet closer to home plate than its left field foul pole.

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