This year, the dogs beat the heat
by Tom Coombe
Mild temperatures made for near-perfect conditions for spectators and did little to slow down the dogs at last weekend’s WolfTrack Classic.
The 12th running of the sled dog race was a hit - with hundreds of people turning out for Sunday’s races held under sunny skies and near 40-degree conditions.
While some dogs cooled down by rolling in the snow at the finish area near Ely’s softball complex, they set a blazing pace on the course with a team led by Michael Bestgen claiming the eight-dog, 50-mile race with a time of four hours, 36 minutes, 26 seconds.
Bestgen was first among eight mushers.
The six-dog race went for 30 miles and included 23 mushers, with Jim Ward’s team holding off Nick Turman’s team by 16 seconds to take the title.
Weather was one of the big stories of this year’s event, with the warm temperatures in sharp contrast to a 2019 event marked by sub-zero temperatures and brutal winds.
The event also made for a full weekend of activity in Ely, with mushers and dog teams arriving in town Saturday for vet checks and a pre-race dinner held on the campus of Vermilion Community College.
Volunteers, both from the Ely area and beyond, turned out to handle jobs ranging from dog handling to road crossing. The Ely Chamber of Commerce took on sponsorship and coordination of the race this year.
The Chamber also gave a nod to Ely’s rich sled dog history, with mushers from the All-American Sled Dog races of the 1970s speaking at the dinner and looking back to an era when Ely was known as the sled dog capital of the United States.
The top-five finishers in the eight-dog race were:
1. Bestgen, 4:36:26;
2. Dusty Klaven, 4:40:34;
3. Frank Moe, 4:52:56;
4. Rhonda Heerschap, 4:55:41;
5. Ero Wallin, 4:58:23.
The six-dog top-10 was as follows:
1. Jim Ward, 2:26:32;
2. Nick Turman, 2:26:48;
3. Susan Serafini, 2:30:48;
4. Clayton Schneider, 2:34:05;
5. Andre Duval, 2:35:51;
6. Taylor DeBoer, 2:41:35;
7. Ryan Miller, 2:47:48;
8. Billie Thompson, 2:50:09;
9. Jen Freking, 2:52:06;
10. Mary Manning, 2:52:56.
After a successful 2020 event, organizers are already looking ahead to next year.
They’ve set the 2021 race for Feb. 21.