The colorful history and the enduring legacy of the All Alaska Sweepstakes, the oldest organized distance sled dog race in the world, includes records kept by the Nome Kennel Club dating back to the first race in 1908. The race route was from Nome, on the south side of the Seward Peninsula, to the small community of Candle on the north side and return, 408 miles over desolate terrain, following the telegraph lines which linked the precious few camps, villages and gold mining settlements on the Peninsula. This route’s established communication lines allowed those betting on the outcome to track the race more easily from the comfort of saloons like the famed Board of Trade in Nome, where the Nome Kennel Club had been founded the previous year.
A.A. “Scotty” Allan described the route to Candle in his classic book Gold, Men and Dogs (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1931): “It was selected because the trail to it from Nome goes over all kinds of country, from sea ice to high mountains, with rivers, tundra, timber, glaciers, and everything else in the way of mental and physical hardships en route. We knew there wouldn’t be any doubt about the excellence of a dog or driver that covered it.”
With colorful drivers like “Scotty” Allan and Leonhard Seppala, who each won the race three times, the All Alaska Sweepstakes was an eagerly anticipated annual event until the gold mining dropped off and Nome’s population dwindled, along with local interest in sled dog racing. In 1983 the Nome Kennel Club sponsored the 75th Anniversary race, and Rick Swenson took home the $25,000.00 purse. Then, in 2008, for the 100th Anniversary of the event, the Nome Kennel Club offered the richest purse ever for a sled dog race: $100,000.00, winner take all.
Several of Alaska’s best-known mushers entered the Centennial race, including Lance Mackey, Jeff King, Mitch Seavey, Sonny Lindner, Ramy Brooks, Jim Lanier, Cim Smyth, Aaron Burmeister, Ed Iten, Hugh Neff, and Mike Santos. And then there were the mushers who entered simply to be a part of the history of the race: Kirsten Bey, Cari Miller, Fred Moe Napoka, Connor Thomas, and Jeff Darling, whose musher profile noted that he’d entered “for the historical value and a chance to see some countryside he might not otherwise be able to see by dogteam.”
Mitch Seavey won the $100,000 purse for the 2008 race, and organizers and the Nome Kennel Club announced that would be the final running of the epic race, an event now consigned to the pages of Alaska’s colorful mushing history. In 2013 Northern Light Media published The All Alaska Sweepstakes, History of the Great Sled Dog Race, which told the story of the race and the sixteen Alaskan mushers who entered their teams in the Centennial running, each hoping to have their name engraved on the Sweepstakes trophy beside the great mushing legends John ‘Iron Man Johnson, ‘Scotty’ Allan and Leonhard Seppala.
All Alaska Sweepstakes, History of the Great Sled Dog Race. Softcover 8.5″x 11″, published in 2013 by Northern Light Media. 160 pages, over 350 full-color photos. ISBN 978-0-9843977-0-9 • $24.00 plus $5.00 shipping from Northern Light Media.
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