January 13, 2011 |

Alcan racers ready, snow or no

The Alcan 200, the longest snowmachine road race in North America, returns for its 42nd running 10 a.m. Saturday.

"We’ve got some real diehard racers who come down every year for this race," said Karen Hess, race organizer and president of the Chilkat Snowburners. "They just love the sport of it and they love the challenge of racing on the highway."

The race covers about 160 miles from 42 Mile Haines Highway to Dezadeash Lake and back.

The race in recent years has attracted about 40 participants, with open class drivers topping average speeds of 100 miles per hour.

"We start the faster machines first," Hess said. "We start them side-by-side, and they’re 30 seconds apart, and that keeps them ahead of the slower machines. That’s for safety reasons, obviously."

The Haines Highway will be closed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Alaska time for the race. A ministerial order shuts down the highway in Canada.

"As soon as we get our last vehicle into Dezadeash - so all racers come in and then your low-boy and your ambulance and your little bus comes in - after that we give them 30 minutes to do any extra work they have to do to their machines and relax," Hess said. "They get on their machines and then we send them back, 30 seconds apart, single-file, from Dezadeash at the same position that they came into Dezadeash."

The event draws heavily from Interior Alaska and Canada. The top three overall finishers are guaranteed prize money of $500 to $1,000. Drivers pay a $325 registration fee, Hess said, and local business sponsors help support the prize purse for the Alcan’s several classes.

"You’ll hit, probably, about three or four different climates, between (42 Mile) and Dezadeash, so you really never know what they’re going to run into," she said. "They’ll carry an extra belt, a lot of them, around their handlebars, in case they blow a belt. Some of them will carry a little tool kit in the back, just in case they need to work on anything or they break down."

An awards banquet and dinner will follow the race Saturday night at the Elks’ Lodge.

Hess said the Alcan is "pretty much just a straight shot" on the highway, which at one time had more curves. "It used to be more of a race of skill, and now it’s pretty much a race of whoever can keep their machine together."

Hess said her husband, Duck Hess, is the only local driver registered for the Alcan as of Tuesday. "He says he’s racing this year because he’s 70 and he’s going to show all the young guys that you can still race when you’re 70 years old," she said.

Duck Hess said he last raced the Alcan at age 65. He won the event in 1976.

"It’s a chance to get out there and go at speeds that you can’t go out in the bush," he said. "Out in the bush, if you go 40 miles an hour, you’re going awful fast. Up there, even the machine that I ride will go 85."

The Alcan will include a Calcutta auction Friday at the Fogcutter Bar. Driver registration begins 5:30 p.m.

Race conditions were light on snow as of early this week. "There’s a lot of bare pavement right now," Karen Hess said. "We’re hoping it’s going to snow up there, but we’ve had bare pavement before."