The average speed of Saturday’s Alcan 200 winner dipped below 100 mph as frigid temperatures and scant snow cover challenged the field.
Jarrid Davy, 39, of Whitehorse, Y.T. took the $1,000 top prize in a time of 1:33.28, for an average speed of 99.5 mph.
"The key to victory was having the opportunity to run an incredibly fast, four-stroke snowmobile from Yamaha," said Davy, a previous runner-up in the Alcan. "It was not my ability; it was strictly the product."
Past winners of the Alcan, the longest snowmachine road race in North America, have tallied average speeds of around 120 mph on the nearly 160-mile route from 42 Mile Haines Highway to Dezadeash Lake and back.
The race, in its 42nd year, drew 28 registrants, mostly from Interior Alaska and Canada. Twenty-one drivers posted a time at Dezadeash; 18 headed back to 42 Mile and 15 finished, said Karen Hess, race organizer and president of the Chilkat Snowburners. She said the temperature was 20-below where she was stationed at Dezadeash.
Davy bested second-place Chris Brooks of Haines (1:42.16, 90.9 mph average speed) and Greg Peede of North Pole (1:44.04, 89.4 mph), who was third.
Davy drove a 260-horsepower 2008 Yamaha Apex Turbo.
"It was the only four-stroke snowmachine in the race," said Jason Adams of Yukon Yamaha, who helped sponsor Davy. "Four-stroke snowmachines are a new thing in the last five years or so. It’s more like a car motor than a snowmobile."
He said Davy’s vehicle has a value of about $35,000.
Davy noted about 100 hours of labor went into it for the Alcan alone. He called the race conditions "incredibly scary," and Adams agreed.
"We’re riding snowmobiles, and there was no snow … I was very comfortable with my decision to not race," Adams said at Saturday’s awards banquet and dinner at the Elks Lodge.
Past champions Colby and Craig Hill made it to Dezadeash behind Davy, but then scratched.
Brooks, 29, of Haines earned $750 for his second-place finish.
"I think the conditions helped out a lot, because I don’t have that fast of a sled," Brooks said. "In a straight line, my sled is quite a bit slower than the top performers here."
He said his initial goal was just to finish on his 1997 Yamaha 700 SX. Last year, he scratched.
"There’s nothing else like it," Brooks said. "It’s not like a sanctioned race where you’re going around a track and the conditions are pretty much the same all the time. You kind of roll the dice every time you race here. Last year we had rain and blowing snow; this year we’ve got high winds and subzero temperatures, and the wind will literally blow you off the road."
Brooks said after four Alcan races he’s learned, "You can’t do this by yourself." He credited his team of supporters.
Fellow Haines resident Jack Smith, 30, also made a strong showing, with a second-place finish in his class (551-650 cc). Smith made his Alcan debut Saturday, following years as a race mechanic.
"It was my turn to race," Smith said. "I didn’t know what to expect. I was just driving down the road, trying to keep it on the road."
Third place overall and the $500 prize went to Greg Peede, 41, of North Pole. His brother Jeff Peede was killed in the 2009 Alcan, but Greg said the family atmosphere brings him back to Haines.
"The people who put this race on, they do an amazing job and really make you feel at home," he said. "They make it fun."
Greg Peede said he borrowed more clothes at the halfway point to keep warm.
Resident Duck Hess, 70, would have been the Alcan’s oldest participant, but the bitter cold changed his plans. He helped run the awards banquet and dinner with his wife, Karen.
"A quarter to five this morning, my wife was taking a shower, and she got all soaped up, and all of a sudden I heard a holler, ‘Our water quit,’ so I worked on water all day," Duck Hess said. "We still don’t have water. I did get to ride my machine today, though, up and down the hill, from the well to the house."
Gene Bloom, 64, of Fairbanks was the oldest racer, and also was awarded the Jeff Peede Memorial Oldest Sled trophy. Bloom, in his third year competing at the Alcan, drove a 1976 Rupp Magnum.
He sticks with the Rupp for nostalgia, but he said it produces solid times. Bloom finished in 2:06.31 Saturday, good enough for third in his class out of the six who started the race. "The younger kids take more chances," he said. "I don’t."