Local 3rd in Alcan
Rookie racer Michael T. Ward of Haines walked away with $4,000 in prize money after finishing third overall at last weekend’s Alcan 200 snow machine road race.
Greg Peede of North Pole won the 155-mile road race.
Ward said he approached fellow Haines snowmachiner Jack Smith Jr. after hearing Smith was looking for a rookie to race his 600 Yamaha SRX in the 44th annual Alcan 200, the longest snowmachine road race in North America.
After talking to Smith Wednesday, Ward checked out the sled Thursday, and made a test run Friday. He finished Saturday’s race with a time of 1:32:04 and average speed of 101 mph, just .2 mph slower than the local record.
“It’s just a little bit scary when you’re going 100 mph and your end starts getting away from you. But the carbides on the skis were so nice that I could re-correct pretty easily. It was scary, I know that. But I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to win,” Ward said.
Ward finished with the third overall fastest time and second in the 551-650 liquid class. His $4,000 in prize money came from a combination of the purse, fastest local prize, rookie of the year prize and other sources, like the $200 contribution from the Uglys of Haines for the first five locals who signed up.
Twenty-two riders signed up this year, but of the 21 who started – one rider’s machine malfunctioned before the race even began – only 14 finished. Racers encountered various problems: one lost coolant, another’s engine seized up. Tyler Ferrin of Juneau ran out of gas.
“He was like a mile away. It was awful. I felt so sorry for him...He said he tried pushing it. And I was like, ‘That far?’” said co-organizer Patty Campbell.
Winner Peede rode a 1985 Polaris sled, clocking a 1:29:01 finish with an average speed of 104.5 mph. He also took first in the 551-650 liquid class. Peede, who has raced almost every year since 2000, had never previously won the overall title and attributed most of his success this year to luck.
“I honestly thought I was going to get passed, and nobody caught up to me. I couldn’t believe it. And then I thought on the way back for sure people were going to pass me, but nobody ever caught me. It was almost like I was running the race with nobody else in it. I never saw anybody,” Peede said.
But there were some rough spots.
“For some reason I had a bunch of antifreeze coming out of the engine and it got on my helmet and I couldn’t see. It did that for 30 miles. I had to keep wiping the shield...I thought the machine was going to run out of antifreeze and quit. But it didn’t,” Peede said.
Peede said conditions were not ideal – he said about half of the race course was not sufficiently iced over – but visibility was perfect.
The largest-engine class, 651-open liquid, was eliminated this year because only one racer, Chris Brooks of Haines, signed up. Racers in the 551-650 liquid class agreed to let Brooks race in the smaller-engine class so he would be able to participate.
Karen Hess, who organized the Alcan 200 from 2008-2012, said three racers who normally participate in the 651-open liquid class did not participate this year because of scheduling conflicts and failure to get their machines together in time.
Hess said fluctuations in racer participation are not uncommon and that a turnout of 22 isn’t cause for alarm.
“I don’t think it’s a downward trend. I think it’s all hinged on the economy. It goes up and down. It has done that for years. One year it might have 40-some riders, the next it might be 20-some. That’s just kind of the way it goes,” Hess said.
Hess said what has been dropping steadily is the income generated from the Calcutta auction, which allows people to gamble on a racer’s potential victory. The Calcutta auction, held at the Fogcutter Bar, used to generate about $20,000 to $25,000 and occasionally brought in as much as $40,000, Hess said. This year it generated $11,200.
Though racer turnout appeared to be a bit lacking, four Haines residents came out to compete: Ward, Brooks, George Campbell and Steven McLaughlin. George Campbell, riding his 1973 Ski-Doo TNT 440, won $500 for racing the oldest sled. The award is also referred to as the Jeff Peede Memorial award, after a racer who died during the 2009 Alcan 200.
“There were more locals than we even expected. There’s usually been one or two... I think we just have new people that want to race, a new younger crowd coming up,” Patty Campbell said.
0-440 Fan: 1) Davis Tester, 1:44:19, 2) Mario Poulin, 1:47:54, 3) George Campbell, 2:08:35; 441-Open Fan: 1) Randy Wood, 2:01:24; 0-440 Liquid: 1) Justin Peterson, 1:40:17, 2) Gene Bloom, 2:08:38; 441-550 Liquid: 1) Steve Cornwall, 1:31:55, 2) Cory Magmusen, 1:34:29, 3) Nathan Peterson, 1:34:59; 551-650 Liquid: 1) Greg Peede 1:29:01, 2) Michael Ward, 1:32:04, 3) John Holms, 1:37:53. Oldest Sled: George Campbell. Fastest Local: Michael Ward. Rookie of the Year: Michael Ward.