ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Musher Brent Sass won the tough Iditarod Trail sled dog race through Alaska on Tuesday as his team of 11 dogs raced from the Bering Sea ice through a crowd of fans at the center -town of Nome.
Sass raced down Front Street and crossed the finish line just before 6 a.m.
“It’s great, it’s a dream come true” Sass said with his partially ice-encrusted beard and mustache during the post-race interview before receiving a winning check for $50,000.
“When I started mushing, my goal was to win the Yukon Quest and win the Iditarod. I’ve ticked them both off the list now,” he said.
Sass said he was “super, super, super proud” of his team of dogs. “It all depends on them. They did a great job the whole race. I asked a lot of them, and they worked perfectly,” he said.
“Every one of these dogs that I’ve raised since puppies, and we’ve been working towards that goal all the time, and here we are,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s crazy.”
Fans lined the street to greet the popular musher, who was escorted by police for the final blocks to the famous magnifying glass arch that marked his victory.
This is the first Iditarod victory for Sass, a wilderness guide and kennel owner who was racing in his seventh Iditarod. His previous best result was third last year.
Sass took command of this year’s race early on and was never challenged, but the last part of the race might have been the toughest, with extreme winds blowing across the Bering Sea ice leading to No me.
“I had to make it very interesting at the end,” said Sass.
At some point during the last few miles of the race, he crashed and the sled went off the track. He thought he was going to have to hunker down, stop with his dogs to wait for the weather to improve.
“I did not see anything” he said. “The dogs, the only reason we got out of there was because they trusted me to get them back on track. And once we got back on the trail, they went a hundred miles an hour, and we were able to stay on the trail and get in here. It was a lot of work,” he said.
Sass continually pushed the pace, even refusing to sit down for a gourmet meal prepared by a chef flown in from Anchorage that he won for being the first musher at a checkpoint.
The 42-year-old Minnesota native, who moved north in 1998 to ski for the University of Alaska Fairbanks was about 90 minutes ahead of defending champion Dallas Seavey early Tuesday as he was leaving the last Safety checkpoint, which is 35 km from Nome.
Seavey is a former Uni from Northern Michigan
college student who was part of the Greco-Roman wrestling program at the US Olympic Education Center. He was part of the 2005 world junior team in this sport.
Seavey is tied with musher Rick Swenson for the most Iditarod wins at five. Seavey earlier told The Associated Press that he plans to take some time after the race to spend with his daughter whether he wins or loses it.
Sass said Seavey is “the best right now and being able to keep him at bay the whole race and, and running against the best guy in the business, that just makes this win that much sweeter.”
Towards the end of the race, Seavey said he had resigned himself to runner-up status, telling KTUU-TV at the White Mountain checkpoint that he couldn’t win unless something went wrong for him. Sass.
Seavey joked: “We have a pretty solid lead on third place.”
The third musher, Jessie Holmes, was about 50 miles from Seavey on Tuesday.
Seavey arrived in Nome just over an hour after Sass.
Sass finished the race in eight days, 14 hours, 38 minutes and 43 seconds. Besides the refused gourmet meal, he won other prizes, including $13,000 cash, gold nuggets and 25 pounds of salmon, for being first in several villages along the trail.
The nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska began March 6 just north of Anchorage. The route took mushers along the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska, including two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River and the icy Bering Sea along the west coast of the state.
This is the 50th run for the race, which began in 1973. This year’s event started with 49 mushers, and five dropped out along the trail.
Sass was the 2012 Iditarod Rookie of the Year when he finished 13th. The following year he fell back to 22nd, before skipping the 2014 race.
In 2015 he was disqualified when race officials discovered he had an iPod Touch with him on the track, a violation of racing rules prohibiting two-way communication devices as the iPod Touch could connect to the internet . He said he had no idea and wanted his fans to know he had no intention of cheating.
Sass placed 16th the following year before taking a three-year hiatus from the Iditarod. In 2020, he placed fourth and third last year.
Sass, who lives in the small Eureka area, about a four-hour drive northwest of Fairbanks, had more success in the Yukon Quest international sled dog race.
He won titles in this 1,000-mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2015, 2019 and 2020. This year the race was shortened to smaller races on both sides of the border, with Sass winning at both the 350 mile race in Alaska and the Canadian 300 mile contest.