A Brief History of Sled Dog Racing                                                                                Subscribe to Dog & Driver Magazine

The heritage of the sled dog is a long and proud one, stretching back thousands of years. The people of the North were dependent on these animals for protection, companionship, hunting, trapping, and, most of all transportation. Sled dogs enabled explorers such as Byrd, Peary, and Amundsen to explore the frozen wastelands of two continents and played a vital role in bringing civilization to the snowbound areas of the world.

As early as 1873, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were bringing government to northern frontiers with dog-team patrols. Throughout Alaska and Canada, mail teams delivered the news to outlying settlements.

One of the proudest chapters in sled dog history was written in 1925. In January of that year, a case of diphtheria was discovered in Nome, Alaska, and the supply of antitoxin in that city was inadequate to stave off an epidemic. A relay of 22 native and mail teams forged through the rough interior of Alaska and across the Bering Sea ice to bring the serum to a grateful citizenry.

In New York City's Central Park stands a statue of Balto, who led one of the relay teams, commemorating the Nome Serum Run. The inscription reads: Dedicated to the indomitable Spirit of

the sled dogs that relayed the antitoxin 600 miles over rough ice, treacherous waters; through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of1925. Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence.

Today, few of the inhabitants of the Far North are dependent on dogs for basic survival. However, the same intimate relationship between driver and dog still exists and is demonstrated in the sport of sled dog racing.

The First Race

The first sled dog race probably occurred when two trappers challenged each other's team and dashed theft dogs over the ice fields of the frozen north. The records of formal racing date back to 1908 with the first running of the All Alaska Sweepstakes, a distance of 408 miles from Nome to Candle and back.

The winning driver that year was John Hegness, with a time of 119 hours, 15 minutes, and 12 seconds. By 1910, entries had increased considerably, as had the speed of the teams. The winner of that race was John (Iron Man) Johnson, with an (as yet) unbroken record time of 74 hours, 14 minutes, and 37 seconds.

Enthusiasm for sled dog racing spread rapidly throughout Canada and the United States. As early as 1909, exhibition teams were performing in the north east and a short time later, in 1917, the first

race ever held in the "Lower 48" was staged in Ashton, Idaho. The sport was briefly interrupted during the two World Wars, as dogs and drivers were pressed into the service of their countries. In spite of this, the sport was destined to emerge again and flourish. Today, the International Sled Dog Racing Association lists members from Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.


last modified - 1/1/2007 12:04:28 PM