ELY – Despite predictions that the weekend’s warm temperatures could cause a slow track this year, the 12th annual WolfTrack Classic sled dog race, held here last Sunday, was one of the …
ELY – Despite predictions that the weekend’s warm temperatures could cause a slow track this year, the 12th annual WolfTrack Classic sled dog race, held here last Sunday, was one of the fastest in recent years.
Race Director Ellen Cashman said the first racers in this year were some 45 minutes faster than in many recent years. Temperatures burst past the freezing mark early in the day, and as sun from a cloudless sky bathed the starting line, mushers traded heavy parkas for lighter wear as they made their way down the Taconite Trail. Race conditions were quite the opposite of the 2019 race when teams endured sub-zero temperatures and strong winds.
Close to 40 teams were expected to race, but a last-minute bout of canine flu kept many teams in their kennels. Just eight teams competed in the 50-mile eight-dog race and 23 teams finished the 30-mile race with six dogs. Eight teams were last-minute scratches from competition.
Michael Bestgen led the eight-dog racers with a first-place finish of 4:36:26. “I’m glad I had a new knee put in last spring. I haven’t been back to Ely for a couple of years. It was great to be here again,” he said. “This is really a beautiful race and I hope to be back again next year.”
Dusty Klaven came in just four seconds behind Bestgen with a time of 4:40:34. “Well, that was hot and fun,” she said as she picked up her prize purse at the awards ceremony at the Grand Ely Lodge.
Veteran Ely racer Frank Moe was third with a time of 4:52:56. He thanked the community and volunteers for their efforts in organizing the event. “We come up here almost every year, and I really appreciate you bringing the history back the way you did this year. Maybe in a few years Mike and I will be part of that history here in Ely.”
Don Beland, a legendary Ely sled dog racer who competed in the first “All American Race” here 50 years ago, summed it up when he and his wife, Val, were honored at the Saturday night mushers dinner. “It takes a community of support and people working together to keep a sled dog race going. It is our hope that Ely can work together and keep these races going into the future, and working together we can keep this sport healthy.”
The rest of the eight-dog field included Rhonda Heerschap, 4th, 4:55:41, Ero Wallin, 5th, 4:58:23, Ashley Thaemert, 6th, 5:10:19, Jody Reineccius, 7th, 5:16:48, and Robin Fisher, 8th, 5:53:55.
The top 10 teams in the 30-mile, six-dog race, with times, includdJim Ward, 2:26:32, Nick Turman, 2:26:48, Susan Sarafini, 2:30:48, Clayton Schneider, 2:34:05, Andra Duval, 2:35:51, Taylor DeBoer, 2:41:35, Ryan Miller, 2:47:48, Billie Thompson, 2:50:09, Jen Freking, 2:52:06, and Mary Manning, 2:52:06.
Ely racer Scott Edgett, who finished the six-dog race in just under three hours said the course was “very fast” going out and somewhat slower coming back. “My dogs ran good and we had a great day,” he said. “The volunteers at the road crossings were excellent. They did amazing work to keep the crossings in such good shape for us.”
Volunteer Tim Riley, who worked at the eight-dog course turn-around point, went out of his way to comment on the respectful behavior of the snowmobilers who were on the trail during the race. “They were so considerate. They pulled way over and stopped to cheer on the sled dog teams,” he said.
Trail boss Sue Ellen “Sully” Sack also praised the 125 volunteers who helped run the race and snowmobiling fans out on the course. “I even got a caramel roll from one of the fans. What a great day.”
The Ely Chamber of Commerce marked its first year of organizing the event. Chamber executive director Eva Sebesta thanked the race teams for returning to Ely. “You bring your passion for mushing for everybody to see,” she said. “The professionalism that we saw today was incredible. Years ago when the first sled dog race was started, there were a lot of folks who had a vision. They loved mushing and they wanted to do something that put it in the spotlight here in Ely. Fifty years later, we are here and celebrating because that tradition and ethic that exists in the mushing community has been passed on.”
More information and official results are available at www.wolftrackclassic.com.