2010 GCI OPEN NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP

It was a bad year for snow in Fairbanks, Alaska this year. So bad that there were no preliminary races held all year, and the only races held at the ADMA track before the Open North American Championships this year were the juniors and the LNAC. But when push came to “shove,” or more likely “shovel” ADMA volunteers and officers got out and made a trail. Curtis Erhart racked up over 30 hours of trail work in a rented excavator, and basically built sections of the trail from nothing. The warm weather and lack of snow did eventually take its toll. The week prior to the ONAC, it was announced that the race could no longer start from 2nd Avenue in downtown Fairbanks, and instead, would start from the Mushers Hall. There were areas of the Noyes Slough and the Chena River that just couldn’t be safely used due to open running water. Disappointed, yet just happy to have a race, ADMA made a great show of it none-the-less starting from this historic log cabin club house off of Farmer’s Loop Road. Sunshine and temperatures reaching 40F brought out spectators in droves, and made for just as fun as a time as would have been starting downtown. “In some regards it is more difficult to start from the club house here. We have to struggle to keep our teams’ speed in check as we go down the hill here. There are also some tough sections when we start from the street too, like dealing with distractions on the slough, and the street and spectators and everything. I would rather race from the street, but I’m just glad we are having a race at all. Everyone worked really hard to make this happen.” Explained eventual 2nd place finisher Arleigh Reynolds. There is a great history of sprint mushing here in Fairbanks with knowledgeable fans and spectators all around, keeping a keen eye on the competition. I saw Harvey Drake, a past champion here walking around studying the teams, clipboard in hand, so I decided to pick his brain a bit about who he thought were the favorites this weekend. “Well everyone knows it is between Arleigh and Egil. Even though Egil had a rough Rondy, he wouldn’t be here if he and his team weren’t prepared,” he bluntly explained. Turns out Harvey was pretty much right on the mark. Again.The first day of the 65th running of the ONAC started off with a bang, and we had ourselves a dog race. As suspected the course was fast despite temperatures into the 40’s. Arleigh came out of the start chute like a shot from a circus cannon and led at every checkpoint. At one point he had a 38 second lead at about ¾ of the way through. Ellis started to claw his way back around the halfway mark, but couldn’t match the pace of Reynolds’ team coming home. “I had a good run overall, the dogs slowed down considerably towards the end, but I guess the heat affected the other teams too.” Egil ended the day about 19 seconds behind Reynolds, and about 35 seconds ahead of Ken Chezik. Day 2 saw a change of the lead, as Reynolds’ team didn’t have as strong a run as they had the day before. He finished the run holding on to 2nd place overall, but had the 3rd fastest run of the day. “We had a good run and a good finish. Egil was pretty close for a while there, but we pulled away a bit towards the end. I asked them for some speed towards the end. I didn’t want to get passed.” Ellis’ team put in a stellar performance on Day 2. Egil switched out leader Casper for Email, who has a lot of speed, but as Egil said, “Email doesn’t like to pass, so I couldn’t get by Arleigh. I followed him for a while, then one of my wheel dogs started to hold back and I had to slow the team down, so Arleigh pulled away again.” Ken Chezik, of Michigan put in a strong 2nd place day run. “It felt hot out there. The dog team rolled right along pretty good. They maintained 20mph for quite a long time, then they drifted back down to the upper 18’s and held at a steady pace. A few dogs looked like the heat was getting to them a bit. I didn’t really ask them for anything and hopefully there is something there for tomorrow.” Kenny explained.On Day 3, Ellis and Chezik started with 9 dogs each, and Reynolds went with his core group of 10. Arleigh took the day time, but didn’t win back enough from Day 2 to take the win. Egil Ellis claimed his astounding 10th ONAC championship. I’m sure this one was especially rewarding for the Swede, now residing in Willow, Alaska. His season started off with an incomprehensible scratch in the Rondy, but he kept his nose to the grindstone and nursed his team back for this win in tough, warm conditions in Fairbanks. Congratulations to all the competitors this year, and hope to see you all again here in 2011. •

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