Lance Mackey won an unprecedented four-in-a-row Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this year after taking second in the Yukon Quest. I caught up with Lance as he and his wife Tonya were making their way home from another social event in Fairbanks. When you’re a champion all the world wants to stand by your side. While Lance enjoys people, I thought I heard weariness and a touch of a cold in his voice. The man needs rest, but he was still able to talk on the drive home.DQ: First of all, big congratulations Lance!LM: Thank you!DQ: You finished 2nd in the Quest and 1st in Iditarod this year, what did your learn from your Quest dogs that you applied in the Iditarod and how many dogs were in both races?LM: I used 7 dogs in both races. I thought my team was flat in the Quest. They didn’t have much speed. So I had to rethink my strategy to benefit the dogs. I didn’t go out aggressively. I learned to be more patient, watch the team and wait for them to be ready to make the push.DQ: You made your move in Kaltag by passing Jeff King. This strategy was different than previous years. Can you expand on this?LM: I left Nulato and didn’t stop until I got to Unalakleet. The team was ready and I thought it was appropriate to make the monster move then. I never really have a master plan. I read the dogs, race accordingly and adapt at the time of need. I think mushers who come to the race with a laminated schedule is funny. I can always beat those mushers.DQ: You wear a hat that says “Dogfather” on it. I’ve heard it said you are a sled dog whisperer. What is this bond you have with your dogs?LM: I wouldn’t say I’m a whisperer. I’m not sure what that is. But I do have something natural in reading their abilities. I’m pretty good at what I do. I don’t know if it’s different than what anyone else does, but whatever it is, it’s working for me.DQ: Hugh Neff is quoted as saying, “Lance Mackey could beat you with your own dogs.” Any comment on that?LM: (laughs) I think he says this with all sincerity. Hugh has a beautiful team and he’s pretty well on track. He wants to win badly and will if he stops chasing teams. And yes, I could beat him with his team.DQ: Talk about your leaders, Maple and Rev.LM: Maple is a pretty special dog at just four years of age. She lead last year along side Larry in her first season of racing. This year she stepped up as the main leader and I’m very proud of her. Just an amazing dog. She was nominated and won the Golden Harness Award this year at Iditarod and that is wonderful and well deserved. Rev didn’t hold up quite as well as Maple towards the end, but he did his job and I’m not unhappy with him. Rev is five years old.DQ: Tell us how it felt to allow Newton Marshall to use Larry as his lead dog in the Iditarod.LM: Well, prior to the race I was a bit skeptical Larry would even make it. He had an injury from last season that wasn’t fully healed. He has to run at his own speed and not be pushed, which is why he wasn’t running with me. And just the idea that he would not be running with me was tough. But, Larry deserves all his fame. As difficult as it was for me to turn him loose, I knew he would get Newton to Nome. Newton loves Larry and knows Larry helped him and thinks he is a hero. Newton leased a team I knew would race and get him to Nome.DQ: Who do you feel is your biggest competitor in these races?LM: Gosh, I don’t think I can pick just one. Certainly Gatt and King, but they are retiring, which is good for me. (laughs) I take everyone seriously as competitors. I don’t think the likes of Cim Smyth or Jessie Royer are to be taken lightly. DQ: Is there any musher you see as an up and comer, one to watch?LM: There are quite a few. Dallas Seavey for one. My personal opinion of Dallas is that he has the wrong approach. Winning is nice, but you don’t need to be the winner to be a good musher. I would never count out the Smyth Brothers either, or John Baker or Quinn Iten, although I think Quinn was only in it for one race before going off to college.DQ: I understand quite a few mushers are getting out after this year, big and small kennels. Care to comment?LM: It’s understandable considering the costs and the welfare checks we get for racing. I took a 30K pay cut this year and I finished well. It’s discouraging when you have 10-20 years in a sport and are not doing any better. Except for Swenson, he’ll be in it for life. (laughs) But you have to train all year which kind of eliminates a full time job. You still have taxes to pay and daily expenses and you have dogs to feed. And now if you have to run the Quest to do well in Iditarod—3 of the top five in Iditarod were top 5 in the Quest—then it’s a perfect time to get out. DQ: How is your health Lance and how much longer will you race?LM: My health is bad. I look forward to summer and getting my body rebuilt. I need both knees replaced and part of my jaw. I will no longer do both races in the same year. I have to live with that. It’s getting harder and harder and not any cheaper.DQ: How does it feel to be a published author? How are sales going? (Lance has an autobiography out: The Lance Mackey Story: How My Obsession With Dog Mushing Saved My Life)LM: (laughing) Well, we aren’t selling as well as Sarah Palin, but the book is doing great. We may sell 10,000 copies. And we may write a second book, unless we get booed off the stage. I’d even consider an instruction book.DQ: How is Zorro?LM: (sighs) Oh, I think Zorro is kind of sad. He sees all the activity around the kennel and knows he’s not part of it. He has aged I think, but he looks content. Tomorrow I’m going to turn he and Larry, Foster, Risban, Boy, and Patel loose in the lot. They all brought me to where I am today so they’ll become house dogs. They deserve to live a life of luxury after all we’ve been through together. The fact that I am running their offspring now is really pretty special to me.DQ: So, I understand a vacation is in order.LM: Yep, after some trips down south for business, we’re headed to Jamaica. Everyone is going: Tonya, Cain, Braxton. We’re staying with Danny Melville, we’ll see Newton, and Jimmy Buffett is throwing us a huge party. Should be a lot of fun and a chance to relax and soak up the sun.DQ: Where do you see yourself in five years?LM: Boy, that’s tough. I’ll have my kennel. I’ll be mentoring all nationalities of mushers for 1,000 mile races. I’ll watch Cain and Braxton expand their roles and become who knows what. I certainly can’t imagine being on the runners myself too much longer. But, putting all skepticism aside, I plan on putting more puppies on the ground and training them. As for planning for the future—don’t count me out. •


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