Iditarod 2011: Dynasties and Dream Seekers

Lance Mackey: Born to Mush!

Decades before my Iditarod dreams were even a simple fantasy there were families that would change the landscape of this Last Great Race that would become a dynasty.

Today when you hear the names Seavey, Redington, and Mackey you think of just one thing: Iditarod Champions.


Lets take the Seavey’s first. Dan Seavey, Sr. was one of the first three people to plan the Iditarod. That alone makes him the stuff of legend. Though he never won the race his footprint helped place a stronghold on the family name in the sport for more than four decades now.

Mitch the Iditarod champ in 2004 is still a force to be reckoned with. Every year he is a front runner in the race and one that many novice mushers look to for advice. His book, Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way, is a reference that every aspiring long distance musher should sit down and read to gain a first hand perspective of the sport.

Speaking of hands, Mitch was in the hunt for at least a top finish this year until a fluke accident forced him out of the race. He sliced his hand open, and almost lost a finger while unlashing a bale of straw on the trail. A task that Mitch has done a thousand times in his multi-decade Iditarod career. Mitch had to be flown from the trail to Anchorage to receive surgery on his damaged hand.

Today, Dallas is the up and comer with a recent Yukon Quest win (the sport’s “other” 1000 mile race) and is doing quite well in this years Iditarod. At only 24, Dallas is setting the stage to carry the family torch as Iditarod champion. Maybe not this year, but soon enough.

Danny Seavey, 26 is Dallas’ older brother by just a couple of years. Danny helps run the family sled dog tour business in Seward that caters to the cruise liner crowd. I sat down and spoke to him at last year’s Iditarod start and in just a few minutes, I could tell that this was a “different breed of musher” family. Everything he said was so precise and logical, almost analytical.

Danny is a decorated musher as well. He finished the Iditarod in 2001 and 2006.

Conway is the youngest of the bunch and fate was in the making as soon as he was born. His first blanket was given to him by a family friend that said “Conway Seavey, Iditarod 2015.” and he has been working toward that goal for much of his young life.


I am sure you have heard the story already. Lance Mackey, the current king in a sport of kings is attempting what no other musher in the history has done. Win five times in a row. Can it be done? We will have to wait and see.

Lance comes from another Iditarod dynasty that the casual fan may not know anything about.

Besides Lance’s brother, Rick who has raced sled dogs for years, his father Dick helped make this race what it is today.

In fact, the most controversial finish in Iditarod history is Dick Mackey’s win over Rick Swenson in 1978. Swenson believed he had won because he personally crossed the finish line before Mackey. But Mackey has more dogs and a longer harness, and the nose of his lead dog crossed the finish line in 14 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes, and 24 seconds, one second ahead of the nose of Swenson’s lead dog.


Probably the least known family dynasty in the Iditarod race is that of Bud Smyth and his sons, Cim and Ramey.

Ramey is running a great race this year and is the dark horse favorite to be the first under the burled arch in Nome.

Bud Smyth is a colorful character, through and through. I have had the chance to meet him on a couple occasions this past winter and all I can say is if you can picture what an old school musher should be like, it is hands down Bud Smyth.

Back in the old days of Iditaord there were no limits on the number of dogs you could enter into the race. Bud headed up to the starting line in 1978 with 35 dogs. With that the rule had to be changed. It is said that he entered with 25 dogs in harness and 10 in a kennel that was bolted to his frieght sled!

I have heard stories of Bud that most mushers would never dream of. One is from a friend of mine, Paul, who said he had entered a mid-distance race with Bud and as Smyth passed him smoke was coming out of his sled bag. He was boiling water as he was coasting down the trail!

Now that is an old-school dog driver!


Ray Reddington, Jr. is quoted as saying: “Who wouldn’t want a trophy of grandpa?” Citing the award given to the first place finisher of the Iditarod. Ray is doing quite well in this year’s race too but the elusive trophy of grandpa is up for grabs with a handful of top mushers vying for the prize.

There is no family of more legend in the Iditarod than the Redingtons. Joe Redington, known as the father of Iditarod.

Just outside of Anchorage, across Cook Inlet, is the village of Knik, home of the Dog Mushers’ Hall of Fame.  Running this national site is the Redington family. It was Joe Redington Sr. who first envisioned a sled dog race from Knik, past his homestead over the old Iditarod Trail.

Joe Redington arrived in Alaska from Pennsylvania in 1948, and before he had a homestead, he had a sled dog. Knik Kennels numbered forty dogs by 1949, and Redington had a job as a member of the United States Air Force’s Reserve and Reclamation Unit. Married in 1953 to a lady he met before the war in Pennsylvania, Joe moved to Flat Horn Lake, Alaska, on the old Iditarod Trail and established a guide business. His 270-dog kennel was part of his business, and his growing children became as experienced with sled dogs as their parents.

Following the successful promotion of the fifty-mile Iditarod Trail race in 1967, Alaska’s Centennial Year, Joe began looking more carefully at the remains of the old trail that passed his homestead. A new dream began to form in Redington’s mind. With a few other hardy souls he set out to locate and clear the trail, thinking harder about a long race to the town of Iditarod. They found some of the weather-beaten log tripods marking the trail, but it was tough, and exciting going. Before long, Joe’s plan had been expanded from the 500-mile Knik to Iditarod race.

Instead of stopping at the ghost town, why not keep on due north to the mighty Yukon, pick up the diphtheria serum run trail at Ruby, and follow it west to Unalakleet and Nome.

With immense determination and enthusiasm, the Iditarod Trail Committee, headed up by Joe Redington, had a thousand-mile trail ready by 1973. Although the promised prize money was not collected, twenty-four Alaskan dog drivers began the race on March 3rd. Of course Joe Redington wanted to be a part of the race, but he had to let his son Raymie substitute for him, for his talents were needed on the fund-raising trail. Raymie had to scratch his exhausted team at Ruby, but Redington’s success in the race was assured, as the prize money was waiting when the first musher reached Nome.

More of Redington’s dream came true in 1974 when he, his other son Joee and Raymie entered the big race with forty-one other drivers. “Bad weather with wind chill factors of 130 degrees below zero hit the mushers hard on a treacherous pass in the Alaska Range,” reported in Team and Trail, “and the crystalline snow wore the tender pads of the dogs’ feet until drops of blood dotted the trail.” It took almost twenty-one days for winner Carl Huntington to get to Nome. The first Redington in was Raymie, after twenty-three days on the trail, in seventh place. Joee was an hour and a half behind him in ninth, and Joe finished seven hours behind Joee in eleventh place. The scope of the race increased that year when two Alaskan women and one musher from the Outside [of Alaska] competed.

Tireless and dedicated, Joe Redington has done more than establish a race that attracts international attention because of its length and prize money. According to people like George Attla, one the most important results of the running of the Iditarod Trail race is that Alaskans in outlying villages, through which the teams run, have been thinking more about dogs and less about snowmobiles. For Alaskan Natives, caught since World War II between modern conveniences and the old ways of doing things, the resurgent interest in sled dogs is looked on as a healthy sign, as positive modern contact with a tradition so important to their way of life. (see citation below)

There are still more Redington’s in the fold. Ryan Redington entered into the Fur Rondy World Championships right before this year’s Iditarod and did well. Is he next for to carry the family name to Nome?

So for all you new guys that enter the race at 40 or 50 and some say becuase of some mid-life crisis or the quest to chase a dream, we are up against some stiff competition.

Just think about it, these guys have been on sled runners since before they could walk. I think that gives them just a slight advantge, don’t you?

What are you thoughts on the Iditarod dynasties?

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Robert Forto | Team Ineka | Alaska Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Dog Works Radio | Denver Dog Works | Daily Post


Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio shows, Mush! You Huskies and Dog Works Radio Shows

Citation: The World of Sled Dogs: Coppinger, Lorna