By Jenny Neyman
Any Alaskans interested in snowmachine racing probably know of Soldotna’s Scott Davis. Those with even the merest passing interest in Iron Dog definitely do. Fans of the 2,000-mile annual snowmachine race could rattle off his highlight stats as smoothly as the acceleration on the high-performance machines the two-person teams ride from Big Lake to Nome every February.
He holds a record seven championships — in 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2007 — with five different partners, has 20 career top-three finishes and is the only continuously participating racer who was in the first Iron Dog and is still racing today. He’s only missed a couple events due to injury.
Come Dec. 8 he could have a new title — first motorsports athlete inducted to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
“There’s never been a motorsports person that’s made it. But it couldn’t be more Alaskan,” Davis said.
Davis is among 48 other athletes nominated for the individual honor, as well as 26 nominees in the Moment category and 19 entrants in the Event category. Voting — including by the public — closes at midnight Dec. 2.
The Hall of Fame began in 2006, with its first batch of inductees in 2007. Past inductees include a mix of dog mushers, skiers, mountain climbers, runners, basketball, baseball, football and hockey players, and a rower. Events and Moments reflect the same sports — the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, the first ascent of Mount McKinley, the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon, the Great Alaska Shootout, the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, and even Les Anderson’s catch of a world-record king salmon in the Kenai River.
But no honoring of motorsports. This year, Davis and the Iron Dog are nominated.
“I think that there couldn’t be anything more Alaskan than Iron Dog. How many people do you know that actually mush dogs? Not very many,” he said, though hastening to add his appreciation for the athletic achievement required in mushing, as well as mountain climbing, hockey and the other sports that are already well represented in the hall.
“The first Iron Dog I ever did I went, ‘Holy s***, if I were George Attla’s lead dog I’d bite him right in the butt. After doing 50,000 miles or whatever I’ve done on that (Iditarod Trail, which Iron Dog follows for most of its route), I’ve got a lot of respect for the dog mushers. They just do it a different way than we do it. I think (Iron Dog) is uniquely Alaskan, and I think it’s a world-class event and I think we should at least recognize the event if nothing else,” he said.
Davis has been competing in Iron Dog since its inception in 1984, as a 1,000-mile race. The course changed to 2,000 miles in 1994.
“I kind of have the right, I guess, chemistry for long distance. I really started coming into my own when the race went from 1,000 miles to 2,000 miles. I think we just have the right combination of preparation, execution and luck, as it takes all three of those,” Davis said.
It’s a challenging race on several fronts. It’s an endurance event, with the record being 33 hours to go 2,000 miles.
“I think if we were to take someone out and put 400 to 500 miles in a day they’d get a grip on the endurance it takes. And it’s just about every different kind of terrain you can think of. You take off on a groomed trial from Big Lake, then it gets rough, and then you’re on river system and whatever the river system gives you — smooth or rough or who knows,” he said.
It’s also about navigation.
“Navigating along the coast, and navigation getting down the Yukon River. I’ve struggled just doing that as much as anything. The river’s a mile wide and you’ve got these big gradual turns in it. I’ve gotten turned around, going the wrong way, I’ve done all that,” he said.
The advent of GPS has greatly simplified navigational hurdles, but with that boon comes the beast of increased speed. When he started Iron Dog, the average speed was about 25 to 35 mph. Now it’s over 55 mph, and that’s factoring in time lost in stops for fueling, maintenance or whatever else.
Maintenance is of course, key, as is driving ability.
“Visibility is a big thing, and how important it is to ride in your comfort level in what you can see. If it’s cloudy and snowing you virtually can’t see anything. You’re just kind of trying to figure out how fast you can go and still survive if you hit something,” Davis said.
His training for the race is varied, everything from endurance to strength training, running, high-intensity and intervals workouts. And, of course, riding, putting on a couple thousand miles before the race in February.
Currently, Davis is not listed among the entrants for the 2015 Iron Dog, though he hints that an announcement about his participation will be made soon. His partner in the 2014 race was Aaron Bartel.
The public is invited to vote for this year’s Hall inductees, which can be done through the hall’s website at http://alaskasportshall.org/election/candidates/. Each member of the public can rank five nominated people, three moments and three events, with an option to write in a one candidate in each category. The results of all the public votes count as equivalent to that of one selection panel member.
The nine-member panel, consisting mostly of sports writers and coaches, ranks 10 people, five moments and five events. Davis was also nominated last year, but lost to basketball players Jeannie Hebert-Truax and Mario Chalmers. Even if Davis doesn’t make it into the Hall this year, he hopes at least his sport is recognized.
“I think that there’s a tremendous amount of talent and energy that’s put forth in Iron Dog year after year after year. Every year it gets a little better and a little more well-known,” he said. “It would be cool.”