by Tommy Wells
Kuskokwim 300 race fans cheered for their champion Pete Kaiser as he crossed the finish line on Sunday morning with 9 dogs in harness. It is his third victory in three straight years.
Pete Kaiser’s strategy of conserving his team’s energy during the early parts of the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race paid off. The move paid huge dividends for the Bethel resident on Sunday afternoon as he guided his nine dogs across the finish line and, in so doing, became a three-time winner of the state’s premier mid-distance race joining Mitch Seavey (05’, 08’, and 09’) and Jeff King who holds the record for 9 wins.
Despite wind chill that pushed the temperature to as low as minus-50ºF over the weekend, the 29-year-old guided his team across the finish line at 10:37 a.m. – more than 40 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor, Eureka musher Brent Sass.
At the finish line Pete received warm greetings from his son Ari and his wife Bethany. Reporters and photographers were eager to talk with him and get a photo.
“I was cold but it was a nice trail with the snow,” said Kaiser. “I just put a few layers of extra clothing on and tended to the dogs. The cold just made every task a little more difficult, but it was a nice race.”
With the win, Kaiser became only the second musher in the race’s 37-year history to win the race three consecutive years. King, who has won a record nine K-300 races, accomplished the trifecta twice, winning 1991-93 and from 2001-2003. He also became the winner of the large payout, collecting a first-place prize of $25,000.
In all, the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race paid out $150,000 this year in prize money, making it the most lucrative – and one of the state’s most competitive – mid-distance race in the state. A total of 20 mushers raced the 2017 event.
Kaiser said he never felt too comfortable, even though he finished well ahead of the field.
“I thought when we left Tuluksak, we looked good,” he said. “Later, I could feel the power the team had in the handlebars and I knew he (Sass) would have a hard time catching us, but I never really knew anything until I got here.”
Kaiser received a hero’s welcome from a large crowd of friends and Bethel residents, who braved chilly conditions to welcome him home including a bunch of close friends who cheered him on out on the trail outside of Bethel.
Sass mushed his team across the finish line at 11:23 a.m., marking the second year in a row the 36-year-old Eureka resident has finished as the race’s runner-up. A year ago, he finished just over 40 minutes behind Kaiser.
“It is the same as last year … I finished behind Pete,” Sass said at the finish line. “I’m going to come back again and keep trying.”
A veteran of three K-300 races, Sass said the trail conditions were great, despite the cold temperatures.
“It was a beautiful trail,” he said. “It was much different than last year, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.”
Sass, who garnered $16,000 for his second-place finish, said the experience he and his team gained in the event will only make them better heading into the two big races left on the state’s sled dog racing schedule – the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Richiel Diehl finished third in the final standings. He slid across the finish line at 11:45 a.m. with nine dogs in harness and another in the sled. His time was just 22 minutes behind Sass.
The third-place finish also marked another step toward the top for the Aniak standout, who netted $10,000. An 8-year veteran of the K-300, he finished fourth in 2016.
“I think it went pretty well, for the most part,” he said, noting his team has improved each year as they have matured. “The core group of my team is getting older and better at it (racing).”
Diehl said the amount of snow the racers had was a marked improvement over previous races.
“It is nice to have snow for sure,” he said. “Pete and I talked about it (the snow) this morning. This is the first snow-covered trail I’ve seen in the eight years I have done the race.”
Ray Redington Jr. edged out Jessie Holmes of Nenana for fourth in the final standings. Competing in his fifth Kuskokwim 300 race, Redington’s fourth-place mark was his best performance. He checked in at 12:11 p.m. – just 28 minutes ahead of the former reality television star.
Holmes, who had previously appeared on the television show, “Life Below Zero,” had departed the Tuluksak checkpoint in fourth. Redington, however, passed him on the last leg of the race. Holmes came in at 12:39.
Tony Browning placed sixth.
2017 K300 Results
Place/Musher Time Dogs
1 Peter Kaiser 40:07:54 9
2 Brent Sass 40:53:33 8
3 Richie Diehl 41:15:49 9
4 Ray Redington Jr. 41:41:02 8
5 Jessie Holmes 42:09:40 8
6 Tony Browning 42:21:01 9
7 Mike Jr Williams 43:40:15 8
8 Ken Anderson 43:47:10 7
9 Jeff King 44:28:17 9
10 Wade Marrs 44:31:24 8
11 Paul Gebhardt 44:44:11 7
12 Ramey Smyth 46:02:33 7
13 Hugh Neff 46:40:35 11
14 Jackie Larson 50:53:08 6
15 Isaac Underwood 49:17:00 out of Tuluksak
16 Jason Mackey 49:18:00 out of Tuluksak
17 Patrick Mackey 49:19:00 out of Tuluksak
18 Roger Lee 49:47:00 out of Tuluksak
19 Victoria Hardwick 38:26:00 S
20 Rob Cooke 16:30:00 S
Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race Past Champions
1980 – Rick Swenson
1981 – Jerry Austin
1982 – Jerry Austin
1983 – Myron Angstman
1984 – Rick Swenson
1985 – Rick Mackey
1986 – Myron Angstman
1987 – Rick Mackey
1988 – Susan Butcher
1989 – Sonny Russell
1990 – Sonny Russell
1991 – Jeff King
1992 – Jeff King
1993 – Jeff King
1994 – Martin Buser
1995 – Ramey Smyth
1996 – Charlie Boulding
1997 – Jeff King
1998 – Greg Swingley
1999 – Doug Swingley
2000 – Charlie Boulding
2001 – Jeff King
2002 – Jeff King
2003 – Jeff King
2004 – Ed Iten
2005 – Mitch Seavey
2006 – Jeff King
2007 – Martin Buser
2008 – Mitch Seavey
2009 – Mitch Seavey
2010 – John Baker
2011 – Paul Gebhardt
2012 – Rohn Buser
2013 – Jeff King
2014 – Rohn Buser
2015 – Peter Kaiser
2016 – Peter Kaiser