The All Alaska Sweepstakes is the oldest organized distance sled dog race in the world, with records kept by the Nome Kennel Club dating back to the first race in 1908. The route from Nome, on the south side of the Seward Peninsula, to the small community of Candle on the north side and return, is 408 miles, following the telegraph lines which linked camps, villages and gold mining settlements on the Peninsula. This route’s established communication lines allowed those betting on the outcome to track the race more easily from the comfort of saloons like the famed Board of Trade in Nome, where the Nome Kennel Club had been founded the previous year.
A.A. “Scotty” Allan describes the route to Candle in his classic book Gold, Men and Dogs (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1931): “It was selected because the trail to it from Nome goes over all kinds of country, from sea ice to high mountains, with rivers, tundra, timber, glaciers, and everything else in the way of mental and physical hardships en route. We knew there wouldn’t be any doubt about the excellence of a dog or driver that covered it.”
In her epic recounting of The Great Dog Races of Nome, “Scotty” Allan’s kennel partner, Esther Birdsall Darling, who also wrote the great children’s classic Baldy of Nome, noted: “It was early seen that not only would the races furnish much of the winter entertainment. but that there would also be a consistent effort on the part of the dog owners and dog drivers to improve the breed of sled dogs, which up to this time had been but little considered; an effort to instill into all dog Users an intelligent understanding of the accepted fact that care and kindness to their dogs bring the quickest and surest returns from all standpoints. This has. resulted in the development of such a high standard for dogs that not alone is their worth acknowledged throughout Alaska. but their supremacy is conceded the world over.”
With colorful drivers like “Scotty” Allan and Leonhard Seppala, who each won the race three times, the All Alaska Sweepstakes was an eagerly anticipated annual event until the gold mining dropped off and Nome’s population dwindled, along with local interest in sled dog racing. In 1983 the Nome Kennel Club sponsored the 75th Anniversary race, and Rick Swenson took home the $25,000.00 purse.
Then, in 2008, for the 100th Anniversary of the event, the Nome Kennel Club offered the richest purse ever for a sled dog race: $100,000.00 winner-take-all. Many of Alaska’s best-known mushers entered: Lance Mackey, Jeff King, Mitch Seavey, Sonny Lindner, Ramy Brooks, Jim Lanier, Cim Smyth, Aaron Burmeister, Ed Iten, Hugh Neff, and Mike Santos.
And then there were the mushers who entered simply to be a part of the history of the race: Kirsten Bey, Cari Miller, Fred Moe Napoka, Connor Thomas, and Jeff Darling, whose musher profile noted that he’d entered “for the historical value and a chance to see some countryside he might not otherwise be able to see by dogteam.”
“Since out of the far North have always come tales of adventure and achievement, hardship and heroism, it is not strange that out of the far North have come also the records of a sport unequalled in history for excitement, speed and endurance – the records of the famous Dog Races of Nome.”
All Alaska Sweepstakes, History of the Great Sled Dog Race. Softcover 8.5″x 11″, published in 2013 by Northern Light Media, with 60 pages of new photos and content (originally published in 2010). ISBN 978-0-9843977-0-9 • 160 pages, over 350 photos. $29.00 plus $5.00 shipping from Northern Light Media, PO Box 870515, Wasilla, Alaska 99687. Paypal payments to email@example.com