NOME, Alaska (CN) - Youth won out in the final leg of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early Tuesday, as Dallas Seavey, 29, crossed first under the famed burled arch on Nome's Front Street just 45 minutes ahead of his two-time champion father Mitch Seavey.
"Just another day of mushing, man. It's what we do," the 29-year-old Dallas told the Iditarod announcer at the finish line after he was asked what this moment meant to him. This is the third win in a row for Dallas and his fourth in five years.
The younger Seavey crossed the finish line with six dogs in harness at 2:20 a.m. after eight days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds. This breaks the record for fastest win, also set by Dallas when he finished the 2014 race in eight days, 13 hours, four minutes and 19 seconds.
The first race in 1973 took just over 20 days.
"This was a heck of a trip all the way from the start. It wasn't as straightforward as the last time but [the dogs] came together into an awesome little team, different than what I've had in the past, but we made it work," Dallas told the race announcer and the crowd during the finish line post-race interview.
For most of the race Dallas was fighting what folks around Alaska call "the crud," a congested head and chest that challenges people going about their routines - never mind a 1,000-mile race.
"I spent the first two-thirds of this race dead on my feet," Dallas said. "That's the most tired I've ever been on the Iditarod. But this team started coming together and I started patching myself up a bit and we started feeling better and better and better. The dogs did better, I did better and the last couple of days have been pretty amazing."
Dallas is a third-generation dog musher whose grandfather Dan, 78, helped found the race in 1973, ran in the first two races, and continues to advocate for the historic Iditarod Trail.
Dallas grew up on the sled runners helping with the family's sled dog tour operation and raising and training dogs alongside his grandfather and father.
"He's the only 29-year-old with 28 years of experience. That's a pretty tough combination to beat," Dallas' father Mitch commented just after his own team's second-place finish. "I'm really excited. Dallas is undoubtedly the best racer there is. I'm proud to be out here with him. I'm proud of him in every way."
Firsts and breaking records are not new for Dallas. He was the youngest racer to win, at age 25 in 2012.
"Dallas is a believer. If it's out there to be achieved, he just thinks it's already his. Usually he turns out to be right," Mitch told reporters at the finish line. "He'll be successful in this and anything else he decides to do. We're just blessed to have this to do together. But certainly I am very proud of him. You might get tired of hearing it. I feel like I have two chances to win, because if Dallas wins I'm really happy."
Dallas took the lead for good Sunday evening, a week after the race started in Willow, Alaska, where he and his family reside, train for competition and conduct rides for tourists throughout the year.
After dropping several dogs due to an unexpected virus that had also affected other teams in the race, Dallas started altering his run-rest schedule to allow for shorter runs between breaks.
Teams start with a maximum of 16 dogs in harness and must finish with at least five. There are 26 checkpoints along the way where mushers stop, feed themselves and their dogs and rest. Race veterinarians check each dog at the checkpoints too, and if a dog is not feeling or eating well, running slower or has an injury they are dropped from the race, taken care of by volunteers and returned to their home kennel.
When asked if he was at all worried when his team kept getting smaller, Dallas said, "Of course, but it's a pretty bomb-proof bunch," referring to those he finished with. "It comes down to the cream, not how much milk you've got."
Wife Jen echoed her husband's praise of their team later that morning while she and their 5-year-old daughter Annie cared for the finishers in the Iditarod dog yard just down the hill from the finish line.
"The pride is in knowing that how we've been training a team for over three years is working," Jen said as she scooped dog poop and advised Annie on which dog should receive more frozen fish snacks.
Annie was more interested in getting inside to warm her cold feet than her father's fourth win.
When asked if it's old hat now, Jen said, "It's not the fourth win that is the achievement for us, it's the confirmation of our training that is the achievement and that how what we do is working well for the dogs."
Dallas' win earns him $75,000 in prize money and his pick of a new Dodge vehicle. Prior to dog racing, Dallas had success as a former Alaska state champion high school wrestler. That success translated into a National Wresting Championship and a spot on the Junior World Team. He spent a year training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before an injury sidelined his wrestling career and he returned to Alaska to focus on mushing.
While the 2016 winner is set, five others have also crossed under the burled arch so far and 67 were still making their way to Nome as of press time. Racers will trickle in over the course of this week until the finisher's banquet Sunday.
Twelve racers have so far "scratched," calling an early end to their race due to their own personal injuries on the trail, dog illness or lack of enthusiasm.