Delta Junction used to be one of the hotspots in sled dog racing circles. In the 1980s Delta had a thriving sprint dog community. The local sled dog club held races throughout the winter. Races ranged from December preliminaries to the Delta Five Dog Classic in the spring.
Local teams participated as well as teams from around the Interior. Fairbanks, Nenana, Tok, Tanacross, and Chistochina were all represented. The sled dog community in our town, as in many other locales around Alaska, has diminished to a faint shadow. The reasons are varied, but it is increasingly apparent that people, especially our younger folks, don't get outdoors as much as they used to.
However, our neighboring town of Tok stubbornly continues in an attempt to reverse that trend. The Tok Race of Champions, the last race in the Alaskan Dog Mushing triple crown, ran the weekend of March 27-28 – for the 66th year. The Junior Race of Champions was held the weekend before. Kids as young as four, up to seventeen, were invited to race in sled dog sprints.
Races were held in one-dog, two-dog and four-dog classes. The six-dog class was cancelled this year for lack of participants. In 2013, forty-five kids participated in the Junior Race of Champions. 2021 saw only twelve competitors at the Tok race in all categories.
Delta Junction was well represented with four teams competing. Jona Schandelmeier raced in the four-dog class. Olivia Schandelmeier, Isabel Stoneking and Sawyer Stoneking ran in the two-dog division. Jona took first place honors in her class. Olivia was third in the two-dog, while Isabel and Sawyer were fifth and sixth respectively. Competitors received trophies and ribbons.
There are dog events for kids at a few places around the State. Fairbanks has an active junior racing schedule and a few of the outlying towns and villages host junior races at their various winter festivals. One of the great things about the junior races is that kids without dogs still have a chance to try their hand at driving a dog team.
Most racing clubs have members that will provide dogs – and the sled – for prospective junior mushers. Isabel and Sawyer Stoneking raced without ever having been on a dogsled. Whether they are now hooked or scared to death is still up in the air.
Working with dogs is an excellent way to get the younger generations out of the house and into the outdoors. A dog does not have to be a classic husky to enjoy pulling a sled. Emma Talus won the two-dog class with a racing sled dog and a Springer Spaniel. The dogs, Spot and Nutella are house pets that also love to run.
Labrador Retrievers pull, Dobermans pull, as do Poodles. Your dogs live to get out and see new things. You might find your kids do also.