Dallas Seavey wins record-breaking sixth Iditarod

a musher gets a kiss from a dog
Dallas Seavey celebrates his win of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Anne Raup / ADN)

NOME — The Last Great Race has its first six-time champion: Dallas Seavey has broken the all-time record for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race wins, mushing to this Bering Sea city and into the history books Tuesday.

Seavey and his 10-dog team, led by Golden Harness winners Sebastian and Aero, arrived under the famed Burled Arch finish line at 5:16 p.m. to a cheering crowd of onlookers enjoying the evening sunshine. By getting here first again, 37-year-old Seavey has broken a tie with five-time champ Rick Swenson.

Seavey pumped his arms in the air running beside his sled while coming into the finish chute, high-fiving fans along the edge, then picked up Timon and carried him around so those gathered could see the 5-year-old dog, whose paw he waved to them.

a dog waves
Dallas Seavey lifts up one of his team members, Timon, so they could wave to the crowd in the finish chute of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Asked at the finish line how he pulled off the sixth win, Seavey said, “one step at a time I suppose.”

“The most important question: What does my team need right now?” he said. “We answered that question every day, and at some point the analytical side said, ‘Holy cow, we got a shot.’”

Seavey’s team completed the 1,000-mile trail in nine days, two hours and 16 minutes. That time includes a two-hour penalty race officials added to Seavey’s mandatory 24-hour layover for failing to adequately gut a moose he shot after it attacked his team earlier in the race.

At the finish line, Seavey said his team faced challenges over the race’s thousand miles, but when they stumbled, they picked themselves back up and took another step forward.

“This one was supposed to be hard. It had to be special,” he said. “It had to be more than just a normal Iditarod. And for me it was.”

This is Seavey’s 14th attempt at the Iditarod, a race from which he has never scratched and often dominated. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since his second effort in 2007. He’s the youngest musher to ever win the Iditarod, notching his first victory in 2012 at just 25 years old. He then won the race in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2021.

a musher speaks into a microphone
Dallas Seavey is interviewed after his sixth Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race win on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Nome. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Over his nearly two decades racing the Iditarod, Seavey, who lives in Talkeetna, has gained a reputation as a serious and deliberate musher who wastes no time at checkpoints, always diligently and quickly moving through his dog chores.

He did just that when he arrived late Monday in White Mountain with a more than three-hour lead over his closest competitor, Matt Hall. As Seavey prepared to leave the checkpoint Tuesday morning, on the final push to Nome, he said he was trying to live in the moment, but a sixth win is something he’s dreamed about. 

“It’s what you dream of all year long, what you daydream of all year long as you prepare this team and train them,” he said. “So on one hand, yeah, it’s easy to drift into the future and say, ‘Is this really real?’ you know. ‘Are we actually going to get number six?’ And then you kind of have to pull yourself back.”

Seavey has touted his dogs’ pedigree — many are Iditarod finishers related to those on his past Iditarod championship teams — but he also comes from a family of deep mushing roots. His grandfather, Dan, placed third in the first Iditarod in 1973. His father, Mitch, has won three Iditarod championships and holds the record as the fastest musher to complete the race, in 2017, though the Iditarod was on an alternate route that year that officially started in Fairbanks.

a crowd
Dallas Seavey celebrates his win of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Seavey took command of this year’s race, bouncing back from the penalty, in Unalakleet, when he blew through the checkpoint Sunday while that day’s frontrunner, Jessie Holmes, rested. Seavey never trailed again in the race after that point.

In a press conference after the celebrations in the finish chute – including an oversized check written out for $55,600 – Seavey spoke to a crowded room at the Nome Mini-Convention Center.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” he said. “The heart and soul of this sport is sled dogs. It’s spending your life with sled dogs. It’s understanding sled dogs to such an infinite level, that you can go do something really amazing with them and accomplish big tasks with them and goals with them.”

two dogs
Two of Dallas Seavey’s team soak in some sun as Seavey celebrates his win of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Anne Raup / ADN)

This year was a bit slower compared to past Iditarods. A hefty dose of snow south of the Alaska Range put the damper on teams’ speeds early on. Later, it was cold, down to 45 below zero, requiring more attention to dog care and shelter at times.

Three Iditarod dogs have also died in the race, the first since 2019, when a dog died two days after crossing the finish line.

The Iditarod said pathologists would be conducting further tests to determine what caused the dogs’ deaths.

Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach addressed the dog deaths Tuesday in Nome.

“We really have no idea yet, the circumstances of what happened,” Urbach said. “It won’t be in vain. And if there’s an opportunity for us to learn from that, we will.”

It had not just been a tough race, but a tough mushing season, Seavey said. Two of his dogs, running in a team with another musher on the Denali Highway, died when a snowmachine hit them. The moose in this year’s race critically injured another dog, who was expected to survive after two surgeries.

“How many of us have had a pet dog that you cared about so much that when they died, you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to have another pet?’ I think that’s a common feeling, and that’s not a wrong feeling,” Seavey told the crowd at the press conference. “I’m not gonna let that bad experience I had there, the pain that that caused, prevent me from sharing the joy of traveling down the trail with the rest of the sled dogs, their next generation, the ones after that, and after that, and after that.”

“We have to choose to live,” he said. “Otherwise, what? You curl up and hide in the corner and have no life and hope there’s no risk. Life comes with risk if you want to live it. That’s my thinking at least.”

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Casey here

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