When David Hammond and Robert Gardner set out to Alaska to compete in the Iron Dog snowmobile race, they had three goals.

“Our No. 1 goal was to finish,” Hammond, a Sidney native, said.

The second was to finish in the top 10 and the third was to be the top rookie team.

They achieved all three goals. Gardner and Hammond finished ninth in the Pro Class division. Twenty-one teams finished in the Pro Class, while 10 more scratched during the race due to mechanical problems or injury.

The Iron Dog race started in 1984 as a snowmobile race following the Iditarod trail to Nome. Over time, the race expanded, and now runs from Big Lake, just north of Anchorage, west to Nome, then northeast to Fairbanks. The course is approximately 2,000 miles.

Gardner and Hammond finished four spots behind the team of Todd Palin, Sarah Palin’s husband.

Gardner and Hammond started planning for the Iron Dog last March, after Gardner returned from winning the Cain’s Quest snowmobile race in Labrador, Canada. Gardner, of Mercer, was on his way to defend his Cain’s Quest title and unavailable for comment.

Gardner and Hammond were prepared for brutal conditions.

“We were worried at first because they’d had one of the coldest winters ever. They’d hit 70 below,” Hammond. “We went out there and it warmed up to zero to 25 degrees.”

The race started Feb. 19 and took six days. There were 27 checkpoints between Big Lake and Fairbanks, and seven mandatory rest stops of at least eight hours. At Nome, the midway point, the teams stopped for more than a day for rest and a banquet.

Gardner and Hammond ran into no major mechanical problems. Hammond estimated each sled underwent 40 hours of mechanic time to prepare for the race.

As newcomers, Gardner and Hammond took it easy, relatively speaking. They finished approximately two and a half hours behind the winning team.

“They were doing 90 (miles per hour) and we were doing 75,” Hammond said.

Hammond said he’s not sure if he’d compete in the Iron Dog again.

“It was an awesome experience, but I can cross it off my bucket list,” Hammond said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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