Iditarod -- Race Across Alaska
From Pup to Champion Racer
By Karen Fanning
February 2007

Al Hardman of Ludington, Michigan, attaches the tug line to his dog Sackett while Willow looks on. The dogs competed in the 2002 Iditarod. (Andy Klevorn/AP Wide World)

He’s just seven years old and already has four Iditarods under his belt. But Texas isn’t ready to hang up his booties yet. Come March 3, the 55-pound Alaskan husky will be ready to take on the “The Last Great Race” one more time.

“He has incredible athletic ability and mental toughness,” says four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King.

Texas was just two years old when he harnessed up for his rookie run. Now, five years later, he is still one of the leaders on King’s team, which won the 2006 Iditarod.

At 1,150 miles, the Iditarod is a grueling race, even for veteran sled dogs like Texas. To combat fatigue, the dogs rotate positions on the train—from the lead to the middle to the back of the pack—as the race progresses. By doing so, none of the dogs will tire out more than the others.

Each position has its own demands. The job of the lead dogs is more mental than physical, says King.

“The leaders have to think,” he says. “They’re watching the trail, listening for directions, turning, deciding what speed I’m asking for. The dogs in the middle can go on autopilot. They’re like the bench.”

The pair of dogs in wheel—the two dogs directly in front of the sled—do much of the pulling. Their job is the most physically demanding.

Like all of King’s dogs, Texas isn’t guaranteed a spot on the defending champ’s team. Before the race each year, King narrows down his roster from 20 to 16 dogs—a decision he may not make until the night before the race. If Texas doesn’t make the team, he will lead King’s puppy team for rookie musher J.J. Wells.

He’s an exceptional sled dog,” says King. “He’s an outstanding leader. He’s got experience on his side.”