CALUMET - The CopperDog 150 is only in its fourth year, but the event has already come full circle, converting a harsh critic into a top promoter - and now, after Sunday, a first-time winner.
Bruce Magnusson withdrew from the race in its inaugural year after safety concerns, but race organizers addressed those concerns and convinced him to come back the next year. He finished 11th then, second last year and won this year's pro-class race over a finishing field of 26 mushers in 10 hours, 43 minutes, 2 seconds.
"We had conversation (the first year), but they're phenomenal. I wouldn't miss it now," said Magnusson, who lives in downstate Novi and runs his kennel out of Cheboygan. "My main goal this year was there was no repeat winners. The nice thing is I don't think it's a bad idea anymore."
Bruce Magnusson was the winner of the CopperDog 150 race last weekend. Magnusson is from downstate Novi. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo)
Magnusson said there's only two races on his list every year: The International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race in Wyoming and the CopperDog 150.
"The first year we were running (the CopperDog), nobody came from Stage Stop. There's seven of us here this year - only by good word and passing on the word of this race," Magnusson said.
Frank Teasley, race director of the Stage Stop, participated in the CopperDog, finishing 11th in the most competitive field yet. Several other sled dog racing dignitaries were in attendance, including Ryan Redington (eighth) - whose father founded the Iditarod - and his wife Erin (15th).
"We heard a lot of good things about this race - beautiful trails, well put on, and we had to come check it out," said 30-year-old Ryan, who has been racing dogs for 25 years. "I just thought it was an amazing race, fantastic competition, great sportsmanship and I look forward to being back here someday."
Ryan Redington optimized sportsmanship as voted on by fellow mushers, earning the Sportsmanship Award during Sunday afternoon's award's ceremony at Sacred Heart Church in Calumet.
Ironically enough for Redington, who crossed the finish line Sunday wearing a T-shirt, the award came with a Carhartt jacket.
Dennis LaBoda finished in second place and also garnered the Copper Harness Award, given to the musher who the team of 11 veterinarians give to the musher who takes the best care of their dogs.
"We saw the mushers do an outstanding job taking care of their dogs at each of the checkpoints," said chief veterinarian Jeff Ladd, who reported no injuries outside of a few sore wrists, pulled muscles and the slightest of overheating in Sunday's warm (for the dogs) 20-degree temperatures under sunny skies.
"This is so much fun," said LaBoda. "I've been racing dogs for a long time - this is my 40th year - and I only go to dog races that I really like. This is done so well."
From race organizers to volunteers, to mushers and dogs, to trail crew members and sponsors, to veterinarians and spectators - who came out in droves (6,000-plus projected Friday night; 800 projected at Sunday's finish, up from 400 last year) - it takes an army to pull off a race of the CopperDog's magnitude, but veteran mushers gushed over the organization.
"Wow, you guys put on an event that - and I've been to a bunch of dog races - this race is top notch. I love coming here, I love the atmosphere," said fourth-place finisher, 2011 winner and veteran bike race organizer Ross Fraboni.
Erin Redington gave particularly high praise for the volunteer force: "The number of volunteers they get for this race is astounding, all the folks out at the road crossings, that is really impressive ... definitely unlike most races. Most races have a lot of support, too, but this was above and beyond."
Erin's brother Andrew Letzring also ran the race, and the three mushers and teams all came in the same Ford F-350 truck with the Alaska license plate "MUSHAK." But the Redingtons were "mushing MI" for the third time this month (TheIronLine and the U.P. 200), using Erin's parent's Duluth home - a 71-hour drive from their Alaska home -as headquarters.
Other notable finishers include Jake Golton in third place and Jerry Bath rounding out the top five. Local 16-year-old Roy Bauer from Chassell finished in ninth, while last year's winner JR Anderson finished 13th.
"If I want to do one race a year, this is probably the race I'm going to do," Bauer said. "It's just a great vibe."
The race started Friday night with a party-like atmosphere capped off by fireworks in downtown Calumet; continued with a 9 a.m. start in Eagle Harbor and finishing in the afternoon in Copper Harbor; and started with a 9:22 a.m. start (intentionally later because mushers were pushing the volunteer time schedule with their speed) in Copper Harbor before entering Calumet shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday.
"From our perspective, the mushers' perspective in everything we're hearing, the race went good, the trail was great, the mushers were running good," CopperDog 150 Assistant Race Director Kim Pici said. "I think it was a success."
The weekend also featured a CopperDog 40 recreation-class race, which was won by Martha Schouweiler, with Calumet-based musher Truman Obermeyer taking second and Linda Thompson in third.
But Magnusson's victory stole the show, garnering a standing ovation at the award's presentation.
"Bruce Magnusson was one of our biggest critics our first year, he's one of our biggest champions and evangelists right now, and to have him win the race, I guess that just makes sense," CopperDog 150 Executive/Race Director Todd Brassard said.
Brassard is working with Pici and another assistant race director, Meredith LaBeau (who was going to be race director until she became pregnant) to make sure the race continues in the future.
Vice Chair Abbey Green presented LaBeau and Todd's wife Jessica with CopperDog shirts to signify carrying on the tradition.
For full CopperDog 150 and 40 results, visit copperdog150.com.