FAIRBANKS — Race officials of the Open North American Championship sled dog race moved the start of today’s second heat to noon after it was originally set for 1 p.m.
Weather was the reason for the move, as the temperature for Friday’s 20-mile heat reached 42 degrees amid sunny skies at the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds behind the Mushers Hall on Farmers Loop.
Friday’s weather didn’t seem to bother Blayne Streeper and his team of 16 dogs. The defending five-time ONAC champion from Fort Nelson, British Columbia, charged to a first-day lead of 65 minutes, 40 seconds.
Anny Malo, an ONAC newcomer from Saint Zenon, Quebec, was the next fastest musher in 67:16.7, and Fairbanks’ Ricky Taylor was third in 67:42.6 after the opening heat.
Friday’s race layout included sections along Farmers Loop, through Creamers Field, near the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds and close to the Fairbanks Golf Course.
Streeper said his team, with lead dogs Elvis and Bobby, both 4 years old, had a pace of 3 minutes, 10 seconds to 3:12 on the out-and-back course. At the 16-mile point, near a section of utility poles, Streeper’s time was 49 minutes, 49 seconds, the only sub 50-minute split among the race’s 18 mushers for that area.
“The trail’s awesome. This is still the fastest race in the world for this type of distance,” Streeper said after feeding his dogs after the race.
“There’s shorter races in other places, but for 20 miles this is the fastest place. And normally cold weather; this (42 degrees) is crazy but still it’s a good trail and the temperature’s just under the limits we can run in. The dogs were able to run at that pace, so they’re incredible animals.”
After the race, Streeper gave his dogs ice cubes of Revive, which he said is like Gatorade for dogs.
“If they eat that, they’ll make a full recovery in 90 minutes,” Streeper said. “It’s glycogen; the body needs it, that’s what the muscle needs.”
During the race, Streeper overcame a 30-second delay after his team and another musher’s team got tangled near the 18-mile point.
The 37-year-old musher also passed three teams during the first heat.
“A lot of action out there for me on the trail,’’ said Streeper, who’s participating in his 13th ONAC.
Friday marked new action for Malo, who said she typically races in limited class races, such as 10-dog competitions. She started her first ONAC heat with 12 dogs, led by John Deere and Wesley.
“It’s exciting, I’m excited and it’s a new challenge,’’ Malo said. “So it’s a speedy race for us and I’m just amazed by the dogs. They did a great job.”
Malo went through the 16-mile point at 51:11, the second-fastest split Friday for that section.
Taylor said the trails were really good for his 16-dog team, which was led by Sharky and Lucky.
“The temperatures were a little challenging for them but the trails were beautiful,’’ he said. “We’ve got three days of racing, so I just kind of took her (the race) easy.”
The mushers started from the racegrounds in 2-minute intervals and Streeper was the 17th to head out, while Malo started ninth and Taylor 13th. Their positions were determined in a musher drawing Wednesday at the Elks Lodge.
The late Lester Erhart Sr. was given the No. 1 bib in memoriam. The musher competed in the ONAC during the 1950s and 1960s and also raised sled dogs. His son, John Erhart, of Tanana, drew the No. 2 race bib Wednesday.
Today’s 20-mile heat begins at noon and it’s the same time for Sunday’s final heat, which will be about 28 miles.
Results from Friday’s heat are listed on the Scoreboard on Page B2.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports