Sass beats Seavey to claim 2022 Iditarod title
Eureka musher holds off 5-time champion to pick up first win in the Last Great Race
NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - Brent Sass of Eureka finally got the monkey off his back Tuesday morning when he hit the finish line in Nome to win the 2022 Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
It’s the first Iditarod victory for Sass, a former winner of the Yukon Quest sled dog race that had been shut out of the win column in six previous tries in the Last Great Race.
Sass passed under the burled arch on Nome’s Front Street at 5:38 a.m. Tuesday, led by a team of 11 dogs in harness.
“It’s overwhelming, is the only word I can think of,” Sass said moments after crossing under the burled arch. “... The whole way in, the last miles when I really felt like we did it, you know, it was just a culmination of thinking back to all the people who’ve helped me and all the dogs that I’ve had along the way that have helped me learn how to make this happen. And so it’s such a huge amount of people and effort, the people have helped me put in to make it happen, so I was thinking all of those people, really, as I was coming in.”
Sass did it, and did so by running his own race, which the slogan he has tattooed on his arm.
“It’s everything,” Sass said of the phrase. “I mean ’run your own race’ is (what) I’ve chanted every single second that I’m out there because it’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on around you and to start making moves that aren’t really smart for your team, but if you just can run your own race and stick to your plan and stick to what you know works for you, success is around the corner and it paid off for us this year.”
The veteran beat five-time and defending champion Dallas Seavey to the finish by 1 hour, 8 minutes, depriving Seavey of a record-breaking sixth Iditarod title. Sass’s final finishing time was 8 days, 14 hours, 38 minutes and 43 seconds. It’s the third-fastest time on the Iditarod’s Northern Route, only behind Dallas Seavey’s 2016 record of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds, as well as Seavey’s 2014 time.
“Dallas is the best guy in the business right now and it definitely makes it that much better to come in here in front of him,” Sass said. “He’s a hell of a competitor and a really good dog musher clearly, and we beat him, so I’m really excited about that.”
Seavey pulled into the finish chute Tuesday at 6:46 a.m., finishing the final 22-mile leg from Safety to Nome 17 minutes quicker than Sass, which was not enough to catch him.
Fans of Sass went to bed Monday night with the Eureka musher a comfortable 20 miles ahead of Seavey. By early morning, Seavey had gained several miles on Sass, as wind gusts through the infamous “blowhole” upended Sass for more than 30 minutes.
“I was sitting next to my sled, the wind was blowing 50 miles an hour and ... like for a split second, maybe a minute, I didn’t know what we were going to do. I was like, ‘do I try and get out of this? Or what do we do?’” Sass said. “And then my, you know, survivor instinct kicked in and it was immediately like, ‘we need to get out of here, whatever it’s going to take because we need to win this race, and we need to survive this.’”
Sass never trailed after passing Seavey on the trail just past the Ophir checkpoint Wednesday morning, which lies 623 miles from Nome. Sass spent his 24-hour layover Wednesday night through Thursday in Cripple.
The Minnesota-born musher who moved to Alaska over 20 years ago and has lived in Eureka since 2012 has had a checkered past racing the Iditarod, one of Alaska’s biggest and most widely-known sporting events. Sass finished 13th in 2012 to win the Rookie of the Year award, then had two strong runs derailed in 2015 and 2016.
Sass was disqualified in 2015 for using a iPod Touch, which was considered a two-way communication device by race officials and therefore illegal to use. The next year, he was running third at the White Mountain checkpoint, just 77 miles from the end, when his dog team refused to continue on, dropping him to a 20th-place result at the finish.
In 2020, Sass finished fourth in the race, then followed it up with a third-place run last year, setting himself up as one of the race favorites in 2022.
Sass has had plenty of success in dog mushing in Alaska with three Yukon Quest 1,000-mile wins, as well as both sides of the Quest this year, which was split between Alaska and Canada. Both races in 2022 were shortened, with the Alaska route measuring 350 miles and the Canadian route going 300. Sass had also won his first Copper Basin 300 in January.
His run, his lifestyle and competitive drive epitomize “The Last Great Race.”
“I’m doing what people were doing 50 years ago when this race started,” he said. “You know, I’m living in the bush and I’m fending for myself as much as I possibly can, and I’ve devoted my entire life to these dogs, and surviving in a remote place and living a lifestyle like they all lived and I think that definitely embodies the race and embodies the sport of sled dog racing — not only just this are, all the races, and yeah, I’m proud to be that representative.”
When asked if this would be a “one and done” championship, Sass said “no, oh no, not at all. I will be back next year for No. 2.”
Correction: This article has been updated to correct Brent Sass’s finishing time to Nome.
Copyright 2022 KTUU. All rights reserved.