Petit Wins Copper Basin 300, 4th in Kuskokwim 300
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Nic Petit’s promising mushing season began with an exciting, interesting start with his first two races. Petit won the Copper Basin 300 (CB300) for the second year in a row, finishing 35 minutes ahead Brent Sass. The CB300 is considered the most challenging mid-distance race due to frigid temperatures and demanding trail conditions.
The next weekend, Petit and his sled dogs raced in the Kuskokwim 300 (K300), where he finished fourth after taking the wrong trail to the finish. K300 race officials reviewed Petit’s finish and penalized him one hour for losing the trail, dropping his standing.
Petit’s CB300 began just the way he wanted during the bib draw at the musher’s meeting. After his name was called, he declared, “I want to draw a high number,” which he did with number 31 in a race with 35 entrants.
The 263-mile CB300 began in Gakona instead of Glennallen this year due to low snow conditions, which shortened the race. Petit’s 32-mile run to Chistochina was the fastest at 2:44, passing 13 teams along the way.
After a two-hour rest, he exited the checkpoint in dramatic fashion. Petit was penned in by resting dog teams in front of him, so he had to run the narrow gap between them and make a hard right to get on the trail out.
With a paper cup filled with coffee in his right hand, Petit pulled his snow hook, started his team, and shot through the gap between dog teams with his left hand gripping the sled’s handle bar. His sled tilted slightly to the left taking the sharp right, but he regained his balance without spilling his coffee.
After a 68-mile run to Meier’s Lake, Petit was the third musher into the checkpoint. He took his mandatory six-hour rest and differential time, then took off for the Sourdough checkpoint at exactly 5 a.m. Petit pulled into Sourdough first, five minutes ahead of Sass, and rested for five hours.
The 55-mile leg to Lake Louise is where Petit’s team became the frontrunner. Petit left five minutes ahead of Sass, who came charging after. As Sass was approaching Petit, he kicked his team into high gear and took off, widening the distance between the mushers over the 55 miles to Lake Louise. Petit was the first musher to the next destination at Point Lodge by 24 minutes.
Team Petit’s Lead Handler and Oso Loco Co-owner Tyler Schmitt described how this section of trail set Petit up for his win.
“This was where the race pace got set,” Schmitt said. “Nic made up some time from Sourdough to Point Lodge, which gave him about a 24-minute cushion. He stayed about a mile ahead of him (Sass). As soon as he saw Brent’s headlamp, that was it. Nic turned on the burners. Brent came into the checkpoint saying, ‘I was seeing you, and then you were gone.’”
Petit took his remaining five hours of rest at Point Lodge, where he enjoyed a thick beef brisket sandwich. During his meal, he said, “This is a really good race for my dog team.” When asked why, he casually replied, “Ask me at the finish line tomorrow.”
Petit also acknowledged that competitive mushers are paying attention to his result in the CB300 and other races. Petit finished second in the 2018 Iditarod after taking a wrong turn on the Norton Sound ice, likely costing him a first place finish.
After a two-hour nap, Petit patiently prepared his eager dog team and was off at 11:30 p.m. for the final 73 miles to the finish line at Old Path’s Baptist Church in Glennallen. Sass left Point Lodge 24 minutes later.
Of course, Petit’s finish was not without suspense. A spotty GPS race tracker in Petit’s sled added a bit of mystery at Race Central as to where Petit was and when he would be arriving. Visual sightings said Petit was 10 miles out, with Sass three miles behind on a final, fast section of the race. Then there was word Petit was two miles out.
In the frosty darkness of a -11 degree F. morning in Glennallen, Petit finished first at 7:07 a.m., complimenting last year’s same finish. One of the first questions race officials asked was where was his tracker. Petit dug around in his gear-loaded bag and produced the tracker buried in the bottom.
Schmitt explained the significance of Petit’s CB300 win.
“The Copper Basin is one of the toughest races. It’s one where you need someone at the checkpoints to pick you up and that motivation of someone being there because of the differences.” Schmitt continued, “The night before the race started it was -39 degrees. This race can be extremely challenging in differences versus zero degrees or above zero in the race. Being a part of this race sets you up for the other races.”
After Tue. evening’s CB300 Mushers Banquet in Glennallen, Petit and his dog team had to get to Anchorage for flights to Bethel for the K300 and a Fri. evening race start.
While Petit was one of the frontrunners throughout the K300 and poised to run a strong finish, he was not wearing a headlamp and continued straight down the wrong trail instead of turning right. Petit was penalized an hour for going down the wrong trail and not returning to the correct trail, which placed him in fourth for the K300.
Complicating matters, Petit accidentally left his race tracker in Tuluksak after stripping his sled to mandatory gear. Race officials placed the tracker in the detachable bag on top of the sled, which Petit offloaded to avoid lugging unnecessary weight to the finish line. As a result, race officials did not know where Petit was on or off of the trail.
A statement issued by K300 officials on their FB page said, “Petit crossed the finish line close behind winner Matthew Failor but it was immediately learned from Petit that he had traveled for several miles on Church Slough after leaving the marked race trail about 10 miles from the finish line. After considering the available information, Race Judges added one hour to Petit’s time dropping him to fourth in the official standings.
“Race rules require racers who lose the trail to return to the trail at the point the trail was lost. In this case a review of the trail showed numerous markers, including a bright orange highway light near the point where Petit left the trail. He acknowledged he saw the light but also informed judges he was running with his headlight off when he first left the trail. Several other racers also left the trail at the same location with their headlights off but all returned to the trail upon learning their error.”
Race officials also complimented Petit for his self-reporting, cooperation and professionalism.
Before the CB300, Team Petit trained at Eureka Lodge for two months to acclimate to the rigors of that race and the upcoming mushing season, which may be a special one for Petit. The results of this training are being seen, and Team Petit’s next race is the Tustumena 200 through the Caribou Hills of Kenai Peninsula, starting Jan. 26 at Freddie’s Roadhouse at Mile 16 Oil Well Road in Ninilchik. Petit has bib #10.
Editor’s Note: This season is the fifth I have been helping Team Petit while covering it as a journalist and photographer.