Alaska Area Repair and Maintenance Supervisor Nick Olstad recently captured his sixth Iron Dog championship, becoming only the second racer in the history of the sport to achieve this accomplishment.
Iron Dog is the world’s longest, toughest snowmobile race, which takes place annually in February. During the week-long race, participants cover some of Alaska’s most remote and rugged terrain, traveling more than 2,500 miles through 23+ communities, while confronting some of the harshest winter conditions. Survival skills are essential, and teams are comprised of two racers on two snowmobiles for safety.
Olstad got his start in the sport in 2005. “I had been snowmachine racing for a few years when Marc McKenna approached me to race the 2005 Iron Dog with him,” explained Olstad. “His partner had to pull out of the race, and with only a few weeks before the start and I jumped at the opportunity.”
The event was Olstad’s first time competing in a long-distance race. “While it was a challenge, I was hooked. Marc and I won that year, and I became the first rookie to compete and win,” said Olstad.
Since that first race, Olstad has changed partners twice. He’s raced 19 years, winning the event six times, and is the only champion that has driven and won the title on three different brands of snowmobiles. This was his fourth championship with his current partner, Tyler Aklestad.
With all his success, Olstad continues to love the thrill and challenges of racing Iron Dog.
“I normally start preparing for the race in the October-November time frame, depending on the weather and when we receive our sleds. I try to work out pretty regularly, and we ride long distances every weekend, with some trips during the week as well,” explained Olstad.
The duo usually completes a long trip about a month before the race to see what the trail will look like. “Wrenching and riding is how we train, putting miles on, figuring out what makes our sleds ride best, dialing in shocks,” he said.
“Safety always being first and foremost,” expressed Olstad. “I have to think of all the safety variables and what we may encounter along the 2,600-mile race, all while thinking about what could go wrong and how to prevent it."
For Olstad, his success isn’t only from his strength, skill, and courage but also from the support of his family and sponsors. “My partner Tyler and I are blessed to have amazing sponsors and supporters to help us achieve all our goals, get parts and gas where we need them, and outfit us and our sleds. Not only are we prepared for what the trail holds in store for us, but we also look good getting across the finish line,” Olstad expressed.
At MPC, Olstad supervises a team that is based out of Anchorage. They take care of the maintenance, repairs, preventative maintenance, and some small projects at four terminals, and the TAPL pipeline. His Iron Dog racing has a lot in common with his work at MPC.
Teamwork is also important at work and on the course. “Teamwork is what the race is all about. If either my partner or I have issues along the way, it affects us both. You can’t win the race without your partner crossing the finish line with you. We at Marathon are also very much team oriented. We all come together, communicate, plan, and prioritize safety to try to ensure our projects – big and small – are successful.