Sebastian Schnuelle just got kicked in the “ass,” he said.
And he’s blaming the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race board.
In April, the Alaskan and Canadian boards decided to throw $25,000 more into the 2007 race, raising the purse to a total of $150,000.
After 10 years without a purse hike, something had to change, said Quest manager Stephen Reynolds.
“This was a statement to the mushers that we are trying our best to increase the purse, as they’ve asked us to for years. And $25,000 was the number that both boards felt comfortable committing to, this far out.”
But many mushers are still frustrated.
“As a musher, I feel the purse distribution is way too top heavy,” said Schnuelle during the Quest’s annual general meeting Thursday.
“It’s been top heavy before, and now it is even top heavier.”
Next year, the top three Quest finishers will receive 69 per cent of the winnings.
While the Iditarod only shares 29 per cent of its total purse with the first three positions, said Schnuelle.
“And I don’t see the advantage of putting the money so far to the front,” he said.
“The more money that’s in the front, the less mushers there are, and we should take a strong look at why that is.”
Every race has a breakeven number for mushers, said Schnuelle.
And the majority of the purse money should be placed in that range, so that as many mushers as possible at least breakeven, rather than pumping more and more money into the front of the race, he said.
“I’ve raced in the Quest three times now, and I’ve put in money every year,” said Schnuelle.
Instead of trying to spread $25,000 over 15 positions, the boards decided to concentrate the money on a few positions, so it would have more of an impact, said Reynolds.
“If you spread $25,000 evenly over 15 spots, you’re at just about $1,100 bucks each, and that would be a significant increase for 15th, but barely a dent up at first. So, it’s a balancing act,” he said.
“We understand that there’s quite a diversity in the mushing community and we are aware that this decision would not make everyone happy, and that’s just a way of life for now.”
Putting money into the top positions is the only way to start, agreed Atlin musher Hans Gatt.
The three-time Quest champ, and this year’s second-place finisher is happy with the board’s decision.
“It’s called a race,” said Gatt.
“If you want to make money, then get your ass in gear and try and make money by not being last.”
A musher’s reaction to the purse increase is directly relational to their general positioning in the race, said Reynolds.
“So, if you look at those mushers who are consistently at the middle to back of the pack, they will either be neutral or be negative — hopefully only slightly negative,” he said.
“I almost felt personally insulted by the purse raise,” said Schnuelle.
“I thought, oh, cool, there’s some Iditarod mushers being asked to come over, who’ve shown no loyalty whatsoever, and people like myself who have shown loyalty for three years, we get a kick in the ass.
“So, I might as well go to the Iditarod, which I have done anyway.”
Flipping through Iditarod statistics, Schnuelle saw that when the Alaskan race raised its purse by $50,000 in ’88 there was a dramatic increase in mushers who signed up.
And none of that $50,000 went to raising the first few positions’ winnings, he said.
“So, to see 69 per cent of the Quest purse money so far up front, I can’t see the sense of it, period.
“This is the kind of sentiments you’re getting from us, who’ve run the race —you have to be able to somehow pay for it.”
“I wish I could run dogs without having to think about money,” said Quest musher Gerry Willomitzer.
“But as soon as you start putting your dog team into races, you start thinking about money. And the race purse has to be part of your income, if you want to return year after year.”
By putting so much money into those top three positions, the Quest is trying to attract bigger names and bigger sponsors, said Willomitzer.
But this is the wrong way of thinking, he said.
“Drawing over a few big-name mushers from the Iditarod would just be a flash in the pan.
“We need to get more mushers starting and finishing the race, and to do that the Quest needs a bigger purse, and a better trail.”
“The Quest won’t get many mushers from the East Coast of Canada, or the lower 48, or even Europe, because they’d have a lot of expenses to come over here and run this race and everybody will look at where their breakeven point is,” said veteran musher Ed Hopkins.
“And I know from experience that eighth place isn’t worth whoop-de-do. It’s kind of like a breakeven point for me, and I’m local,” said the Tagish musher.
“So, if those (Outside mushers) can’t crack the top five by the time they get to Dawson, they’re not going to want to drive their truck all the way around (to Fairbanks) to limp along and maybe make $1,000. They’re going to scratch in Dawson, and that’s another $800 they’re going to save to pay for gas driving back home.”
Adding more money to next year’s purse is not out of the question, said Reynolds.
Hopefully this is just the first step, in the process to raise the entire purse, he said.
“And hopefully the next decision will make more people happy.”
Any sponsorship that exceeds $3,000 goes directly to the Quest purse, and Reynolds has his fingers crossed.