By Jillian Rogers and Genesee Keevil
Just three weeks before the start of the 25th Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, the event’s race marshal has quit.
Joe May, who was assigned the position in November, resigned a couple of weeks ago, said Alaska’s Yukon Quest board secretary Gwen Holdmann on Tuesday.
It took two weeks for word to reach Canadian Quest officials.
“The Yukon Quest organization (in Fairbanks) said May stepped down yesterday,” said Yukon spokesperson Amanda Leslie on Thursday.
That’s when Yukon executive director Stephen Reynolds was told about May’s departure by Fairbanks managing director Tania Simpson.
Thursday, the News asked for an interview with Simpson. When the Alaska office learned it was a media request, the News was told Simpson was not available.
A Quest office staffer identified only as Michael confirmed May had stepped down.
The staffer, who refused to give his last name or working title, wouldn’t say when May resigned.
For the last few weeks officials have been trying to find a replacement for May, said Holdmann. A prospect has been lined up, she added.
The Quest’s Alaska board has approved a candidate vetted by the rules committee. It is now waiting for Canadian approval.
But speaking on behalf of the Canadian board, Leslie knew nothing about the Alaskan board’s nominee.
“They haven’t formally recommended somebody yet,” she said.
“Once they do, both sides of the organization have to decide together — it’s not a unilateral decision.
“But they’re not floating any names around right now.”
May resigned because of “miscommunication over what his role as race marshal entailed,” said Leslie.
“And we are putting all our energies into finding his replacement.”
May wouldn’t comment on the reasons for his resignation.
“I’d really rather not say anything,” said May, 72, from his Trapper Creek home. “It’s complicated and would be easy to misunderstand. I’ve got a lot of friends up there (in Fairbanks) and I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
May, a top-10 Quest finisher in 1985 and 1986, was hired in November to replace Dave Monson, who signed on in August but bowed out citing time constraints.
“They couldn’t find somebody else,” said May back in November, regarding his decision to accept the position.
“I guess in a moment of weakness I might have said yes.”
Mike McCowan was race marshal from 2004 through 2007.
May’s resignation was surprising, said Holdmann.
“I think that it was a difference of opinion between him and other race personnel who had been there for some time,” said Holdmann, a Yukon Quest finisher herself.
“Just a difference of opinion about how things should be done. It’s really unfortunate because I think Joe was perfect, but he was pretty firm on his decision.
“Everyone was really bummed out and we were hoping we could work it out, but Joe made his decision.”
Along with finishing the 1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest, May had also served as a race judge and communications person on previous races.
His mushing career spanned 35 years and included winning the 1980 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
“Joe put a lot of effort in and he had a great rapport with the staff, great experience and worked hard to make the Quest a good race, and that’s what makes this even more unfortunate,” said Holdmann.
The race marshal is responsible for the race once the first musher bursts out of the start chute. They also make the decisions on the trail.
“The race cannot happen without a race marshal,” said Simpson on Tuesday. “And there will be one.”