Iron Dog snowmachine racer Larry Levine said his family would describe his daughter, Dani Levine, as his clone.
“I rarely have to look at a menu, she gets what I would have picked,” he said. “And that has led to some of the biggest fights in my life because we’re so identical. But it’s pretty easy to read what’s going on with her.”
Larry says their similarities have proven to be critical assets during the Iron Dog — the world’s longest snowmachine race.
Last year, Larry and Dani became the first ever father-daughter team to complete the full race. On Sunday, they’ll return to the starting line in Fairbanks for round two. They’re joining 28 other two-person teams on the 2,400-mile dash to Kotzebue, over to Nome and ending north of Anchorage in Big Lake. Dani is also the only female racer in the group.
“I feel blessed to be able to run it with my daughter,” Larry, 56, said.
This year is Larry’s fifth Iron Dog and Dani’s second.
On a recent weekday evening, Larry and Dani sat in their garage in Midtown Anchorage to talk about their unique, shared sport. They laughed often as they told stories from the trail, and recounted the stern warnings from their top fan.
“The biggest pressure I have is the fact that my wife, on multiple occasions, with and without Dani present, has said if (Dani) doesn’t come back with 10 fingers, 10 toes, healthy, no injuries, then there’s no reason I need to show up at home,” Larry said.
Dani said a big piece of her and her dad’s success is trust.
“There’s no other way to get through the race,” she said.
Dani wound up in her first Iron Dog last year after her dad’s teammate suffered an injury right before the race. Luckily, Larry said, he had an experienced snowmachiner in the family to fill in.
Dani started riding snowmachines at age six and began racing as a teenager. But Larry didn’t pick up the sport seriously until she went to college. When it comes to the long-distance race, he said, he and Dani are learning together.
“I used to say there was a million things to racing Iron Dog detail-wise and any one can slip you up and make it so you don’t finish,” he said. “It’s now there’s three million little details. And I am the expert on the 2.99 million things of what not to do. I’m still working on the what to do.”
Larry described the Iron Dog as brutal. He said he had some of the most miserable moments of his life on the trail. The race stretches through remote parts of the state. There’s rarely help nearby or cell phone reception. To compete, Larry said, racers have to be mechanics, navigators, meteorologist and athletes.
For Larry, the Iron Dog is all about the sense of accomplishment and racing with his daughter. The bond it creates, he said, is worth every crash and frozen limb.
“You’re absolutely sleep deprived, hungry. It’s 50 below, you’re going 100 miles an hour and something bonds you,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
In the days leading up to the race, Larry and Dani are packing, finding last minute parts for their machines and getting in shape. That includes spin class together at 5:30 a.m.
Larry said one day, maybe, they’ll be standing on the Iron Dog podium. At least this year, they hope to show people that they have what it takes to finish again.
“We can go down that trail as fast as we can,” he said, “and surprise the heck of a lot of these racers that are not expecting a bald-headed old dude and a lady to chase them down on the trail.”
The Iron Dog starts at 11 a.m. Sunday. Teams are expected to finish the race nearly a week later, on Feb. 22.
Note: Clara Unger is a student at South Anchorage High School. She produced this story as part of the Anchorage School District Gifted Mentorship Program.