Spectators invited to weekend dog sled races|
|Sled dog racing—long a solitary pursuit along woodsy trails—becomes a spectator sport this week, when the Antigo/Langlade County Chamber of Commerce presents the Culver’s Trailblazer Challenge.|
The races, starting and finishing from Culver’s restaurant on Antigo’s north side, will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. on Sunday.
According to Beth Castaldi, event organizer for the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club, Antigo’s races are unusual because they follow courses around the community’s north side, and in some cases through backyards.
That allows some great viewing opportunities.
“We have people who have sled dog parties,” Castaldi said, mentioning one home that adorns their area with balloons and welcoming signs. “We encourage everyone to come to Culver’s or look at the maps and find a good spot along the route to watch, have fun, and encourage the mushers and their dogs on.”
The chilly winter weather and snowy conditions have been great for sled dog racing across the north, and slightly moderating temperatures predicted for the weekend should make for a great turnout of racers and spectators, Castaldi said.
“Last year there was barely enough snow to put in an acceptable race trail,” Castaldi said. “This year has offered a new challenge—almost too much snow. However, thanks to the county’s big groomer and determination of the local sled dog club members the trail is in place and ready for the fast sled dog teams.”
Mushers who train on Langlade County trails are seeing excellent success in 2014.
“The county training trails we have the privilege of using here in Langlade County are a perfect match for the trails many of us have raced on the past two weekends,” DeDe Wilcenski of Bryant said. “This means the dog teams are conditioned properly and the drivers have suitably honed their sled handling skills.”
In fact several of the members of the Langlade County Sled Dog Club drive in from their areas to train on the trails. Tim Carey and his son, Joey, frequently come from Stratford to take advantage of the recently-approved training trails north of Highway 52 as well as the training trails in Elton.
“We enjoy spending time with other mushers and appreciate the quality of the training trails,” Carey said. “Plus it is important that our teams get exposure to other teams.”
Castaldi said that local sled dog drivers are looking forward to continuing the racing season this weekend in Antigo.
“Community support for this exciting weekend of racing is appreciated,” Deena Grabowsky, executive director of the Antigo/Langlade County Chamber, said. “It takes cooperation of private landowners, businesses, government, county services and the local mushers to make this a top rated race. Thank you to everyone.”
In addition to racing for a top placing position in the local race, mushers are vying for points from the International Sled Dog Racing Association.
“It’s kind of like NASCAR except sportsmanship is foremost in sled dog racing. Safety of the dogs and drivers always comes first,” Ken Castaldi from Elton said. “When a youngster begins racing that is the first thing they are taught.”
Twelve-year-old Antigo-born and raised Olivia Wickkiser is one of the new racers in Wisconsin and will compete in the three-dog junior class.
Her grandfather and mentor, Steve Wilcenski, said he is proud of how much she has already learned.
“She is a natural on the sled runners and absorbs every ounce of information presented her,” he said.
New to sprint sled dog racing is Kim Schramer Ruhl from Bryant. She has raced to the top in the registered breed four and six-dog classes with the team she co-owns with husband Phil. Ruhl placed first or second in each of the previous three races she has entered and said she is hoping to maintain the trend with her team of Siberian Huskies this weekend.
DeDe Wilcenski and Beth Castaldi are likely to be just a few seconds apart after two days of racing in the four-dog professional class.
My dogs will have to be hitting full time on all four cylinders both days to stay ahead of DeDe,” Castaldi said. “It’s all part of the fun of racing. We wish each other successful runs but want to be just a couple seconds faster. Anything can happen on the race trail to change who gets those few seconds.”
Steve Wilcenski hopes to improve just one spot in Antigo. Last weekend at Land ’O Lakes he captured second place in the 10-dog class. His team has lots of speed and should be flying on the hard packed 10-mile trail that includes about three miles on the Antigo Airport property.
College student Abby Heistad will be racing in the skijoring class this weekend. College means Heistad has not been able to participate in all the Midwest races this year. However, she made sure she would be able to race in her hometown. She has done personal physical conditioning on her own and trained young canine brothers from Castaldi’s kennel.
Ken Castaldi will be working with a young team that has performed exceptionally well on the race trail, winning second place in the six-dog class at Land ’O Lakes last week. He’s team will be challenged to hold this position at Antigo as he borrowed Heistad’s two skijor dogs last week.
“Abby has worked hard with these young dogs and deserves the right to race with them,” Ken Castaldi said. “I’m still hoping for an acceptable run with other dogs from our kennel.”
Langlade County Culver’s Trailblazer Challenge is managed by the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club, aided by the Langlade County Sled Dog Club members and sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association.
Races start Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m.
Skijorers will have first crack at the trail. For safety they need the smoothest trail. Next out on the trail will be the three-dog juniors, four-dog classes, two-dog juniors then six-dog and finally the 10-dog class.
Spectators are always welcome. There is no entrance fee and free parking is available near Culver’s.
A print-out map of the race trails is available at antigochamber.com. It is also printed on the back page of this section of the newspaper.
Beth and Ken Castaldi, with a bit of help from their heeler Smudge, cut boughs to mark the trail for this weekend’s Culver’s Trailblazer Challenge.
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