Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Ramy Brooks won the Yukon Quest by a margin of 10 minutes. Brooks is the youngest winner of the Yukon Quest to date.

Brooks Becomes Youngest Quest Champion

Ramy Brooks, of Healy, Alaska, became the youngest winner of the Yukon Quest, crossing the finish line along First Avenue only 10 minutes ahead of Mark May Wednesday night.

By Whitehorse Star on February 26, 1999

The Whitehorse Star, Yukon Quest February 1999


Ramy Brooks, of Healy, Alaska, became the youngest winner of the Yukon Quest, crossing the finish line along First Avenue only 10 minutes ahead of Mark May Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old collects a $30,000 US first-place prize for completing the 1,600-kilometre course from Fairbanks to Whitehorse in 11 days, seven hours, and 31 minutes.

"It's incredible to be in the winner's circle of a major event like this," a smiling Brooks told reporters moments after he arrived in Whitehorse at 8:27 p.m. "I'll have to sit back and enjoy it a little bit. I haven't had time to realize I won."

Moments after crossing the finish line, he gave a big hug to his two young children, Abby and Molly, and received a little gift from his wife, Cathy - a strawberry milkshake.

Brooks has been chased by May, of North Pole, Alaska since they both left Dawson City last Saturday. Brooks had a three-hour lead when he left the former Yukon capital. May closed to within two hours at Pelly Crossing and 18 minutes at Carmacks.

When the pair left the Braeburn Lodge Wednesday morning, Brooks was ahead by 30 minutes. During the frantic final run into town, he never saw May over his shoulder.

As he crossed under the Takhini River Bridge and hit the Yukon River with May nowhere to be seen, Brooks began to feel confident.

"I tried not to think about that," Brooks said. "...I've been passed a couple of miles from the finish line before so it's not good to focus on (winning) until you get to the finish line."

He didn't win by much. The 10-minute margin between Brooks and May ties the record for the second-closest Quest finish. In 1987, Bill Cotter beat David Monson by the same 10-minute margin.

The record was set in 1991, when Alaskan Charlie Boulding edged Bruce Lee by five minutes.

Taking his time at the beginning of the race is what Brooks credits as a big reason for the victory.

"Early in the race, I made sure I rested. I made myself have the patience to sit and watch other teams go by as I sat and rest. I think that paid off in the end."

Brooks' victory adds another generation of dog mushing champions to the Wright family. Both his mother (Roxy Wright Champain) and grandfather (Gareth Wright) were North American sprint mushing champions, with his mother also taking the 1990 Alpirod (the European version of Iditarod).

"I'm pretty proud of him. He did a great job," said Wright Champain, who followed her son throughout the race this year.

Even though he is the youngest Quest winner, Brooks has as much knowledge of mushing as any veteran does. His mother joked earlier in the week Brooks learned everything through his family by osmosis. He's been racing since he was four years old and has competed in the last five Iditarods.

While Brooks was ecstatic with winning the Quest, May wasn't very pleased with a second-place finish. He didn't speak to reporters and left the finish line area quickly.

According to a handler, May had been training hard over the past nine months to win the Quest, not finish second.

"I'm not at all disappointed with the race," May told reporters Thursday morning. "...I'm the second-place finisher, but I feel like the champion."

Brooks and May rode into town in front of hundreds of people. Third-place finisher Peter Butteri, of Tok, Alaska, didn't have to worry too much about crowd control. He arrived in Whitehorse at 6:40 Thursday morning to earn $18,000 US.

He was followed by Aliy Zirkle, of Two Rivers, Alaska, at 7:17 a.m., and Yukoner Frank Turner (7:38 a.m.).

Turner's 1995 victory still stands as the fastest Quest ever run - 10 days, 16 hours and 20 minutes.

Like May and Brooks, Butteri mushed the final 170 kilometres from Braeburn without taking a major rest.

"I was in a hurry. I new Aliy and Frank would be trying to catch me. They were moving a little faster than me," Butteri said.

"I figured Frank was coming home, so his dogs would perk up. It didn't surprise me a bit about Aliy. She was moving quick and had a real nice-looking team."

Now that the leaders have finished, Butteri doesn't want to second-guess himself and replay the race in his mind.

Then he laughed, "I'm going to be doing that (second-guessing) for a long time.... Maybe there's something I could have done to possibly have a shot at those guys."

Zirkle finished in fourth place - one of the highest placings for a female musher in the 16 years of the Quest. Linda Forsberg and Kathy Swenson have both been third, in 1994 and 1988 respectively.

Zirkle - nicknamed Arctic Zirkle by some race veterinarians and officials - managed to stay in front of 1995 Quest champion Turner for most of the second half of the race. The Yukoner was always a few minutes behind her, and couldn't catch up on the final run.

"I always expected that I was going to (catch her)," Turner said this morning. "...She must have turned on the jets and had a great run."

Zirkle was "paranoid" of Turner during the last 170 kilometres. Her dog Pedro perked up when they hit the Takhini Hot Springs. Pedro has run the Quest several times before and knew the finish line was close, which pleasantly surprised Zirkle.

While the top mushers are in, there were still 11 mushers out on the trail as of Friday morning who will be trickling into Whitehorse over the next few days.

Be the first to comment

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.