By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News
After an unprecedented four-straight Iditarod wins, Fairbanks musher Lance Mackey fell to 16th in the 2011 race. He vowed he'd be back.
But is Mackey, who is running this year alongside 25-year-old apprentice Braxton Peterson, happier as a father figure than a perennial Iditarod contender?
Can he win again? Does he want to?
The musher, 41, talked about his racing past and his health, his changing priorities and his sometimes messy personal life in recent Daily News interviews:
Do you have a championship-caliber team this year?
Absolutely. I didn’t come here to go camping. I definitely want to win the Iditarod as bad or worse than I ever have.
People think that I’m on a downhill spiral because past champions have done similar things. Had great rides and then fell off the face of the earth, basically. Last year I came in 16th after four wins.
Maybe that’s part of the reason Jeff King came out of retirement, huh?
Is King a contender for the championship this year?
Are you kidding? Jeff’s always a contender. Absolutely, that’s a dumb question.
I’ve heard that your famous leader Zorro has many children on the Iditarod this year. Who is running with Zorro’s kids?
Not only our kennel ... Dean Osmar’s got some dogs, his teams. Paul Gebhardt’s got some dogs that are related. Hugh Neff. Hugh Neff’s got a whole team out of my kennel, basically.
How’s your health? (Mackey is a throat cancer survivor.)
I’m a little beat up, as usual. I’ve needed a new knee for I don’t know how long now. And I keep putting it off and putting it off, because (I’m) pretty sick of being cut on.
Just got a couple more (teeth) replaced. Got another one that just broke. Got another one falling part. Those are things I don’t dwell on too much. Doctors told me it was all going to happen in due time. I’m glad it’s waited this long.
How much are you willing to talk about your personal life?
(Anchorage police arrested Mackey’s wife, Tonya, January in on a misdemeanor assault charge.)
It’s not going to affect my Iditarod … I have a job to do and I’m not worried about my personal life during that time frame.
She’s trying to get … the help she needs. That’s about where we’re at. We’re working on us.
How good is Braxton Peterson’s team?
(Peterson has lived with Mackey since he was a teenager. He is running as a rookie this year with Mackey Comeback Kennel dogs and is also a member of “The Musherz,” a rap duo that rhymes about dog mushing.)
He’s going to be a dark horse-rookie. There’s dogs in that team that have won with me. Pimp, Boy and a couple others. They’re solid. I hope he has more of a good time and a memory that he’ll never forget as opposed to going in, trying to race, rookie of the year and all that.
Was that a surprise to all of the sudden have a hip-hop crew in your dog kennel?
Braxton, I raised Braxton basically since he was about 14, 15 years old. He’s been not only my handler, but my son’s best friend, Cain. Living at our house.
They grew up listening to the music. … One thing just kind of led to another. So it’s not like all the sudden they were rapping about dog racing.
I think they have opportunity and potential to go big time.
I’m proud as hell of them. I seen Braxton’s picture on the paper this morning. Front page. Holding up his so-proudly earned (medallion), kennel logo of my kennel. Front page of the newspaper, it made me teary eyed.
I’ve had those moments.
And to know that my boys have followed in my footsteps and are pursuing something they love to do, talking about it in a song. To me, that’s more rewarding than winning the damn Iditarod. I’m proud as hell of him.
Finally, are you ever going to rap a guest verse on one of Braxton’s and Cain’s songs?
Don’t be surprised.
Twitter updates: twitter.com/iditarodlive. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.