NOME, Alaska – Make it three Iditarods in a row for Lance Mackey.
The musher from Fairbanks won the 1,100-mile trek across the Alaska wilderness Wednesday in the world's most famous sled dog race. And it wasn't even close.
Mackey slapped hands with fans along Nome's Front Street and was mobbed by family members after crossing under the city's famed burled arch at 11:38 a.m., hours ahead of his nearest competitors in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Immediatley after winning, he gave treats to his dogs.
"This never gets old," he said at the finish line, hugging two of his dogs.
"It's pretty awesome," he added. "Pretty cool."
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin congratulated Mackey by phone.
"We are so proud of you, Lance, and we're considering this the greatest team in Iditarod history," Palin said.
She also told Mackey, a cancer survivor, "You continue to give all of us hope, the adversity that you have overcome, the challenges you've met, believe me, it resonates across our nation and across our world."
Mackey commended his "little superstar Maple," a 3-year-old female who was in the lead for much of the last part of the race.
Mackey was about six hours ahead of the second- and third-place mushers, Sebastian Schnuelle of Canada — fresh off a win in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race — and John Baker of Kotzebue. He increased his lead along Alaska's wind-swept western coast.
Fierce, biting winds blew in off the Bering Sea, forcing temperatures to 50 below zero. Many mushers waited out the storm at checkpoints farther back.
Mackey became the third musher in the race's 37-year history to win in three consecutive years, joining the late Susan Butcher (1986-88) and Doug Swingley (1999-01) of Lincoln, Mont.
In Mackey's two previous victories, he headed into the Iditarod about two weeks after winning the Yukon Quest, considered to be a tougher race than the Alaska comptition.
Mackey didn't run the Yukon Quest this year, choosing instead to train an Alaska Native musher for the Iditarod.
Sixty-seven teams began the race more than a week ago in Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Ten teams have either scratched or been withdrawn.
Three dogs have died in this year's race. The dogs were on the team of rookie Lou Packer of Wasilla, who scratched after he was found Monday 22 miles past the Iditarod checkpoint by searchers in a plane. He told the Anchorage Daily News he believes the two dogs froze to death in the high winds.
For the victory, Mackey received $69,000 and more important for him, a new pickup. After giving the truck from the 2007 victory to his wife and trading in last year's for a sports car, he says he's keeping the apple red pickup sitting next to the finish line.