If you’ve been lucky enough to hear the words “Go Driver” echo throughout town at the Kearney Dog Sled race, then chances are you’ve heard Jim Cunningham. Jim is our ever-present Race Marshal.
As Marshal, he announces the races and checks the dogs, the sleds and the entire course for safety. Cunningham says his primary goal is to make sure the mushers and dogs (most of them are huskies) are safe but he also wants them all to have a good run.
One of the funniest things he’s encountered happened in Kearney. Five years ago he glanced up the road as the sleds were arriving and couldn’t believe his eyes as a gentleman with his two granddaughters headed to the starting line with their sleds– with two teams of Spaniels pulling them! And Cunningham concedes that as quirky as those sleds were, those spaniels did a good job: they finished in the middle of the four-dog race. He admits he’d probably let any dog but a chihuahua run a race.
His advice for anyone planning to be in Kearney is to get to the race early, go to the dog yard, see the different types of dogs and sleds, and meet the mushers. Unless they’re preparing for an imminent race drivers are happy to talk about their dogs and mushing, and you just might make a pack of new friends.
Jim is more than qualified to oversee our race– he’s run races from Labrador to Alaska, been part of the culture for almost three decades and peaked with 42 dogs of his own. He’s the only accredited Canadian Marshal for the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports. Because of his long history in the sport, you’ll get the inside scoop: Jim knows the racers and their dogs and he tells their stories as they get ready to blast out of the gate.
You can’t miss Jim, he’ll be working hard at the starting line when every single sled shoves off, and he’ll be at the finish line when they all roll in. He’s the big guy sporting the massive anorak coat loaded with badges from every race he’s ever attended. Jim says he’s happy to chat — but asks you to wait until after he marshals all the sleds out of the starting line. Then he’s hoping you tap him on the shoulder to say hi.
~ Karen Parsons