The Iron Dog, the world's longest and most demanding snowmobile race, begins at Deshka Landing on Sunday, Feb. 17, as Pro Class riders set out in teams of two on a course that is 2,000 miles long.

This year, 25 teams (two riders/team) will leave from the starting line at Deshka Landing. From the start, racers roughly follow the Iditarod Trail all the way to Nome, where they take a break for a bit before beginning the second half of the race, from Nome to Fairbanks. All told, the race covers 1,996 grueling miles, and racers cover it in less than a week, including mandatory layovers. The winning racers are expected to finish sometime on Feb. 23 at Pike's Landing in Fairbanks.

The Iron Dog start is very fan friendly, and it gives people an up close and personal look at the world of distance snowmobile racing. This year, the start was moved from Big Lake to Deshka Landing (Mile 70.5 Parks Hwy.) due to ice instability related to the Nov. 30 earthquake. Starting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 17, the sponsors and vendors tents will open, along with the pit area. People can get all their Iron Dog merchandise and meet the riders during the two hours leading up to the start. At 11 a.m., the pits close and the racers head out in two-minute intervals, flying across the starting line at amazing speed.

Prior to the start of the race, there is another chance to meet the racers. The Donlin Gold Safety Expo takes place Friday, Feb. 15 at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla from 1-8 p.m. This is where teams are inspected before given the approval to race. Fans can see the mandatory gear spread out, see the snowmobiles and meet the racers during this event.

At every Iron Dog event, the focus is always on making it as fan friendly as possible.

So why do riders face -40 degree temperatures, deprive themselves of sleep along the route and raise at hair-raising speeds day and night? Well, the glory of winning is one thing. But so is being one of the top riders splitting a $100,000 purse. There is also $80,000 to $90,000 in "contingency prizes" that are awarded to other riders for various feats.

For more information, visit www.irondog.org.