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A Q&A with Race Director Todd Brassard

The CopperDog 150 will be featured in an upcoming edition of West Michigan Senior Times.  The questions were asked by writer Leo Martonosi and the publication manager is Debra Slone.

1) HOW LONG HAS COPPERDOG BEEN DOING DOGSLED RACING?

Our March, 2013, event will be CopperDog 150's fourth racing season. The idea to host a sled dog race in Calumet, MI sprang to life early in 2009 and the first race was held March, 2010.

2) HOW DID COPPERDOG GET STARTED?

A local Calumet business owner, Jerry Mitchell, was enjoying a cup of coffee with his wife at their home when they looked out their back window and spotted a couple of sled dog teams cruising down the trail. He thought it was a beautiful sight. Later, at his Calumet restaurant, Carmelita's, he happened upon the actual musher - Truman Obermeyer of Brewery Creek Racing - and started a conversation that led to the idea of starting a sled dog race.

Tom Tikkanen, the Executive Director of Main Street Calumet, was approached with the idea and a public interest meeting was held. In turn, this led to the formation of a steering committee to raise the funds needed to hire a race director and execute the first race. Twenty local businesses, CopperDog's "Trail Blazers," provided the initial start up funds.

For that first year a planning committee was formed, a race director was hired, and the 2010 race took place.

3) HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED IN COPPERDOG? ARE ANY OF THEM PAID?

CopperDog 150 was originally organized as a sub-committee of Main Street Calumet, and remained as such until August, 2012. In August, 2012, CopperDog 150 incorporated into CopperDog, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Currently, CopperDog has 12 board members, 6 Event Directors, approximately 20 people working on high level planning teams, and uses 400 volunteers on the race weekend.

CopperDog, Inc. is a 100% volunteer organization. I do not get paid, nor does anybody else. This is a volunteer community effort and we're very proud of that fact. After paying a race director that first year, to get things off the ground, nobody has been paid for the work they do, or the time they put in.

4. WHO'S RESPONSIBLE FOR COPPERDOG'S SUCCESS?

Although the idea for a race can be narrowed down to just a few people, the actual success and growth of the race is due to an ongoing infusion of time and talent from key members of our community. Our working board, our event directors, our high level planners are each smart, creative, resourceful, and dedicated individuals. The CopperDog 150 is too big and requires too many talents and disciplines to attribute the event's success to any one person. We do however, have a core team of people at the heart of the event that provide the vision, ethics, integrity and so on that have become the base on which the rest of the organization is founded. Ultimately, it's a team effort by many excellent people.

5. THE WEATHER CAN BE A FACTOR. WHAT ARE PRIME CONDITIONS FOR THE DOGS AND DRIVERS (I BELIEVE THAT'S WHAT YOU CALL THEM)?

Sled dogs do very well in cold weather. That's not to say that blizzard conditions are favorable for racing, but the dogs certainly love snow covered trails. Ideal conditions are cold temperatures, a well packed trail which is not too powdery, crunchy with ice, or punchy from lack of packing. The CopperDog 150 has survived warm weather, a snow storm, and perfect conditions as well. Dog and musher care is top of our list, so we always have contingency plans for unfavorable weather.

6. DO YOU RACE?

I do not. I have never been on a sled. In early interviews, back in 2010 and 2012, reporters would ask what we knew about planning a sled dog race. I told them, with some amount of pride, "Absolutely nothing!", but that was made the CopperDog 150 fresh and unique. Rather than inheriting all of the long-standing, tried and true methods of running a sled dog race, we introduced fresh and fun ideas - as much out of ignorance as inspired insight. We really care about our stake holders (and there are many - especially the dogs) and it shows in our attention to detail and our high standard of veterinary care. We focus on all aspects of putting on a good community event.

7. WHAT KIND OF TURNOUT DO YOU USUALLY HAVE? WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING THIS MARCH, 2013?

At the first race in 2010, we had no idea if anybody would turn out to watch the Friday night start. As we wrapped up our tasks and the mushers prepared their dog teams, we watched and waited. At first 50 people arrived, then 100, then 500. We were feeling pretty good at that point, but the people kept coming. Then there was 1000, then 2000, and then 3000. We were completely amazed at how the community came out to experience and support the 2010 CopperDog 150. We knew we had started something great. In 2011, we estimated 4000 spectators were present at the start. In 2012, our estimate was somewhere between 5000 and 7000 people. We're anticipating growth for 2013, especially since we're finally getting the hang of this whole dog-race thing.

8. HOW DOES THE MONEY WORK FOR THIS EVENT? IS IT A MONEY MAKER? CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT THE ENTRY FEES ARE? HOW MUCH DOES THIS HELP THE LOCAL ECONOMY?

The overall budget for the CopperDog in 2012 was right around $60,000. Here's a link to a great story that talks about how CopperDog funds get spent. 

Our clear top financial supporter is River Valley Bank. They provide us with that first $10,000 each year to get the ball rolling. River Valley Bank also goes above and beyond by allowing us to use their facility for receiving mushers, providing snacks for mushers, and giving hats to the incoming teams.

We have a few other organizations that donate money in the range of $1000-$2500 and many cost saving in-kind donations, but much of the money is raised $200 and $300 at a time through the sale of over one hundred dasher and sled banners. Every dollar really counts and gets turned around and spent in the community. Additionally, we take in about $10,000 in registration fee income.

For 2013 our race purse (the prize money) is $23,000.

Incidentally, the 2011 CopperDog 150 filled just 12 days after registration opened. This year the registration for the 150 pro-class race filled in just 3.5 hours.

9. I SUPPOSE MOST OF YOUR PARTICIPANTS ARE FROM MICHIGAN. DO MUSHERS FROM OTHER STATES COMPETE?

This year, in the 2013 race these are the states representing registered teams and teams on the waiting list: WI - 1, AK - 2, MI - 20, MN - 15, NY - 1, OH - 1, Ontario - 4, Quebec - 2, WI - 8, WY - 1

Ryan Redington is one of the teams from Alaska. Ryan's grandfather, Joe Redington, is credited with starting the world-famous Iditarod. The Redington family is famous in mushing circles and Ryan may bring some interesting competition to the trails.

10. IS THIS A HOBBY OR A MONEY MAKER FOR THE DOG OWNERS AND MUSHERS? CAN MONEY BE MADE?

The CopperDog 150 pro-class is designed to appeal to all types of serious mushers. Our purse pays out very well for the top 5 finishers ($6200, $4800, $3600, $2600, $1800) which attracts highly competitive teams that think they can place first. But we also have solid payouts all the way down to 10th place, which covers travel costs and dog food, a fair trade for a hobby musher.

All mushers, pro or hobby, run dogs because they love the sport. They love the dogs, they love the trail, they love the challenge. Many mushers have day jobs just like the people who plan the CopperDog 150. Some mushers devote more time and energy to being very competitive. These mushers tend (but not always) to have larger kennels and are able to field multiple teams. It's not uncommon for a large kennel to have 40-80 dogs. These kennels can win serious money if they have a great season of competition. This buys a lot of dog food.

11. I'M ASSUMING THE 150 STANDS FOR 150 MILES? HOW LONG DOES IT USUALLY TAKE TO FINISH THE RACE?

The race is actually closer to 137 miles. Mileage changes a little each year as we explore different trail options. At first I thought it was really important to make the CopperDog 150 exactly 150 miles, but we have learned over the years that the actual mileage is just not that important. What is important is a solid, safe trail that we can maintain through the entire winter, so come race weekend the conditions are perfect for dog paws.

Teams in our race typically run between 9.5 and 13.8 miles per hour. The distance of each stage varies between 39 and 50 miles. Dog teams take anywhere between 3.5 and 4.5 hours to complete each stage, depending on weather and trail conditions.

12. WHAT'S THE FUTURE OF COPPERDOG 150?

Good question. In many respects we are still newbies and still learning the ropes. We feel the same growing pains as any organization as we learn about ourselves, what we are about, and what we are not about. Our focus has been on community vitality and calling the world's attention to our comunity. We've also taken an interest in educating kids, families, and everyone on the time honored tradition of mushing. Mushing really has a rich history and we are all learning more every day.

As for the race itself, we will grow it - not by adding more teams to the competition, but by developing a festival around the race. Calumet and the Keweenaw have much to offer. When people come to the race and are exposed to our beautiful region, they come back with their families in the off season. (Actually an on-season if wonderful summer activities is what someone is seeking.)

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