NOME, Alaska (KTUU) — Bethel musher Peter Kaiser has won the 2019 Iditarod early Wednesday morning, making him the first Yup'ik Iditarod champion.
Kaiser arrived in Nome at 3:39 a.m., driving his dogs under the burled arch to fanfare and applause. He finished in 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and 6 seconds.
According to Iditarod officials, Kaiser had eight dogs in harness when he crossed the finish line to win the Iditarod XLVII title. He will be awarded his prize money as well as a new 2019 Ram truck on March 17.
Kaiser came in 12 minutes ahead of defending champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who made a late surge, but ultimately took second place at 3:51 a.m.
"It was nerve-wracking," said Kaiser, who explained that he didn't feel confident he had won until he drove his team down Front Street.
Watch the dramatic finish here:
The two mushers both said they remain close compatriots despite such a close finish.
"It's a weird dynamic when you're great friends with someone as well as fierce competitors," said Kaiser. Ulsom said Kaiser is a "great guy to compete with" and, "I'm super happy he won it."
The victory is the first by a musher from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
“You saw it tonight, half the town hopped on jets to come here and watch me finish and it’s incredible," said Kaiser. "I mean I’m so humbled by that and appreciative and it’s so motivating.”
The four-time Kuskokwim 300 champion gained the race lead from Nicolas Petit when Petit's dog team stopped moving between Shaktoolik and Koyuk.
The Girdwood-based musher scratched Monday evening after spending nearly 12 hours resting at the Shelter Island Cabin outside of Shaktoolik.
Kaiser had been in front of Ulsom and Iditarod veteran Jessie Royer since Unalakleet. After passing Petit, he never gave up his lead.
A large contingent of family and friends flew from Bethel to celebrate Kaiser's achievement.
"I'm so incredibly proud of him, I can't even put it into words," said Bethany Kaiser, Peter's wife, as he made his way to Nome.
Before his maiden victory, Kaiser's best finish in the Iditarod was fifth place. He grew up mushing in Western Alaska, the son of a father who mushed competitively.
"When he was three or four years old, he was mushing one dog," said Ron Kaiser, Peter's father. "We're following on a snowmachine to make sure he's safe."
He became serious about mushing as a senior in high school and dropped out of college to pursue his passion full-time.
Kaiser is the first Yup'ik Iditarod champion and the first Alaska Native winner since John Baker, an Iñupiat musher from Kotzebue, who won in 2011.
After he won, Kaiser spoke to the media and said he hoped his victory would be celebrated, not just by Yup'ik people but "all rural native people in Western Alaska." He then broadened that to say, "anyone who can get a kick out of it, that's awesome."
Channel 2's Leroy Polk contributed to this report.