NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - Iditarod veteran Peter Kaiser is rocketing toward Nome on the verge of a maiden Iditarod victory, which would make him the first Yupik Iditarod champion, if his lead holds.
"Everybody is thrilled," said Ron Kaiser, Peter's father. "A lot of people are calling and hoping this can happen."
Kaiser grew up in Bethel in a competitive mushing family.
Ron Kaiser drove dogs for seven or eight years, participating in local races and the first Kuskokwim 300 in 1980.
Before his son was born, the elder Kaiser gave up mushing, but kept a sled dog as a pet.
"When he was three or four years old, he was mushing one dog," said Kaiser of his son. "We're following on a snowmachine to make sure he's safe."
It was only when Peter was a senior in high school that he seriously pursued sled dog racing. He attended a few semesters of college before dropping out to, "see what I can do with this," said his father.
In the past 10 years, Kaiser has had a successful local mushing career. He won the Bethel-based K300 for four straight years between 2015 and 2018. He also managed five Top-10 finishes in the Iditarod.
His best finish is fifth, but he's now closing in on what could be his maiden Iditarod victory.
"I'm so incredibly proud of him i can't even put it into words," said Bethany Kaiser, Peter's wife.
The two knew each other before they started dating after high school. She describes her husband as very quiet around people he doesn't know, but very funny.
The couple has two children, six-year-old Ari and one-year-old Aylee. Bethany says Ari thinks his father will win.
By 10 p.m., Kaiser still had a six-mile lead over last year's champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom. That lead is a good feeling, but not insurmountable, race marshal Mark Nordman said.
"That's a nice jump," Nordman says, "But I know Pete is nervous, his family is nervous.
Regardless of the outcome, Nordman said the atmosphere at the finish line would be a good one.
"I think we have 100 people from Bethel that flew in for the finish, and Joar's supporters are here too," Nordman said. "So it'll be an exciting evening, or morning I should say."
"If (a win) doesn't happen, we still need to be happy for daddy, because he's worked really hard," said Bethany Kaiser.
If he wins, Kaiser says her husband will use his platform as the first Yup'ik Iditarod champion to continue advocating for kids to stay in school and for others to get into the sport he loves.
As for Peter Kaiser's inspiration, he has described his father as his role model, inspiring him to get into sled dog racing.
So, what would the elder Kaiser tell his son as he heads towards Nome and a potentially life-changing victory?
"I'd tell him I love him and good luck," Ron Kaiser said.