FROM YESTERDAY TO TODAY
THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SLED DOG DERBY
By Cynthia Molburg
The first sled dog races to be held in Laconia New Hampshire took place in 1929 and 1930 as a part of a series of weekend events sponsored by the New England Sled Dog Club. In 1931, the Laconia Sled Dog Club was formed to produce and promote sled dog racing in the “Lake City” as an annual, “major winter sporting” event. In 1936, “World Championship” was added to the title of the race and at the time, was the first and only sled dog race to claim that lofty designation.
Right from the beginning, the Laconia derby has enjoyed international competition, largely made up of mushers from Canada and the United States. With the expansion of sled dog racing in Europe, the derby has occasionally included competitors from Germany, Finland and Norway in the starting lineup.
The races were held annually up until 1938 when they were abruptly ended by the threat of World War II. Many of the mushers were drawn into the service of their countries, some in the United States Army Search & Rescue units in Greenland, using dog teams to rescue downed pilots and their crews.
It wasn’t until 1956 that sled dog racing returned to Laconia, sponsored by the Belknap County Sportsman Club. The two-day race attracted professional teams and their mushers from the states and Canada. That same year, the Laconia VFW Post 1670 joined the sportsman club and sponsored a “mutt derby” for local youngsters which turned out to be the beginning on several outstanding mushing careers. Today, the VFW’s Junior Sled Dog Derby is one of the most popular spectator features of the race that, today, attracts boys and girls and their one-dog and three-dog teams from well beyond Laconia’s borders.
Former members of the Laconia Sled Dog Club banded together in 1957 to form the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club to include citizens from the surrounding lake villages. Since that date, the Word Championship Sled Dog Derby has been produced by club members, working with the city officials, city roads and police departments, along with the cooperation of local Ham radio and snowmobile clubs. Much of race’s financial support comes from the Lakes Region Area business community.
Historically, world championship derby teams were not limited to a maximum number of dogs, but in 1979, an additional class of racing which restricted the number of dogs on a team, was added to the event to make up for the shrinking number of “open” teams. An entry of 44 open team drivers was not unusual in the derbies of the 60s, but their numbers have dwindled over the years due to the exorbitant cost of maintaining a large kennel to support a competitive, major league team.
Although there have been many alterations to the race trail since 1929 due to the emergence of condominiums and an industrial park in the outskirts of Laconia, some things remain the same. It is still a race between the individual mushers and their dog teams, and the race is still governed by the basic rules created by the Nome Kennel Club, the sponsor of the first documented sled dog race in 1908!