January 21, 2016
The Kuskokwim 300 Race Committee has announced a time penalty for racer Martin Buser which will drop his finish place to 21st in the final standings. Buser will receive a 12-hour time penalty for a series of events that happened during the recently completed race.
The primary violation was leaving the race trail and making an insufficient effort to return to the trail. This happened a few miles outside of Kalskag on the Whitefish Loop portion of the trail. The tracking device carried by Buser, which still shows his route on the race website, reveals that Buser missed a recently marked trail which went straight ahead on a lake. Instead he took a right turn despite a large number of markers showing the correct route. The correct trail was a new portion of trail put in to avoid hazardous trail conditions on the old trail, including open water and thin ice. Buser took the old trail, despite pre-race warnings about the risk. He was the only racer to do so. Within a mile the old trail dropped through a chute in the willows to Rusty Creek. At that point Buser took a right turn on a narrow creek. Less than five minutes later, he turned around and went the other direction on Rusty Creek, passing closely by the chute which he had descended only minutes earlier and which would have returned him to the race trail. He then proceeded along the creek until he eventually found the Kuskokwim River and made his way to Kalskag.
While still some distance from Kalskag he was met by a representative of the race who told him he needed to return to the trail, which he said he would not do. Later he told two race officials he expected to be penalized for his violation and would accept whatever penalty was given. During his time off the trail a volunteer on snow machine looked for him but was unable to find him; and that volunteer put himself at risk traveling at night in hazardous areas.
The other violation was reported by fellow racers and observed by a race official. That offense involved Buser allowing other people to assist with feeding his dogs at a checkpoint. No help is allowed under race rules.
Two race officials and seven board members participated in the process of determining the appropriate penalty. The fact that Buser had previously been involved in two incidents of leaving the trail was also taken into consideration. The first involved taking a shortcut several years ago before the advent of the tracker; no action was taken by the race. The second event occurred last year and involved the same shortcut; Buser received a small fine for that infraction. Before this year’s race all racers were warned by Race Marshall Nels Alexie to stay on the trail or face serious consequences. The board determined that Buser placed himself and others at risk by leaving and making little effort to rejoin the trail. Buser stated publically that he searched hard for the correct trail, but the digital record shows his speed and direction of travel and establishes that he turned around only once (described above). Other than the turnaround, the tracker shows his speed to be consistent. All other racers remained on the trail at that location and many confirmed the presence of extra markers at the location where the old trail diverted. Buser admitted that he had a GPS with him and used it during this off trail event.
As for the feeding incident, the Committee decided that in addition to being a violation of the rules, it placed the race at risk of liability with children providing snacks to dogs at close range.
The penalty drops Buser from the prize money, moving him from 14th place and $3700 to 21st place; out of the money and in last place.