Fantasy league brings mush fans to the track

Derek “DJ” Starr starts the 2021 Yukon Quest 300-mile race outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, in February 2021. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

One of the mushers behind Fantasy Mushing has never set foot, or a sled, in Alaska.

David Hunt of Paris, Texas doesn’t let that override his love of the sport. He has three Alaskan Huskies and runs them when he can.

“I crush them dry here in Texas on a bike or cart,” he said. “And every once in a while, when we have snow, I have a sled that I’ll take them out on.”

That was the case when his home state was hit by a snow and ice storm last February.

But when he’s not in charge of his own dogs, Hunt runs the site Fantasy Mushing, where mushing enthusiasts go head-to-head with fantasy teams of their own making.

A man in a bright orange carhartt hat takes a selfie while riding a three-dog sled
David Hunt got a chance to take his huskies out for a run last February when it snowed at his home in Paris, Texas. He usually races them on a bike or in a car. (Courtesy of David Hunt)

It works somewhat like a fantasy football league, but with a twist. Participants can’t just choose the mushers they think will win for their teams. They also have to pick rookies and racers who are more in the middle of the metaphorical pack.

“For the fans to learn to follow not just the top 10, not just the top mushers, but everyone that’s in there,” Hunt said. “And we also give points for prizes.”

Fantasy Mushing began with musher Danny Seavey, part of the Iditarod-winning Seavey family from Alaska.

Seavey created a fantasy mushing league years ago and followed it by hand. Regardless, Hunt, who was introduced to sled dog racing by a teacher, developed a Texas website of his own.

Hunt and Seavey connected and, in 2017, joined forces.

Hunt said Fantasy Mushing sees the most activity during the Iditarod. But they’ve also expanded into other races, including the Kuskokwim 300. This weekend, Hunt and 300 other Fantasy Mushing users will follow the K300, a middle-distance race that starts and ends in Bethel.

Toni Reitter will also follow that race, from Kenai. Reitter was born and raised on the Kenai Peninsula. She said she grew up wanting to be Susan Butcher, an Iditarod winner and mushing legend from Alaska.

“But then I realized there’s a lot of pooping in the dead of winter and that didn’t sound fun,” he said.

Although he never became a musher, Reitter worked with the Seaveys and in a myriad of mushing-adjacent jobs. She also blogs about the race.

He said he has friends who get very involved in his Fantasy Mushing leagues, collecting and analyzing musher spreadsheets.

“It’s almost like fantasy football, with its drafts and everything,” he said. “It’s the same with fantasy mushing. Some people take it very seriously.”

But he said it’s a way for people who aren’t as entrenched in the world of mushing to get involved as well.

“My mom actually beat me last year during fantasy mushing and she doesn’t know anything about the sport,” he said.

Hunt said he hopes Fantasy Mushing will get more people excited about sled dog racing. The Fantasy Mushing Facebook group has about 1,500 members from across the country.

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