Todd Palin, husband of Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin, shakes hands with a fan who brought a Newsweek magazine for Palin to sign at a group autograph event at the Hays Days Grass Drags snowmobile event in Forest Lake, Minn., on Sept. 6. Todd Palin, a professional racer, is the defending and four-time champion of the 2,000 mile Iron Dog snowmobile race. Photo: Andy King / The Associated Press.
Secret Service Could Have a Tough Task Protecting Palin on Trail
By Mike Campbell for the Anchorage Daily News.
If John McCain and Sarah Palin win the presidential election in November, they'll be sworn into office Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C.
Nineteen days later, Todd Palin expects to be gunning an Arctic Cat snowmachine atop frozen Big Lake, strapping on his helmet and heading down the Iditarod Trail toward Nome, hoping to claim his fifth championship in the Tesoro Iron Dog, the toughest and longest snowmachine race in the world.
Tesoro Iron Dog competitiors line up during the Big Lake start on Sunday. The race, which goes to Nome and finishes in Fairbanks, covers 2,000 miles of Alaska wilderness. Photo: Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News.
He may have company -- and not just racing partner Scott Davis of Soldotna.
The U.S. Secret Service is authorized to protect the president, the vice president and their immediate families wherever they go.
Which raises the question: Any hot snowmachine drivers among the agents who work for Secret Service?
"It's a very hard race," allowed Marianne Beckham, president of the Iron Dog. "I could just see a bunch of Secret Service guys on snowmachines trying to keep up. The other racers can't keep up, for goodness sakes. Let's see what they can do."
Malcolm Wiley, a Secret Service spokesman in Washington, D.C., declined to detail how the secret service might protect Palin during the 2,000-mile race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks. He noted that those entitled to protection by statute may decline it.
"We've had protectees who've done lots of extracurricular activities, and we've always been able to adapt," Wiley said. "We've been able to accommodate them and provide a full protective detail.
"He would be afforded that. But we're not going to get into the means and methods."
Palin's Iron Dog teammate, Davis, says Palin will be there.
Todd Palin and his race partner Scott Davis at the Iron Dog starting line. Photo: Anchorage Daily News.
"He's committed to racing in 2009," Davis said. "He's not gonna let a little thing like his wife being vice president stop him. The Iron Dog, it gets in your blood."
Davis flew to Minneapolis last weekend to meet up with Palin -- who was there for the Republican National Convention. The pair did some promotional work for Arctic Cat, the snowmachine both drivers have ridden for years that has its headquarters in Thief River Falls, Minn.
Thousands of people showed up for the public appearance, Davis said.
"I didn't get as much one-on-one time as I expected," he said. "But what goes on with the election isn't going to change what he's going to do."
Unclear still was whether the Secret Service would protect Palin during the race.
"His comment was, 'We'd have to see,' " Davis said. "I guess he could decline it. It would be tough for the Secret Service to keep up."
Iron Dog executive director Laura Bedard said a victory by McCain and Palin could also mean a record crowd at the Iron Dog start.
"Is Big Lake big enough if that's the case?" she asked. "Anytime Todd has raced, Sarah has always been there. We have to be prepared for that."
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drops the starting flag for Todd and Kyle Malamute of Fairbanks, the first team out, in the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmobile race, Sunday Feb. 11, 2007, in Big Lake, Alaska. Twenty-eight teams left the starting line in Big Lake for the 1,100-mile ride to Nome before heading to the finish in Fairbanks. Photo: Al Grillo / AP.
About three weeks ago -- before McCain picked Sarah as his running mate -- Palin and Davis paid the $2,630 early entry fee for the 2009 race.
They are two of the top drivers in race history. No one has more victories than Davis' seven, while Palin owns four championships with three different partners. The duo has ridden together since 2004, a long tenure in a race that requires riders to ride in two-man teams for safety but frequently sees top contenders change partners.
Since 2001, Palin has picked up two championships and three second-place finishes in six races (the 2003 race was cancelled).
The only time he finished outside the top two was this year, when he hit a barrel covered by snow near the airport in Galena, about 400 miles from the Fairbanks finish line. Palin went flying over the handlebars of his machine and broke his arm.
Race winners: Teammates Eric Quam, right, and Marc McKenna speed Saturday toward the finish line of the Tesoro Iron Dog snowmachine race, on their way to winning the nearly 2000-mile race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks. Despite a broken arm, First Dude, Todd Palin, crosses the Iron Dog finish line fourth.
Davis, 48 at the time, was rattled enough by the accident to rush Palin straight to the Galena clinic. A health aide there decided the battered racer was OK to continue.
"The last thing he ever wants to do is scratch," Sarah Palin said in February as she awaited her husband's arrival in subzero cold at the Chena River finish line in Fairbanks. "If there's any way he can finish the race, he's going to finish it."
The duo got Palin's machine going in Galena, but it quit again five miles outside of Nenana and 50 miles from the finish line. Davis towed him the rest of the way.
It took the pair 69 minutes to reach Fairbanks from Nenana. The third-place team of Pete Demoski and Tyler Huntington made it in less than 46 minutes to beat Palin-Davis by 19 minutes.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin greets her husband Todd at the finish line of the Tesoro Iron Dog race. Photo from the Nevada Surveyor.
The governor greeted her husband with a warm smile, a hug and a pat on the back before noticing the ripped sleeve and missing pocket on his Gore-Tex jacket, evidence of Palin's wreck the day before. A bungee cord was strapped across his machine's cowling to keep its green hood in place.
"He deserves a pat on the back for getting here," Davis said of his partner, who he described as a saavy navigator.
Usually, Palin follows Davis down the trail.
"I prefer to lead," Davis said last week. "He rides in the snow dust and that's hard to do -- so it's a perfect team. Not very many people are happy riding in the snow dust, where your vision is impaired. But in front, you're kind of the crash-test dummy."
Said Bedard: "They're like a well-oiled machine when it comes to racing."
Since his first Iron Dog back in 1984, Davis has raced with 11 different partners -- and Palin may be his favorite.
"He's probably the most fun to be around," Davis said. "A lot of time, drivers make good partners, but they hate each other. You're kind of joined at the hip for a couple of months. Todd knows what to do, and I know what to do. It works out well."
So come Feb. 8, will Todd Palin be at Number One Observatory Circle in Washington, D.C., the official residence of the vice president? Or will he be riding his Arctic Cat snowmachine along the Iditarod Trail, fighting off the frigid cold while absorbing a endless series of spine-jarring bumps?
"I would expect him to race," Iron Dog treasurer Jim Wilke said. "It would surprise me a lot if he didn't. Since his wife became governor, they haven't let her career affect their lifestyle at all."