UPPER PENINSULA, Mich, (WJMN) Dogs, dogs and more dogs, the center of the UP200 are the athletes that make this event possible, the team of highly trained dogs that pull the sleds and mushers to perfection. But a lot of work is done behind the scenes in order to even make this race a reality.
“Being a judge is not as much as penalizing people or anything like that, just make sure everybody plays by the rules, which for the most part, everybody does and try to help them get a good smooth race in,” Al Orazietti, former Judge and Race Marshal for the UP200 said.
Orazietti comes from a line of dog sled racing royalty. His father who was a successful musher himself and Orazietti followed in his footsteps. With a UP200 victory under his belt, Orazietti was offered a chance to stay connected with the sport that he just couldn’t resist.
“I just thought it was time to pass it on,” Orazietti said. “The dogs went to some other good mushers and so at that point UP200 asked me if I’d like to be a judge and I thought, well, that’s a front-row seat to a good show so I was more than happy to do that.”
But, Orazietti doesn’t work alone throughout the event, for over the last decade he and his driver Brenda Ransom have become an inseparable pair.
“I think I’ve calculated this will be my 28th race that I’ll be volunteering for and I started out as a driver for a Judge and stayed there,” Brenda Ransom, a Judge Driver said. “So I have been driving judges and actually Al, the Race Marshal for years and years. My job is to get them to wherever they need to be on the race trail via a checkpoint, via a road crossing or wherever the trail might be running parallel to the road. My job is to get him or her where they need to be.”
Due to the Canadian border restrictions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, Orazietti is not able to make it as the races, Race Marshal this year, but the legacy he has built will not be absent.
“I was here last year and I even flew home for two weeks just for the race then flew back because that is how much it means to me,” Orazietti said.
“He’s been around the race for eons with his dad being a musher and then him mushing, racing and even being a winner of past and then now being a judge,” Ransom said. “He definitely has a legacy in the race himself and it’s amazing to watch and see the respect that he gets from these mushers and even ones that he’s just met, but he garners the respect from them by how he treats them and he knows what they’re talking about. He listens to them, he hears what they have to say and he does as much as he can to try to facilitate and get their needs taken care of. His goal is to protect the mushers and the dogs and he really watches out for them and makes sure of it.”
The duo both agrees that they are looking forward to hopefully being reunited and back to business as usual for the 2023 UP200 race weekend.