Published DateHILL — ''The old timers like Dick Moulton used to laugh at me when I told them that my team would some day average 20 miles an hour. They said it was impossible. But we did it two years ago and I'll always be really proud of that,'' says Keith Bryar, Jr., as he hugged ''Candy'', his nine-year-old lead dog before the start of a sled dog race here Saturday.
He said that he's hoping that Candy and the other dogs he's been working with the last eight years have one more championship caliber race in them for this coming weekend's three-day 84th annual Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby.
''We're like the Celtics have been for the last couple of years, getting older and slower. This is our last good chance,'' says Bryar, who says that because of the economy in recent years he hasn't been adding new dogs or breeding the ones he has that often.
That 20 mile and hour pace Bryar refers to came on the first day of the 2011 race, when his team set a scorching pace by finishing the 15.5 mile course in 46.5 minutes, a pace which was unthinkable for the sled dog teams that his father Keith Bryar, Sr. drove to wins in 1960-61-62 or that his stepfather Dick Moulton won with in 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1976.
The dogs on those teams were primarily Siberian Huskies for his dad and Alaskan Huskies for Moulton.
But sled dog teams in the sprint races changed forever in the 1990s with the advent of the so-called Eurohound, a cross between an Alaskan Husky and German Shorthaired Pointer, which Swedish musher Egil Ellis brought with him to North America and soon came to dominate all of the major races.
''They're dogs with a lighter coat and tremendous stamina. And they're easier to manage,'' says Bryar, who said that he has bred his dogs to retain an Alaskan Husky look but with attention to their behavioral characteristics.
''Huskies are very independent. The kind of hybrid that we get now has more loyalty. You had to keep Huskies chained or they'd take off. I've got 20 dogs in my truck now and you can let them loose without a chain and they'll stick around,'' says Bryar.
In Saturday's New England Sled Dog Club race in Hill, Bryar posted the best time in the open dog class, some two minutes ahead of the other top teams driven by Doug Butler of Vermont and Jean Boissoneault of Quebec. Sunday's strong winds and granular snow conditions kept all three of the top teams off of the course on Sunday, as the drivers elected to rest their dogs in preparation for the three-day Laconia race which gets underway on Friday.
Bryar won his first Laconia championship in 2002 and and is the defending champion in this year's derby (there was no race due to a lack of snow in 2012) and comes from a family deeply involved in sled dog racing. His mother, Jean, who once took a team to the top of Mt. Washington, ran the legendary Norvik Kennels in Center Harbor and won the North American Woman's Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1962. She died in May last year.
His racing partner, who drives his kennel's eight-dog team, is Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club and whose family ties to the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby date back to the very first race in 1929, which his grandfather Charles Lyman of Belmont helped bring to Laconia.
Lyman's dad, John, was famed for his team of Irish Setters, which he raced in the 1960s and 1970s and was a fan favorite on the New England Sled Dog Club circuit.
Lyman says that he hopes the weather stays cold enough so that the course, which will have its starting point in a field off from North Main Street near the former Laconia State School property, will hold up and provide good conditions for the weekend.
Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, drives an eight-dog team during a sled dog race in Hill over the weekend. He is the trail master for the 84th annual Laconia World Championship which will be held this coming weekend and continues a family tradition of involvement with the Laconia race. His grandfather, Charles Lyman, led the effort to create the Laconia race in 1929.
(Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Keith Bryar Jr., shown with his lead dog ''Candy'', will be looking for his third win in the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby this coming weekend. Bryar says that his team is getting older and that this will be his last good chance to match the three wins his father Keith Bryar Sr., achieved in the 1960s. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)