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Off to the races!

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Heidi Brune got her start in the Frazee Sled Dog Club when a friend, interested in sled dog racing, brought Brune to a club meeting.

"One meeting and I was hooked," she said. "People that come to the races get hooked as well."

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Now president of the club, Brune said the focus is on perpetuating open class sled dog racing, which means sled drivers (known as "mushers") can have an unlimited number of dogs on their team. Brune said they've seen up to 24 dogs pulling a sled during an open race, an impressive sight.

"We're the largest open team race in the lower 48 states," she said.

The club's eighth annual race, the Third Crossing Sled Dog Rendezvous, is scheduled for Jan. 25-26. This year's race is in memory of former club member Ted Schaum, who died in a semi truck-car collision last year.

"It's a very important race on the circuit. We'd like to keep the race going as long as possible. It's World Cup sanctioned and some of the mushers earn points for larger competitions on a broader base, so we've got people coming from all over to catch this race, be a part of it," she said.

"We hold this race every year, we raise funds for it and we prepare the trail, we do everything necessary to put on the race," Brune said.

The club relies mostly on sponsors, but also has some fundraisers throughout the year like a Frazee Turkey Days breakfast. There will also be a silent auction during the race days to try to get ready for the next year.

Getting ready for the race is a lot of work. In the last few years, the club has asked the Becker County trail groomers to help set up the 15 miles of trails, on private lands, needed for the races, which Brune said makes job easier.

Since the trails are snow, the club uses discarded Christmas trees to mark the trails, something the mushers are used to seeing.

"The dogs need to be guided on the trail, they need to see the trail. And if there's a curve coming up or a dangerous area, we mark the trail with Christmas trees," she said.

"It's always come in handy that right after Christmas, everybody's discarding all these trees, whereas we were cutting and clearing and using tree limbs and such."

Trees can be dropped off in Frazee between the Third Crossing Trading Company and the former Fieldstone Garden. Just tip them over the chain link fence on West Main Avenue.

Brune expects a lot of people to show up. Volunteers come from as far as Florida to help with the event, she said. On the racing side, they expect dogs from a German kennel and a Scandinavian team.

This is a great opportunity for students in the area to see sled dog racing up close, Brune said. Last year, fifth grade students from Hawley attended the race. This year, fifth and sixth grade Hawley students will be there and they also raised $250 to sponsor a team for the event.

Brune said students at Lake Park-Audubon are arranging a field trip to attend the races, and fourth grade students from Frazee will be there.

An exciting event during the races is the sponsor race, Brune said. Sponsors are outfitted with dog teams by the mushers and then take to the trails for a race.

"It takes somebody who has never raced before and we actually put them behind a professional team," Brune said. "All the people who make the race happen, that pledge so much money, come in and compete against each other."

The winning sponsor team gets a traveling trophy, which they hold on to until they lose the top spot.

The Frazee Sled Dog Club is hoping for optimal weather for the two-day event. Brune said the best temperatures would be around 10 degrees for the dogs.

"Ideally, we like it cool with no wind," she said.

The event has a family atmosphere, is free and open to the public. There are handicap facilities and food vendors at the race site. There is live radio coverage for folks who want to sit in the warmth of their cars, a good vantage point to watch the race, Brune said.

On Saturday, there's an all-you-can-eat soup and sandwich buffet at the Frazee Event Center between the last race and the 9 p.m. award ceremony. There is a free dance following the award ceremony.

The racing site is just east of Frazee on Becker County 10 and should be a fun event for mushers and spectators of all ages. Racing starts at 10 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday, with the skijoring pro and novice race.

For more information and the racing schedule, visit the Frazee Sled Dog Club's Web site at www.frazeeforum.com/mush.

"It's the charm of the whole thing. You live in Minnesota because you love the wintertime," Brune said. "It's a great sport. To see these dogs and athletes working together, it's really something."

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