FORT KENT - Keith Aili of Ray, Minn., finished in record time at the MBNA Can-Am Crown 250, crossing the finish line at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent at approximately 10:22 p.m. on Sunday.
This was Aili's third attempt at the Can-Am 250 championship, and is his first success.
Saturday morning, at the starting line on Main street in Fort Kent, Aili's team quivered with anticipation, his lead dogs leaping high into the air as if they planned to fly over the race course.
"Those dogs definitely came to race," said one spectator as he leaned as far as he could over the wooden barricade to get a better view of the mushers.
Aili and fellow Minnesotan Stan Passananti of Ely, Minn., dominated the 250-mile race, racing minutes apart for much of the competition and finishing more than three hours before third place musher Martin Massicotte of St.Tite, Quebec.
Leaving the last check-point before the finish, in Allagash, Aiii was just less than 24 minutes ahead of Passananti.
His team widened that gap to 62 minutes by the time they reached the end of the race 60 miles later, finishing with a Can-Am 250 record time of 24:30:21.
Aili's record was not the only one set at Can-Am 2001; the number of registered sled dog teams this year was 75, including a whopping 27 teams vying for the $20,000 purse of the 250-mile race.
"I was a little worried; we only have 30 bibs and it looked like we would run out," joked Rita Cannan, president of the Can-Am Crown board of directors.
The races drew thousands of spectators, despite a chilly subzero temperature for much of the race's start, including Rep. John Baldacci and a number of prominent Democrats in the state legislature.
The temperature was a boon for the mushers, staying cool most of the weekend and creating ideal race conditions for the sled dogs.
Local competition struggled in the 250-mile race, with Shawn Graham of Fort Kent dropping out at Portage and Steve Kennedy of Fort Kent making it to Maibec before throwing in the towel.
John Kaleta of Fort Kent succeeded in completing the entire race, however, crossing the finish line at 3:25 a.m. Tuesday and placing 17th.
Larry Murphy of Fort Kent competed in the 60-mile race, his team finishing 12th with a time of 18:24:04, and Lyn Cyr of Fort Kent competed in the 30-mile race, finishing 26th with a time of 18:01:50.