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No need to face the cold — you can now get into mushing virtually

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Alaska's famous Iditarod sled dog race starts the first week of March. B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music, is not entered, but there is a website called Fantasy Mushing, where you get a pretend pot of money to spend on mushers you think will do well.

DAVID HUNT: You fill out a team of seven mushers using your available cash. And that forces you to get a couple good ones, get a few in the middle of the pack, get some rookies and then try to pick that red lantern.

SIMON: The red lantern is the person who comes in last, so don't blame the dogs. The voice you just heard is that of David Hunt, who manages the site. He's what you'd call a mushing fan, even though he's never seen Alaska outside of a postcard or video screen.

HUNT: I live here close to Paris, Texas, and got introduced to mushing, actually, in the fourth grade.

SIMON: That's the year his teacher wrote the bib numbers for Iditarod mushers on pieces of paper.

HUNT: So we were drawn a musher and got to follow it that year through the race - and got hooked.

SIMON: David Hunt is now 33, and he's found a way to mush with his own dogs down in Texas.

HUNT: Normally, I run them on my bicycle or, you know, a cart or something.

SIMON: But while David Hunt lives far from the course of the Iditarod, his partner in Fantasy Mushing is much closer.

DANNY SEAVEY: My name is Danny Seavey. I live in Seward, Alaska, and I'm a third-generation dog musher.

SIMON: The Seavey family is a sled dog racing dynasty. His grandfather, Dan Sr., competed in the very first Iditarod race in 1973. His father, Mitch, won the race three times, and his brother Dallas has won five times.

SEAVEY: I'm not quite as crazy as my dad and brother. But I have run the Iditarod three times, and I love running dogs.

SIMON: David Hunt and Danny Seavey would like to interest fans in all the mushers, not just the top finishers. Danny Seavey says...

SEAVEY: We started the fantasy concept sort of as a way to drive interest in everybody else, the guys who are racing not to win, or they were just trying to make it and so forth.

SIMON: The price for each musher is based on a number of factors, including popularity and previous performance. You cannot afford for all of your seven picks to be top mushers, so you need to select some lesser-known ones and rookies.

SEAVEY: Which to do so well involves having to go to that team's Facebook or social media pages or blogs and try to do a little bit of research.

SIMON: Hunt and Seavey say that people from all over the world participate, including school classes. Their site allows you to put together small groups to compete against people you know.

SEAVEY: I know a lot of the people that play use it as a basis for their own friendly office pools or bets sort of like a March Madness bracket.

SIMON: The site hosts fantasy competitions for seven races across Alaska, Minnesota and Norway. The Iditarod is the most popular. Hunt says participation in that fantasy race has grown substantially since 2017, when it was around 1,500.

HUNT: Last year, we had 2,900 and some, almost 3,000.

SIMON: Seavey believes people who fantasy mush are fascinated about the rugged setting and harsh, challenging conditions of sled dog racing, and they want every dog and musher to do well.

SEAVEY: The fans are rooting for everybody. They just want everybody to succeed.

SIMON: David Hunt hopes to make it up to Alaska to see a race in person one day. That fourth-grade teacher who sparked his enthusiasm for mushing in the first place...

HUNT: She thinks it's pretty neat that I'm doing that and kind of sharing, you know, mushing with the next generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALARMIST'S "CARPARK SHOWDOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.