WASILLA - Cody Barber and Brad George have dreamed of competing in the Iron Dog for most of their young lives. Both are children of Iron Dog veterans, or grandchildren in Barber's case, and both knew they'd eventually have the chance to take on the world's longest and toughest snowmachine race.
Last week, the 18-year-olds learned their time is now.
Barber, a Houston High senior, and George, a Wasilla High senior, will make up one of the 31 pro class teams set to leave Big Lake this morning and take off on a 2,000-mile trek to Nome and Fairbanks. Combined, they're also believed to be among the youngest teams, if not the youngest team, ever to compete in the Iron Dog.
And it all started with a phone call to George's father Andy, a 10-time veteran and 2006 Iron Dog champion.
"A week ago today, we found out we were going to race," Brad George said Friday evening. "A team dropped out and they had a spot to fill. It's probably one of the coolest phone calls I've ever had."
Barber said he was pretty excited to get the call.
"It's definitely something I've wanted to do for years," Barber said. "When I heard it, my heart stopped for a second."
Both Barber and George are adding another generation to their Iron Dog veteran families. George's dad is a former champion. Barber's mother and father have both raced, his grandfather has been in the Iron Dog and he has a cousin who has also competed.
"I'm a third-generation Iron Dogger. It's kind of cool," Barber said.
Barber's dad, Shane, finished third for three straight years as part of the No. 3 team.
Even though both Barber and George are rookies, they're hoping years in the shop with their Iron Dog bloodlines proves to be an advantage.
"There's a lot of info packed in our heads right now," Barber said. "It's kind of too much to comprehend, but it seems like most of the important stuff is sinking in."
Both young riders have long wanted to follow in the family path.
"My dad has done it my entire life. He planted the seed," George said. "I've wanted to do it ever since I was a little kid."
Barber and George have also been longtime friends, and to team up was a natural choice.
"Me and Cody have pretty much been friends my whole life," George said. "We started to get into racing and our plan was to ride in the Iron Dog together."
Both riders are veterans of shorter races, competing mostly in 150- or 200-mile events.
"There's a lot more strategy," Barber said of graduating to the 2,000-mile event. "I like the strategy."
For George, the chance to compete in the Iron Dog is even more special. Two years ago, George nearly raced for the last time.
While in a race on Big Lake, George was in a head-on collision with another rider. George was seriously injured in the accident, suffering 21 broken bones on the right side of his body. He was unconscious, and soon after the accident medical personnel were unsure of his future.
"The first 24 hours they questioned if I'd make it out of it," George said. "They said I'd probably never walk again."
The femur in his right leg is now titanium, but George is not only walking, he's back on his machine.
"It definitely feels good," George said. "I'd definitely like to talk to the doctor who said I'd never walk again."
Barber and George have put in long days in the week since learning they'd be part of the 2012 Iron Dog.
"Let's just say I've been getting a good five hours of sleep every day," Barber said. "Just wrenching around a lot out in the garage. It's going to pay off and be worth it. It should be fun."
Both are unsure exactly what to expect. They've seen family members fly up the trail. But now it's their turn.
"The first rookie team would be our main goal," George said. "But to finish would be more than I could ask for."