Beth and Ken Castaldi's Love of Sled Dog Racing on Display at the Dirty Dog
October 26, 2021
Antigo Daily Journal
It’s almost that time of year once again—the time of the year that northcentral Wisconsin becomes the mecca of sled dog racing.
For those not in the loop, the Dirty Dog Dryland Derby is set for its 15th annual run Nov. 6-7 right in our backyard, held at the MaKaJaWan Boy Scout Camp in Pearson.
With multiple sanctioned classes, it draws a multitude of racers from across the nation and a national sponsor, Redpaw, a premium dog food formulated for active canines, and there will be no shortage of those in Pearson.
Among the hard workers behind the scenes making it go is the husband and wife team of Beth and Ken Castaldi of Elton. The pair have involved in the sport since the 1970s and share a sled dog kennel.
Now it’s time for their love of sled dog racing to be on full display in an event unlike any other in the area.
Behind the Scenes had a chance to catch up with Beth Castaldi as final preparations continue for the Dirty Dog.
How did you get interested in sled dog racing and how long have you been doing it?
I have been involved with dog powered sports since the 1970’s. I acquired my first huskies in 1972, which led to becoming interested in learning about sled dog teams and then participating in races later in the ‘70s. I was living in Pennsylvania at the time where there was an active sled dog club. Some years later, I met Ken in Indiana and introduced him to the sport. He quickly became a fan, and since then we have shared a sled dog kennel. I have not raced for several years but continue to play an active role in the care and training of our dogs.
What is your favorite part about sled dogs and racing?
Key is working with the dogs, especially because Ken and I share the lifestyle. Further because of the people involved. Yes, we are competitors on the trail but totally supportive of each other off. Exceptional care and safety of the dogs are paramount. This comes from association and sharing with others. Over the years, we enjoyed many educational and social events relating to dog powered sports. There is always something new to learn. Mentoring others and especially kids is one of the activities Ken and I enjoy most. Over the years it has been our extreme pleasure to work with some incredible kids. Their immediate connection with and love of the dogs, willingness to learn, and ever-present enthusiasm makes it such a positive situation. Five years ago, we were fortunate to welcome an enthusiastic young musher to our team, Michaela Marquardt. Although Michaela now resides and works in St. Paul, Minn., she returns to the kennel as often as she can to help with kennel chores, training, decision making, and of course, to race. As a long-time musher, it does my heart good to know the sport will continue with young people like Michaela who are committed to the dogs.
How many animals make up a team?
One of the reasons dryland racing is appealing to many and is the fastest growing venue for sled dogs, it only requires a few. Even just one means you can do bikejoring, scootering and canicrossing. Another is that many different breeds will happily preform in harness. Canicrossing is running with a dog in harness attached with a line to a hip belt around the runner.
What is the biggest challenge of training the dogs for competition?
No doubt one of the challenges of racing dogs or even owning dogs is the 365 days-a-year care and time commitment they require. If you don’t love to be with your dogs perhaps another hobby would be a better choice.
Where did the idea for the Dryland Derby come from?
Dryland racing with sled dogs was first popular in Europe. It has grown so dryland races can be found from coast to coast in the U.S. and even now in Alaska.
What are the challenges of racing without snow?
Actually, it is the other way around. One of the challenges of winter sled racing is finding acceptable locations for training and racing. For those dog teams that enjoy racing, dryland has extended the race season. While temperatures must for cool enough to harness the dogs, mushers do not have to wait for snow. With dryland, the trail lengths are much shorter. Dryland training and racing can be done in grassy or dirt trails from 1-3 miles long. Conversely, snow trails require hours of packing and grooming much longer trails.
Tell us more about the event.
The Dirty Dog offers classes that make it a family friendly event. Divisions include Junior, Professional and sportsmen. Events include six-dog and four-dog cart, two and one dog bikejoring, two-and-one dog scootering plus men and women’s canicrossing. The carts, bikes and scooters replace the typical sled for a snow trail. Dirty Dog is sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA) and accredited by the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports (IFSS). They are umbrella organizations making it possible for racers to vie for points for international medals and earn a place to race in the World Championships. While the Dirty Dog is happy to offer the events specifically for the professional, we are proud to welcome the newcomer or recreational drivers, also.
Why should people come to the event and learn more?
Watching the exuberant dogs eager to fly down the trail! Spectators can see the dogs up close and personal by walking through the dog truck parking area. Mushers are always willing to talk about their dogs except when they are preparing to race. Seeing the various breeds of dogs is always interesting.
How popular is sled dog racing in the area?
Wisconsin is one of the most active dog powered sports states in the Midwest. And in particular Langlade County is a popular destination for training trails. Mushers are grateful for the opportunity to use Langlade forestry trails for training their teams.
Tell us about the other volunteers who make this event work?
Co-chair Amy Cooper is from Onalaska. For many years she fielded very successful sled dog teams in both winter sled venue and dryland. Amy and I would not have been able to make it happen without the reliable volunteers who work behind the scenes. It takes an experienced willing group of knowledgeable people to cover all the jobs related to a successful race weekend. The staff at MaKaJaWan have always eagerly helped with needs of establishing the race trail and the other site requirements. As they say, it takes a village to put on The Dirty Dog. Requirements include race officials, food service people, trail volunteers, set-up and take down staff and many others to handle the numerous details. Then, of course, financial support is needed for prize money, trophies and other expenses. We are so fortunate and grateful to everyone and every entity that has helped.
For more information on the Dirty Dog Dryland Derby, visit their Facebook page.