The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon announced Wednesday night it would be joining an international sled dog racing championship circuit.

Aker BioMarine, a biotech company based in Norway, is launching the circuit called Qrill Pet Arctic World Series (QPAWS). Qrill Pet is the brand name for Aker BioMarine’s line of pet food.

QPAWS features four races from around the world — the John Beargrease Marathon, Femundsløpet in Norway, Volga Quest in Russia and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Frank Moe, vice president of the Beargrease board of directors, said the Beargrease was invited to participate as it is the oldest and longest race in the lower 48.

“They asked us to be a part of this circuit that will promote mushing as well as dog health and welfare around the world, and we thought that was very consistent with our own mission,” Moe said. “So we were very interested.”

According to Moe, every musher who is registered to participate in one of the four races automatically qualifies for the series. Mushers receive points based on how high they finish in a race and how well they care for their dogs.

At the end of the Iditarod, the musher with the most points, totaled from their two best races, wins the title of international dog racing champion. The prize? An all-expenses-paid entry and transportation in the 2021 Iditarod.

“That’s a pretty significant prize,” Moe said. “I mean, it could cost us here between $30,000 and $50,000 to pull that off, so that’s quite an incentive.”

Moe said all the races will be broadcast live online and on TV; details about where to watch have not been released. Footage for documentaries and short segments about each race will also be shot.

“We have a great story to tell, and we get a chance to tell that story to an international audience,” he said.

Moe said being part of this series has already started to affect the Beargrease in a positive way.

“We’ve already received interest in the Beargrease from mushers from all over the world who have already signed up,” he said.

One of those mushers is four-time Iditarod champion, Dallas Seavey. Seavey has never participated in the Beargrease before. He won the Iditarod in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and comes from a long line of Iditarod champions.

“We love the Beargrease and now you've got mushers from Norway and Alaska saying they want to race the Beargrease in Minnesota, which is pretty cool,” Moe said.

John Beargrease mid-distance racer Rita Wehseler’s team runs early in the 2019 race. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
John Beargrease mid-distance racer Rita Wehseler’s team runs early in the 2019 race. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

Beargrease organizers are not the only ones who are excited about this new international dog racing championship.

“We are proud to be a part of QPAWS,” CEO of the Iditarod Rob Urbach said in a news release. “With the investments in digital visualization technology and innovative television production, we have great confidence that we will be showcasing our sport in a more experiential and compelling way.”

The purpose of the championship series is “to help the sport and the mushing community to grow and to strengthen the separate race organizations, as well as showcase the world-class dog care that the sport is famous for,” a news release said.

“Over the past three years, we have been working with the athletes and race organizers to learn more about the sport and its many amazing components,” Matts Johansen, CEO of Aker BioMarine, said in a statement. “We strongly believe in the sport of dog mushing and the culture it represents, and we want to help it get the international attention and recognition it deserves.”

The trail for the 2020 Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon will stay the same, starting at Billy’s Bar in Duluth and ending at Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, but due to participation in QPAWS, musher tracking is expected to be more enhanced.