The Iditarod race has many great stories to tell by the many men and women who help plan it, and travel the trail to help make it successful. Joe Pendergrass is one of the many people who make The Last Great Race on Earth® what it is. Joe is a member of a very special family; he is a veteran pilot volunteer for the Iditarod Air Force. Within the inner workings of the race are the 28- 30 volunteer pilots that are essential to its success.
They are a quiet group of folks who prefer to work inconspicuously in the background delivering the food bags in pre-race set up, flying dogs safely back to Anchorage during the race, and delivering veterinarians and volunteers to the different checkpoints along with anything else that can fit into their 4-seater airplanes with specially adapted skis.
Joe is a reserved, quiet man, unassuming and remarkable. He talked to me a little about how it always amazes him that strangers will sit in his airplane with complete trust for him. He felt that was a huge responsibility. He wears his IAF cap with a lot of pride, and I asked him about the husky logo. To my surprise he told me that he had designed it himself! I asked him if the logo was available on other memorabilia. He told me the fascinating story behind the patch and why it’s reserved just for the family of pilots who risk a lot and give up a lot to support the Iditarod behind the scenes. Each IAF volunteer pilot is given the logo to use and a decal for their plane and even a special commemorative pilot handbook with a picture of their personal airplane on the cover. It’s a special tradition.
“The patch, which is now the official logo for the Iditarod Air Force, was originally the brain child of IAF pilot John Norris. It began as a design for a lapel pin in 2001. John and I were Co Chief Pilots at the time for the IAF. He explained to me what he had in mind and I designed and sketched it out on paper. After drawing the first draft, with the circle along with the words inscribed around it and the wings protruding from each side, it was obvious that I needed help in drawing the husky. I took it to Artist John Van Zyle who agreed to draw what we wanted on the condition that it would be for our own use and that we didn’t “sell” any of the pins. He drew the husky, with the goggles and scarf, which were common for pilots to wear in the early days of flying in an open cockpit airplane. I then gave it to my nine year old Grand daughter, Jessica Parker, who filled in the appropriate colors. We then sent it to a pin maker in New York. After a couple of proofs were sent back and forth, we got our pins and gave one to each pilot. They were an instant hit.