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Iditarod loses another major sponsor

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – One of the Iditarod’s top sponsors is dropping financial support, the second major sponsor with Alaska ties to sever relationships with the sled dog race this month.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirmed Monday that the Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership will no longer sponsor the race. The dealership for 30 years has been one of the race’s principal partners and annually presents the race winner with a new pickup at the finish line in Nome.

A statement from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA, noted the parent company did not sponsor the Iditarod.

“Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Center – an independently owned and operated dealership – had been a sponsor of the race. We understand and can confirm the dealership will no longer continue sponsoring the race. As such, FCA and the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram logos will no longer be associated with the race,” the statement said.

Chuck Talksy, a spokesman for the Anchorage dealership, initially said they planned to sponsor the race again next year, finances permitting.

Later, when informed of Chrysler’s statement, he said, “That’s kind of news to us. As a franchisee, we are subject to various controls."

An email to Iditarod officials seeking comment was not immediately returned

The announcement came as mushers are making the final push for Nome in this year’s race. The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) race started March 8 in Willow with 57 mushers. Six have withdrawn.

Thomas Waerner of Norway was leading the race, the first musher to reach the checkpoint in Koyuk, about 150 miles from the finish line.

Alaska Airlines, the Seattle-based airline that got its start decades ago in Alaska, earlier this month announced it was dropping its sponsorship of the race, which has been targeted by an animal rights group.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was first to announce the departure of both Alaska Airlines and Chrysler as race sponsors. The group says the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska is cruel for the dogs.

It also claims more than 150 dogs have died since the race started in 1973. Iditarod officials dispute that number but have not provided their own count of dogs who died on the trail despite numerous requests by The Associated Press.

PETA is the race’s biggest critic and has for years targeted sponsors. In Chrysler’s case, that includes more than a quarter million emails from PETA supporters, television ads in the Detroit area and protesters dragging a sled filled with fake dead dogs around downtown Detroit, the organization said in a statement.

"After feeling some real pressure from PETA, Chrysler put the brakes on its connection with the Iditarod and is sending the message that dogs deserve better than being run to death for mushers' prize money,'' PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement. "Alaska Airlines has also withdrawn its sponsorship of this wretched race in which over 150 dogs have died, and we hope this year is the last year dogs will suffer in this way."

Alaska Airlines denied PETA had anything to do with its decision to drop sponsorship of the race after more than 40 years and instead said it was a change in the company's corporate giving strategy.