FILE - In this March 17, 2000, file photo, Emmitt Peters, center, is followed by his sons Emmitt Jr., left, and Emory as he drives his team up the finish chute of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska. Alaska State Troopers confirm Peters, nicknamed the "Yukon Fox," died Thursday, April 2, 2020, at his home in Ruby, Alaska. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
View All (2)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Emmitt Peters Sr., an Alaska Native who won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as a rookie in 1975, has died at age 79 in his home village of Ruby.

Peters died Thursday of natural causes, Alaska State Troopers said.

Peters, an Athabascan, was nicknamed the “Yukon Fox” after his victory in the 1975 race, only the third contest in the 1,000-mile (1,609.3-kilometer) Iditarod.

“He’s going to be sorely missed,“ Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said.

By reaching the Nome finish line first, Peters knocked six days off the previous record set in the first race at a time when competitors took far longer than they do today to run the trail.

Peters ran his winning race in 14 days, 14 hours and 43 minutes, compared with the 20 days and 49 minutes it took musher Dick Wilmarth to win the first race. This year's winner, Thomas Waerner of Norway, won the race in 9 days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds.

Peters was one of just a few early mushers to win as a rookie, Iditarod officials said.

Peters told the Iditarod in a 2016 interview that he got into the Iditarod after race founder Joe Redington noticed his dogs at the 20-mile (32.2-kilometer) sprints the Ruby musher used to run in Anchorage.

Redington told the musher he had Iditarod dogs. Peters said he had never been in that kind of race before, and Redington told him to just follow him.

“Instead of my following him, he was following me,” Peters said with a laugh.

In all, Peters completed 13 races, placing 40th in his last race in 2000. He scratched in a 14th race in 1992 after his dogs became sick, he told the Iditarod.

The family is planning a celebration of his life for either late summer or early fall, depending on the situation with the coronavirus, St. George said.

The celebration is expected to draw many relatives and friends from outside the state, according to St. George, who called Peters an icon not only as a musher but as a community leader.