"It's dogs, which are a tradition in the Native culture as well as the non-Native culture, it's the transportation, the communication, the social aspects of it," Beneville said. "And to see these men and women coming across the finish line -- a 1,049 miles -- to me is stunning."
The welcome process begins on a gravel road four miles outside town, where a spotter for the local radio station, KNOM, waits for each musher to hit Farley's Camp, a collection of cabins along the Bering Sea coast. The spotter alerts the station that a musher is on the way, then will broadcast live as they shadow the musher past the Nome River and into town.
When the musher is about a mile and a half out, the town's siren blows, letting everyone know the musher is on his way.
Once the musher comes off the sea ice onto Front Street a few blocks from the finish, a police car with its lights flashing takes over as the official escort. The weary musher then guides the dog team down the city's business district, sometimes slapping high-fives with fans lining the street.
The celebratory atmosphere is like "Mardi Gras with dogs," Beneville said.
Greg Bill is at the finish line this week like he has been for the past 40 years, and said it's an important tradition for the mushers.
"It's really heartwarming because they just traveled a thousand miles," said Bill, the race's development director. "Some of them have family here to greet them. Others don't."
Howard Farley, 80, is one of the founders of the Iditarod, first run in 1973. He helped organize the Nome finish, and placed in the second-to-last paying position in the first race -- back when the finish line consisted of Kool-Aid sprinkled over the snow.
"We're not going across town. We're not going across the street. We're not going in a circle," Farley said. "We're racing a thousand miles over treacherous Alaska wilderness."
A former town official said at the very first musher's banquet that everyone who finishes the race is a hero.
"And I knew that," Farley said. "I was in the back, and I got a hero's welcome."