There was a vigil held for Jed Copham on Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway, when racers and other members of the public were invited to share memories of the man who saved and then reinvigorated the racing facility after purchasing it with his wife, Kristi, in 2006.
Copham, 46, was visiting the Fort Myers area for a belated celebration of father Dave’s 75th birthday when he drowned while diving from a boat for a swim near the Sanibel causeway on Sunday. His body was found on Monday.
Copham was not a stranger to water, for sure. He would visit Daytona Beach annually in the spring when the waves are robust and join other stand-up jet skiers in performing jumps and flips. He produced enough thrills to be recruited to do exhibitions, including last summer in Grantsburg, Wis.
BIR was owned by Don “The Colonel” Williamson in the early 2000s and seemed to be on its death knell. Copham had tried to build a racing “country club’’ in Pine County and ran into a relentless opposition group of locals. He gave up and made a deal to purchase BIR on July 27, 2006, 10 days before the track’s annual major event — the NHRA drag races — was held.
There was an immediate celebration for NHRA and local racing groups. Copham was 33 and committed to making BIR a vibrant, versatile facility, and he invested the millions to get there.
A major project was separating the drag strip from the road-racing course. The rebuilt, 3.1-mile, 10-turn competition course has allowed youthful crowds to show up in big numbers for “Wet ‘n Wild Weekends’’ that feature drag races, motorcycle races on the road course and snowmobiles racing across the large pond in the infield.
“People love those weekends,’’ said Geoff Gorvin, BIR’s public relations coordinator. “One ticket gets you into three events, going simultaneously.’’
Copham wasn’t a rich kid ordering others to do the work. I had him drop in on a radio show in Brainerd. Jed arrived in work clothes, taking a break from painting and pounding in preparation for another racing season.
Hard to say anyone is irreplaceable, but BIR without Jed Copham … that’s going to be tough.
Read Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick.
Twins coaching hires:
• Memo to new pitching coach Wes Johnson: Keep the velocity-guru techniques away from Jose Berrios. Doesn’t need to throw harder, and it’s not worth the risk.
• Tommy Watkins is a great American, and it’s outstanding that he is getting the chance to join the big-league staff.
• James Rowson’s hitters had a lousy season, but I agree with team’s brain wizards: He’s a sharp guy and deserves another shot.