BRAINERD – Jim Knebel broke his right arm as an 8-year-old living on a Minnesota farm near Paynesville. He wound up in the hospital, developed gangrene and the lower part of his arm was removed.

"It's gone just below the elbow," said Knebel, looking at a well-used prosthetic device with a hook at the end.

That is why all acquaintances in Minnesota's drag racing circles — and elsewhere in the region — refer to him as "Hook" in conversation.

"That could be considered offensive in these times in which we live, Mr. Knebel," I said.

He smiled, said "Give me a second," then entered the recreation vehicle that he had parked in a choice spot on the massive grounds of Brainerd International Raceway.

Knebel came back a few seconds later with an old photo of his racing car — a 1970 Cutlass — with "HOOK" written on the driver's door. He raced that Cutlass with different engines for different classes from 1986 through 2012.

"It was known to everyone as the Hook Car," he said.

Like many competitors in "bracket racing" (meaning, not the majors), Knebel did almost all the work on his car for those 27 years. And then there was the assistance in the drag racing efforts of his sons John and Andy.

"None of us are active right now," said Knebel, 65. "I'm done for sure. I was in physical labor my whole working life. My right shoulder … it's worn out.

"As you can imagine."

The current prosthesis is estimated to be in Year 8. "That's a long time for me," Knebel said. "I snapped a lot of hooks along the way.''

This was at noon Wednesday. There were already hundreds of RVs and other units settled into their spots for the week. By the time the NHRA's Lucas Oil Nationals starts preliminary runs on Friday, the number of RVs will be in the thousands.

"We'll have 30,000 people watching when the finals are run Sunday," said Kristi Copham, the owner/operator of BIR. "It's always a huge event."

Road racing was the main motive for George Montgomery when he opened Donnybrooke Speedway in 1968. Yet he also was wise enough to do this:

The track was designed with an extra-long straightaway as the main viewing area and also to accommodate a quarter-mile drag racing strip.

Jerry Hansen, stockbroker and much-honored road racer, rescued the track with a purchase in 1973. It was on shaky ground a few years later, and then in 1982, a deal was reached with the National Hot Rod Association to bring a national event to what is now BIR.

Dave Ferroni handled media and other duties at BIR for years and said: "Drag racing saved the track. There's no question of that. The first time the NHRA national was held in '82 — 50,000 people at the track and Shirley Muldowney won Top Fuel.

"Couldn't get any better than that."

This week, as legendary tracks — such as Englishtown in New Jersey, and Heartland in Topeka, and Bandimere outside Denver, and Wild Horse near Phoenix — are leaving, BIR still delivers a premium stop for NHRA.

Bobby Bennett, editor of Competition Plus, the authoritative internet magazine for drag racing, was asked about BIR's standing among locales for NHRA.

"What Brainerd brings to the table is the greatest thing you can have: passionate drag racing fans," Bennett said.

As for the tracks that are closing, Bennett said:

"People see it as a bad reflection on drag racing, but this stuff has been brewing for years. Property values and thus taxes have been going up.

"At some point, if it's a family business, you're thinking about a retirement fund. So you sell, because drag racing and retirement fund never have belonged in the same sentence.

"Drag racing itself — when you consider all the competition out there, it's still in pretty good shape. This weekend, people in Brainerd are going to be watching two drivers side-by-side at 330 miles per hour in a quarter-mile who are hoping for a good outcome. It makes no sense, but it's awesome entertainment."

Bill Davis, Tim Wollak, Tom Faris, Dave Kirchoff and Jeff Kreuter had staked out the stools on one side of the bar at the Wheelie Bar, the saloon on BIR's grounds.

Again, it was noon, but this crew — late 50s to pushing 70 — had already kept affable female bartender Matty Castillo reaching into the coolers for cold ones for a couple of hours.

The group had moved onto BIR grounds on Tuesday, to tell stories of the days of being much younger and camped over by "the Mudhole," where no one knew what in Hades might take place next.

"One year, we had a beer can pyramid of 1,100 empties at the end of the week," Davis said. "Sometimes we didn't go to sleep until sunrise. Now, we hope to make it to sunset."

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series

What: Lucas Oil Nationals

Where: Brainerd International Raceway

When: Friday-Sunday

Qualifying: 2:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. Friday; 12:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Eliminations: 11 a.m. Sunday

TV: FS1, 7 p.m. Friday, noon Sunday; Ch. 9, 3 p.m. Sunday