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Area residents rev up to staff NHRA event each August

When the NHRA Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) each August, some lakes area residents head on down the highway to avoid the traffic and influx of race fans.

But more than 300 local residents hightail it straight to the track, ready to be put to work. Their reasons for working the busy race weekend at the track vary, but all cite the fun they have.

Terry and Shawn Hansen of Lake Shore have funded several school trips for their daughters, Alanna and Kara, by working the four days at BIR. An added bonus is the family time spent together.

Now in their sixth year — minus Alanna, who had other work commitments — the Hansens monitored gate parking for race car drivers, their families and crew. They first worked the weekend as a Brainerd Warrior volleyball fundraiser. They worked succeeding years to send Alanna to California with the Brainerd High School (BHS) A Capella Choir and then to Spain with her Spanish class.

Next, they funded Kara’s trip to Hawaii with the BHS choir and then to Chicago with the BHS band.

What was their motivation this year?

“We like doing it. It’s fun, so we’re doing it for a family vacation,” Shawn said.

The past two years, they’ve recruited Chelsea Kraemer of rural Brainerd. Last year she used the money for the school band trip to Chicago. This year she’ll put the funds toward her first year at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

Jerry Braam of Breezy Point just worked his fourth year as public safety director at BIR during Nationals. He’s recruited friends to join his staff, as well as family.

Daughter Katie has worked eight years at BIR as a registered nurse, and son Jake joined the team five years ago.

“My main job is to make sure people are having fun, but being safe in doing so,” Katie said.

She cited last year’s three life-saving events, noting all three people who were saved returned this year to BIR and it was gratifying to see them.

“The teamwork is phenomenal out here,” Katie said. “There’s no event like this in the country. It’s a lot of fun.”

Jake started five years ago at BIR riding with Katie doing mobile dispatch. He helps clear the area if Katie is attending to a medical incident, and he noted how he saw her, his dad and his uncle save lives last year.

Ryan Buell also just worked his fourth year at BIR. The Pequot Lakes chiropractor started by doing first aid and evolved into providing daytime security and escorting the front office staff for money exchanges.

“No. 1, it’s fun,” Buell said of working at BIR when the NHRA comes to town. “No. 2, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

His wife, Patty, and Braam’s wife, Anna, cater food to feed the security team throughout the long weekend.

Chad and Jody Harting of Crosslake are the force behind the 300-plus local hirings for Nationals. They just finished their ninth year helping BIR staff the NHRA races, the last seven with Employment Resource Center.

Jobs include security, maintenance, cleanup, ushering, parking and working at the gates and at the start line.

“We get a lot of returning people coming back for the experience,” Jody said. “It’s fun. It’s a local event that brings hundreds of thousands of dollars to our community.”