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BIR bounces back in time for Nationals

For the first time in three years, Pro Stock Motorcycle will be returning to Brainerd International Raceway for the 34th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Aug. 20-23 in Brainerd.

For the first time in three years, Pro Stock Motorcycle will be returning to Brainerd International Raceway for the 34th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Aug. 20-23 in Brainerd.

When riders and fans arrive, they may notice a difference to the landscape, but they shouldn't notice a big difference to the race experience.

BIR was hit hard by a July 12 supercell thunderstorm. BIR owner Jed Copham said the property lost about 1,500 trees, a set of bleachers along the drag strip and a roof over a building that was used for Sunday chapel service.

The majority of the trees have been removed. Crews and volunteers are working on taking care of damaged or dangerous trees that remain. A new set of portable bleachers have been purchased and will replace those that were damaged. The Aug. 23 church service will have to be moved, but Copham said that shouldn't be a problem and, while exhausted, is happy with the progress being made in preparation for the NHRA's arrival.

"Things are going well and the place is getting put back together," said Copham. "After a lot of hard work, I think we'll be ready. We still have more trees that from now until Nationals will get trimmed up or taken down. We have a handful of trees that we worked around. We knew that we would have to take them down. They're broken on the top and a little scary looking. We took down all the 'Widow makers' I guess you would call them. The ones broken off 20 feet up and hanging over, but we still have some trees that still need to go.

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"We lost beautiful trees. At some point here, we'll have to plant some new ones."

Copham said the set of bleachers that were damaged are on the driver's right-hand side as they are driving down the stripe. They were not the big grandstands, but the smaller ones around the 660- to 1,000-foot mark.

"It was about six percent of our seats in the one section that got broken," Copham said. "The old ones are gone and the new ones will be here this week. There will be plenty of seats for what was sold last year. That shouldn't be a problem. It will be a little different, but hopefully just as good.

"The seats are a little different, but I guess a seat is a seat. The seats are actually a little lower so we brought the ground up to accommodate for that difference. We hauled in a bunch of dirt and that area should be good to go. It was a lot of work to get it as such, but I think it will work."

One bright spot is the new bleachers are dual purpose and movable so BIR can use them during road course weeks.

"If we try to make a positive out of a negative, all of our bleachers at BIR are getting upgraded," Copham added.

Other than some vistas, Copham said the only difference for the race crews will the Sunday chapel service. With other options available for service, Copham put fixing that building low on the priority list. It will get fixed, but not in time for Nationals.

The storm was on a Sunday and Copham said the four days following BIR saw many people out helping with the clean up.

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"The first week after the storm the volunteers were a tremendous help getting us up and running again. We got the critical trees cleared and critical driveways opened. That was amazing to see all those people come out on that first week. Since then we've had some really good people working really hard to get this place put back together. I still have one guy here doing some volunteer work."

Copham is hopeful regular Lucas Oil spectators won't notice a difference. He's aware with the number of trees gone that someone's favorite tree to camp near won't be there.

"I'd like to think they notice nothing unless a tree that they happened to camp under for a number of years happened to be a victim," Copham said. "Otherwise, the place should be in pretty good shape. If you're not sure bring an awning for a little bit of shade. It never hurts anyway. Other than that all is well. Hopefully Mother Nature got that out of her system. Let's hope we get beautiful whether for the event and that would be great."

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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