By Bill Hudson

BAXTER (WCCO) — The news has both shocked and saddened the nation’s motorsports world.

Jed Copham, owner of Brainerd International Raceway, drowned in a tragic swimming accident Sunday near Sanibel Island along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

His death is devastating to Copham’s Brainerd International Raceway family.

Jed Copham was only 36 when he and his wife, Kristi, purchased BIR in 2006. Outside the entrance gate, a checkered flag and flowers now frames a sign of sorrow.

“The racing community lost their best friend,” Gary Curtis tearfully explains.

Curtis operates BIR’s Performance Driving School and was a close friend. He says Copham improved the track immensely, to benefit all styles of road and drag racing.

Added Curtis, “He put money into the drag racing side as well as the road racing side. He loved it all. If it had a motor on it and it went fast he was in love with it.”

Copham was swimming off his parent’s boat Sunday near the Sanibel causeway. Authorities are releasing few details of what led to the drowning, but say it appears to be a tragic accident.

His body was recovered Monday morning near the Punta Rassa boat ramp in Lee County.

At the track on Tuesday, road racer Rich Wilkinson was taking the news hard.

He says Copham listened to the needs of racers and delivered changes to the track.

Says Wilkinson, “He will definitely be missed. He was a great owner of a track, yet didn’t seem like an owner. He was just another racer out here with you.”

Among the changes Copham made to BIR was a realignment of the road track and the drag strip. Separating the two so that the venue could hold simultaneous events.

While major races such as the annual Lucas Oil Nationals packed the place with more than 100,000 spectators, his biggest achievement will be remembered as providing more opportunity to amateur racers.

Explains drag racer, Greg Schmidt, “He really made the racing community around Brainerd a family. Whether you are a drag racer or a road racer, we’re all car guys, and car guys are a car family.”

A huge extended family sharing a common broken heart.

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