MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last weekend was the biggest event of the year for Brainerd International Raceway.
The Lucas Oil Nationals drew more than 100,000 racing fans. Teams from all over the country competed for top prizes, with cars that can reach speeds over 325 miles per hour.
Out of tragedy sometimes comes an adjustment in life that was never in the plan. That’s exactly what happened at BIR, when Kirsti Copham endured and dealt with the toughest part of life — losing a loved one. What she has found in the process is an extended family.
It’s Thursday. Day One of the Lucas Oil Nationals. Some cars are doing qualifying runs in front of early arriving fans. This is a beehive of activity as thousands of people will fill the raceway watching hundreds of racing teams. Everyone here, in some many ways, are a unique family.
This family has been fractured. The track’s owner, Jed Copham, died unexpectedly over the winter, leaving behind a wife and two kids, Ayden and Alyssa. Already grieving, and now a single mom, his widow Kristi was faced with a difficult choice: Walk away from the track, or carry on.
“I didn’t have a doubt. It was a very scary thought in the beginning,” Kristi said.
Kristi and Jed met while in eighth grade while growing up in Forest Lake. Their bond took a while to gel, but she grew to love Jed’s larger-than-life personality.
“He was just that outgoing with anybody around him,” Kristi said. “He was willing to help them with everything. He just was one of those people that really did get people to gravitate to him.”
Jed had a dream. He knew race cars and was an adrenaline junkie. He wanted to own a racetrack. Kristi was just along for the ride. They landed the top prize in Brainerd. There was a learning curve for Kristi, but she was soon holding her own in helping to run the track.
“We had no idea what was going on. You know, thank goodness for the employees back then that had been here for years that we willing to help us out,” she said. “Now, I don’t know what I would do without it.”
With Jed gone, her immediate family has a void. Now, her other family has stepped up — her racing family. They have not let her down. These are special people, all gathering at a special place.
“It’s one of the races on the tour that we look forward coming to the most,” said pro racer Tommy Johnson Jr. “Just very thankful that [Kristi has] continued to make this track grow.”
And through it all, Kristi’s words ring true: Hold tight to the past, but know when to look ahead.
“I have no plan of going anywhere,” Kristi said. “This is where I want to be.”
To make this weekend even more emotional, last Saturday was Jed’s birthday. He would have been 47 years old.