Swimming accident in Florida takes the life of BIR’s Jed Copham

Brainerd International Raceway owner Jed Copham passed away Sunday as the result of a swimming accident off the coast of Florida. He was 46.

Copham had been swimming from his parents’ boat Sunday afternoon near Fort Myers when he went missing. Search and rescue teams didn’t find his body until Monday morning. No details of the accident have been released.

“This is a tragic and sad day for Brainerd International Raceway, the entire racing community and the Brainerd Lakes Area,” BIR Spokesman Geoff Gorvin said. “Everyone here is still in shock and trying to make sense out of it. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jed’s wife, Kristi, his two children, his parents and his extended family.

“Jed was the face of BIR and spared no expense to improve the track, the infrastructure and the entire experience at BIR. Nobody championed motorsports like Jed did. He worked tirelessly to make sure BIR was a safe and challenging place to race, a fun place to watch racing and a welcoming place with many opportunities to try your hand at racing.”

A passionate racer and a popular figure at BIR with fans and racers alike, Jed and Kristi bought BIR in 2006, just 10 days before the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, which is the single largest race at BIR each year with more than 100,000 fans through the gates. During his ownership, Copham’s focus was always to improve the track and safety systems for racers while exposing fans to a variety of exciting motorsports. His greatest achievement was building a section of track that separated BIR’s road course from the drag strip. The original 3.1-mile, 10-turn road course that was built in 1968 had a mile-long straightaway that was used for drag racing. But the track could only be configured for a single type of racing, either drag racing or road racing. The new section of track created a 2.5-mile, 13-turn road course, allowing BIR to offer drag racing and road racing simultaneously, which was the case for most of the events on the racing schedule each year. Fans buy a single ticket and can watch either type of racing or both.

The new track, called the Competition Road Course, is nearly certified to host every level of road racing except for Formula One.

Copham also worked hard to improve the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in August. One of his primary goals was to get fans to their seats as efficiently as possible. Traditionally, cars lined up for miles on the shoulder of State Hwy 371 as fans waited to get through the front gates and park. A new ticketing system and relocated ticket booths greatly improved traffic flow and kept cars off Hwy 371.

Behind the wheel, Copham was a fearless racer himself. Growing up in Forest Lake, he started drag racing and road racing at BIR in the mid 1990s. As owner, he continued to race in many of the events held at BIR, including Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races, International Watercross Association races (snowmobiles racing on open water) and endurance races. He also held his own against professional racers each year during BIR’s Trans Am Series. One year ago, he hauled his Corvette to Daytona International Speedway in Florida to compete in the Trans Am Series’ final race of the season. Unfortunately, he crashed his car during practice laps.

Copham also loved to ride snowmobiles and was excellent on stand-up Jet Skis, pulling backflips and other maneuvers. He could be found each spring on the surf off Daytona Beach with other Jet Skiers.

Copham’s survived by his wife Kristi, daughter Alyssa, son Ayden and parents, Dave and Cheryl Copham.

Photo courtesy of the Brainerd Dispatch