John “Jed” Copham, owner of Brainerd International Raceway, passed away unexpectedly while vacationing in Florida Nov. 11. He was 46.
Jed’s infectious personality and passion for motorsports made him the heart and soul of BIR and resulted in countless close friendships. Racers and fans alike gravitated toward him because of his free spirit, generosity and humility. He loved to talk about cars and racing, but more importantly, he was always willing to listen to those who had concerns or comments about the track or the racing program. His primary concern was always to ensure that everyone was enjoying their time at the track.
Growing up in Forest Lake, Jed developed his zeal for motorsports at an early age. It started with motocross until his father, Dave, promised that he’d help Jed build a hot rod if he got good grades in high school. His grades improved and so work began on a 1931 Model A, which he drag raced at BIR. That would lead to a 25-year love affair with motorsports of all kinds.
After high school, Jed earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and then joined the family business, Liberty Check Printers. He married his high school sweetheart, Kristi Peterson, who shared his love of racing over the years. They had two beautiful children: Alyssa, 17, and Ayden, 12. The Cophams purchased BIR in 2006 and have been hands-on owners ever since.
Jed didn’t waste any time making improvements to the track and the racing program. One of his goals was to return road racing back to prominence at BIR, just as it had been when the track was first built in 1968. He did that by building a new section of track that separated the drag strip from the road course, allowing both tracks to be used simultaneously and freeing up track time for more road racing events. He also created more open track time for novice racers. The BIR Performance Driving School and the Wednesday Night Street Drags program are two examples of such programs. Nearly every event at BIR also has race classes for novice racers to compete against each other.
Jed was more than a track owner, though, he was also an accomplished racer. Although he got his start in drag racing, he became a very competitive road racer as well, taking every opportunity to compete on BIR’s road course. He held his own against professional drivers during the Trans Am Series and competed during Sports Car Club of America races, endurance races and even watercross races, which involves snowmobiles racing on open water. He also loved to snowmobile and had expert skills on stand-up Jet Skis. He had a sizable collection of radio-controlled planes, helicopters and cars as well.
Jed is survived by his wife Kristi, daughter Alyssa, son Ayden, parents Dave and Cheryl Copham, sister Kristen Mae Copham, mother-in-law Karen Peterson, sister-in-law Becki (Dave Gustafson) and many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.
Memorials are being accepted for the Jed Copham Memorial Fund, which is benefitting research for schistosomiasis. Please make checks to the Jed Copham Memorial Fund and mail to: Brainerd International Raceway, 5523 Birchdale Road, Brainerd, MN 56401.