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Owner of Brainerd International Raceway, one of NHRA’s top tracks, dies in Florida swimming accident

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BRAINERD, Minn. — The owner of Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota has died in a swimming accident off the Florida coast. Jed Copham was 46.

The raceway said Copham had been swimming from his parents’ boat on Sunday near Fort Myers when he went missing. According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, authorities recovered his body near a boat ramp Monday morning.

His death remains under investigation, but the sheriff’s office says there “appears to be no criminal aspect” to the inquiry.

“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 in a news release. “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.”

Copham had owned the raceway near Brainerd in central Minnesota since 2006.

A passionate racer and champion of motorsports, Copham built a section of track that separated the road course from the drag strip. That allowed the raceway to offer drag racing and road racing simultaneously.

The NHRA released a statement mourning Copham’s passing:

“On behalf of everyone at NHRA, our thoughts and prayers go out to Kristi, their two children and all of those in the racing community that knew and worked alongside Jed,” said NHRA President Glen Cromwell in a news release. “Twelve years ago, Jed and Kristi took over what has now become one of the more legendary race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit. Because of his passion and his own drive to race performance vehicles, the customer experience was vital to Jed. He knew how to put himself in the shoes of both BIR’s patrons and participants.

“The NHRA has been thoroughly impressed with the many improvements made to the facility in recent years, including more efficient ingress, improved ticketing operations, new scoreboards and more asphalt for parking to name a handful.

“A true racing enthusiast at heart, Jed often looked forward to the future of the sport and innovations in racing. We appreciate all of the ideas and forward thinking that Jed has brought to NHRA Championship Drag Racing and will miss him dearly.”

Contributing: @JerryBonkowski

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!