Posted on May 09 2017
In the mid-1960s, a pilot for Northwest Airlines by the name of George Montgomery began buying up plots of land around the small town of Brainerd, Minnesota. Why? Because he wanted to build a track where he could race his 427 Cobra. He had 800 acres to his name by 1967, and it was time to put the next phase of his plan into motion.
Montgomery teamed up with Bill Peters Sr., a local racing enthusiast and founder of “Land O’ Lakes” region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Together, the two of them drew up a 3.1-mile course that was flat, fast, and featured a main straightaway almost a mile in length which lead straight into a broad, fast turn. In fact, they’d come up with the longest straight and the fastest corner on a road course in the U.S. Construction was completed in the summer of 1968, and the course was christened Donnybrooke Speedway – named after two local SCCA drivers who had died in racing accidents.
Donnybrooke was simple. Facilities were minimal or non-existent, especially for spectators. But it didn’t seem to matter. Drivers loved the course, and its popularity grew quickly. Before long, Donnybrooke was a regular course for Can-Am and Trans Am events, and at one point even hosted an Indycar race. Crowds would watch from the infield and camp on the side of the road.
Yet despite its popularity, Donnybrooke had a hard time staying financially solvent. In 1972, the track was forced to shutter. But the following year, the facility was purchased by Jerry Hansen, another local racing enthusiast and driver. It was renamed Brainerd International Raceway, and a new management team (which included Dick Roe and Mario Andretti for a time) began the process of upgrading facilities and attracting more races. They also managed to attract some popular names, such as Paul Newman, who won his first race as a professional at Brainerd in 1982.
In addition to Can-Am and Trans Am, Brainerd also proved popular as a motorcycle racing venue. It hosted the Honda Classic Camel Pro Series for superbikes in 1982, the World Superbike Championship in 1989, and the AMA Superbike Championship series made Brainerd a regular stop on its schedule. Motorcycle racing helped to literally reshape the course, as many of the race organizers pushed for a tighter version of turn 9, and got their wish.
In 1994, Brainerd was purchased by Michigan businessman Donald Williams, aka “The Colonel.” The Colonel leaned heavily into Brainerd’s potential as a drag racing venue, bringing more than 100,000 spectators for the NHRA Nationals. While the increased drag racing usage kept the facility in the black, it pushed away the road racing community, who felt that conditions on the straightaway had deteriorated and that their needs weren’t being met. Road racing activities began to wain through the 90s and early 2000s, until 2006 when Jed and Kristi Copham purchased Brainerd from Williamson.
The Cophams brought road racing back to Brainerd in a big way, building a brand new road racing course in 2008. The new, 2.5-mile road course utilized the back half of the original track, without the straightaway, which allowed road events and drag racing events to take place at the same time.
Now, Brainerd, or BIR as it is sometimes called, hosts national SCCA races such as the Pirelli World Challenge, Trans Am, NASCAR K&N Pro Series, and various motorcycle races sponsored by the CRA.
BIR is located just northwest of the town of Brainerd, about two-and-a-half hours away from both Duluth International Airport and Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.