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Racing: Roe reflects on key events while general manager at BIR

In the 50-year history of Brainerd International Raceway, 1973 may have been the darkest. However, it would also be the year that had the most positive impact on the track's history. Faced with growing debt, the track then known as Donnybrooke wa...

Former Brainerd International Raceway General Manager Dick Roe (left), former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and former BIR owner Jerry Hansen show a photo of the track in 1975. Submitted photo
Former Brainerd International Raceway General Manager Dick Roe (left), former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and former BIR owner Jerry Hansen show a photo of the track in 1975. Submitted photo

In the 50-year history of Brainerd International Raceway, 1973 may have been the darkest.

However, it would also be the year that had the most positive impact on the track's history.

Faced with growing debt, the track then known as Donnybrooke was closed by owner George Montgomery. While there were no racing events in 1973, Sports Car Club of America driver Jerry Hansen purchased the track, renamed it Brainerd International Raceway, and hired Dick Roe as general manager.

For the next 26 years, BIR would see big changes under the leadership of Roe and Hansen and several key items preserved the health of the track until Roe resigned in 1999.

Roe said the two most significant reasons for the track's existence today included procurement of a camping permit and a noise exemption from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards.

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"Without either, BIR would have become a golf course or a housing project in the '70s," Roe said. "With the help of my brother, Dave Roe, who was president of the AFL/CIO and probably one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state, he arranged a meeting for Jerry and I with Gov. Wendell Anderson and Vice President (Hubert) Humphrey in 1975. "Between the two of them, they introduced me to the head of the state board of health, who enabled BIR to get the camping permit that had been refused to Donnybrooke for years and it had caused many problems for the community.

"Next, with the help of my brother and Tom Fitzpatrick, my friend and our Brainerd attorney, we got legislation passed in 1982, which exempted BIR and four other race facilities from Minnesota state standards, which were impossible to meet and would have sealed our fate."

In 1974, the Uncola Nationals road event was the sole race at BIR. A year later, the Uncola Nationals returned to BIR and featured actor Paul Newman, who set a track record.

The second significant item during Roe's tenure occurred in 1982, when the Quaker State North Star NHRA Nationals conducted its inaugural event at BIR. It was the start of a 36-year relationship between BIR and the NHRA.

"Our ability to convince NHRA into giving us a national event was also big for us," Roe said. "I told them that we would have to carry over our sponsor, Quaker State, in the event name and they agreed to the name it Quaker State North Star Nationals. We became the first NHRA national event to carry a sponsor name. Eventually, all the NHRA national events carried a sponsor name."

Reflecting on BIR's 50 years, Roe is excited to see where things are moving in the next 50 under the leadership of current owners Jed and Kristi Copham.

"There were so many proud memories I have from my long tenure at BIR and I am so enthused by the energy of the Copham family in continuing the success of the facility," Roe said. "I would be very remiss if I didn't say I miss it."

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