Expletive Deleted: Brainerd Isn't Ours Anymore
For a second I wanted to put my arms up. Stop!
My middle kid, Kipp, and I were driving back from a cabin in Northern Minnesota a good decade ago when the map took us through Brainerd. We came in through the side of town that the racetrack is on, and as we passed I noticed racebikes getting gas at the convenience store outside the track and recognized that it was a CRA weekend. Central Roadracing Association is the club that has run motorcycle club racing at the track for the last 40 years. I took a series of lefts and entered the grounds using the First Rule of Murph: if the guy at the gate does not have a walkie-talkie in his hand, do not stop.

We drove around a little. The track had been re-configured since I’d seen it last. I was unable to get my bearings. We parked by an access road and got out, we were going to walk around a bit and maybe I’d show him where his old man used to club race. I walked up to the cement barrier we’d parked against and again tried to get my bearings. This must be an access road to get from one side of the track to the next. It was very tight and narrow.

Just then, as we stood there, looking at the access road, a herd of bikes came through there on the first lap of a sprint race. The access road wasn’t an access road at all. It was the newly configured Brainerd racetrack. I then noticed that there were tires and straw bales in some of the impact areas.

When Eric Bostrom saw his first race on the Isle of Mann TT he watched one lap and then had to lay down. The combination of fast motorcycles at top speed doing so very close to light poles and buildings made him sick to his stomach and unable to think. He was able to watch after a few laps but i don’t think he was ever able to make peace with it.

I felt kinship with Eric Bostrom that morning. When I heard the bikes coming and then saw the leaders coming our way my first reaction was to think that someone had really messed up some cones and the bikes were using a track access road instead of the track. For a second I wanted to put my arms up. Stop!

A stream of bikes went trough and this, clearly, wasn’t an access road. It was the new Brainerd.

We got back in the car and drove home. Brainerd wasn’t really on my radar any more then, even though it was the first big name racetrack that I had visited way back in 1983. It's where I first met a youthful surfer kid named Wayne Rainey. Where I club raced myself with my friends.

I’d left it behind.

BIR wasn’t “ours’ anymore. I lost little sleep over it, frankly. Occasionally people in the paddock would ask me about the track because it's in my home state. I replied that there was no way now, with the new section, that it would pass a rudimentary safety inspection.

However when MotoAmerica put Brainerd back on the schedule BIR again came back on my radar. I was glad that Chuck and Wayne had pushed hard to convince the new BIR ownership to hold a MotoAmerica race. I assumed the track would be modified for modern Superbikes.

Dean Adams
From that one time in T-9.

I drove up on the race weekend. Left my hotel room early one morning, grabbed a pass and started to walk around the track. The old turn nine, the right hand hairpin, was a ghost town. Weeds grew through the track. The bleachers, which were once full on raceday, were unused and had been unused for a long time. I’d watched races there from the 1989 WSBK races at Brainerd, had raced through that corner myself. I was there when DuHamel muffed the corner on the Harley and lost the lead. Now I was the only one standing there; like a scene out of some kind of racing Twilight Zone hellscape. Did I hear ghostly cheers from 1989 when DuHamel led, or was that just the wind?

Swimsuit Model
Brainerd's old turn nine in 2024. The grandstands are empty and weeds grow through the track.

It was still very early on Friday morning when I walked to the new section of the racetrack and went observational. I’m sorry to say that I found the new section of the track very, very poorly thought-out and unfortunately deeply unsafe. I watched a few sessions. I’m afraid that after doing this for 30 years it was apparent in my mind that the new section of the track was probably fine—unless things went very wrong for a rider and he got pointed in a wrong direction. If that happened, and it can, there was a barrier right there and it was likely to end badly, air fence or no.

I started getting a bad headache, while watching in that section.

There is no way that this version of Brainerd International Raceway would have passed a circa 1989-2007 AMA Superbike track inspection and homologation.

I tried to make sense of the new “infield” section of the track. What I came back to, again, was that it wasn’t our Brainerd International Raceway any more. This is life. The entry sheets for the classes at Brained were deep, so maybe I’m just a scared old man. Maybe it looks and is safer from behind the clip-ons. Maybe bikes don’t work the way that I think they do. Maybe they don’t spin in the back and then change trajectory like I think that they do when things go wrong. Air fence and bales still stop a human body in feet and that can be very bad for the human body.

I started to get a bigger migraine the more I watched sessions from the new sections. In the track's defense some bikes did crash in those sections and the bikes slid into the airfence or the barriers. So what do I know?

I know that I had planned to stay until Sunday night, but by around 1:30 PM on Friday I had seen enough. I knew that I could not watch one more session in the new sections with my heart in my throat.

I walked to my car and drove to the hotel. I threw my clothes in the car drove straight home. I stopped once for gas, but drove the entire way home with no music; in silence, wondering if my very first reaction upon seeing the new track layout—almost holding my arms up to stop the leaders of the club race wasn’t really the truest reaction of all?

I drove home ruminating. What, exactly, was the process that culminated with a track in that configuration? How could that have ever been considered a safe solution for motorcycle racing?

As God as my witness, the first email I read after arriving home and turning on my computer was the announcement that rider Scott Briody had been killed at Brainerd shortly after me and my headache left. He had lost control had hit one of those barriers. He was a veteran rider; had kids and good equipment. Most other places on the old Brainerd track if he’d had a crash like that he’d have been ambulance’d off and probably survived.

There is no doubt that in the current MotoAmerica paddock there are people who will violently recoil to any suggestion that BIR is unsafe for modern racing. But they make their living there and they tow the line. The track is in a better configuration in 2024 but it's still not safe enough.

I went back last year, to Brainerd. I stayed longer this time but still had zero comfort with the racetrack in the current configuration. I took aspirin this time, before I entered the track. It kind of helped.

Josh Hayes was still racing last year at Brainerd. He was still fast even though he was almost as old as I am. There was a time when we were close friends, traveled together in Europe and I helped talk him off the ledge after his Honda Daytona 200 disqualification debacle, but when DMG took over the series and Yamaha said I had to either paint my web site Yamaha blue and start pushing Cameron Beaubier as "the next Wayne Rainey" and Hayes as the heir apparent to Mat Mladin or I'd get zero financial support, I did not fall in line. True story. Many others did.

After that, I think, ours is a strained relationship, Josh Hayes and mine.

We successfully avoided one another so I didn’t have to ask him about the new Brainerd and he didn’t have to ask me what I thought. But luckily I was standing nearby when someone did ask him what he thought of the track.

"It's now a typical American racetrack," Hayes said. "I prefer the old track. I had success on the old track. I didn't win a lot of races on the old track but I ran at the front and finished well on. I looked forward to coming to that Brainerd."

"The old turn one," Hayes continued, "in my time, I rode some big bikes and little bikes through there. Formula Extreme were 1000cc back then and Superbikes were only 750s. Turn one was a bit unruly on the big bikes but 600s you were at full stick (WFO) into and through turn one. You held the throttle on the stop all the way in the and through the corner, then you'd bang down to fifth for turn two."

"This new track, all the way into the turn 7-8 complex, that's what I remember as Brainerd. The old track was just so much fun. It was just a rush.

Hayes continued, "For the Superbike race, every year, we'd all go down and watch the race from the access road by turn one. It would be a complete rush to see that. You'd stand by that wall and watch the Superbikes go through there and it would take your breath away. You made sure you didn't do it until your races were over because if you watched that before the end of your weekend you'd be too damned scared to go through turn one. It was horrifying to watch as a spectator/racer."

"This new track, I don't know. I don't understand ... it's kind of a parking lot race," Hayes said in summation.

It's not ours anymore.
— ends —
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