Motor racing: New top track burns rubber – Duluth News Tribune

SUPERIOR — Brian Johnson has been a lifelong Superior resident, but he didn’t even know the old Copper Creek Motorsports Park existed until early last year.

Brian Johnson, owner of Black River Motorsports Park, talks about some of the work he and his friends did on the track on Wednesday July 27.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

The facility, 8 miles south of Superior just off Wisconsin Highway 35, had fallen into disrepair in recent years and become a graveyard for illegal dumps.

The dilapidated, vacant Bugsy’s Bar near the entrance to Copper Creek greeted Johnson when he pulled off the freeway to shoot footage for a YouTube video he was working on.

“Then I saw this building and I was like, ‘What’s behind it? “, Johnson said.

It was the former announcer’s booth at Copper Creek Motorsports Park, a two-story shack that stuck out like a sore pollex.

Johnson did some research and a few months later was the new owner of the old go-kart facility. He had in mind a slightly different use of motorsport. His vision was more like “Tokyo Drift,” from the Fast and the Furious film franchise that helped spark a motorsports sensation in the United States.

Johnson’s facility will feature drifting – a judged competition where the driver intentionally oversteers, loses traction but still holds the car through the turns – and autocross, a competition where cars are driven through a course of conical obstacles.

Welcome to the new Black River Motorsports Park.

“I knew the course, but I didn’t really put any cars on it because in my mind at the time it was go-karting,” Johnson’s pal Eric Mack said. “But as we were coming out here, it was like, ‘Yeah, we could definitely do that here. It’s definitely doable here. We were always looking for a place where we could take videos or do burnouts or whatever.

Mack’s 12-year-old son, Cole, agreed.

“Since Brian got the track, I’ve been looking for fun toys to have here,” Cole said. “We had dirt bikes which were super fun here to go around the track.”

Barriers line the track at Black River Motorsports Park
Barriers line the track at Black River Motorsports Park on Wednesday, July 27, south of Superior on Wisconsin Highway 35.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Fast track to improvement

The Black River Motorsports Park comprises 20 acres and three tracks. In addition to the asphalt track already mentioned, there was a dirt go-kart oval which is now a pond, and a track out back intended for track car racing which never materialized.

Johnson’s focus is on asphalt, which includes the remnants of the 0.8-mile Apollo drag strip that long predated Copper Creek Motorsports Park.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, you could hear the pop-pop-pop of the Superior Trap and Gun Club through the woods that serve as the track’s backdrop. The area is scenic and often much warmer than the lakeside town, especially in the spring. In addition to concerts and other community gatherings, Johnson, 30, could possibly have a small campground.

Like the classic Johnny Cash song, Johnson and Co. puts together “One Piece at a Time.”

“We’ve done this over the last year on a time and money basis,” Johnson said. “Things get expensive as you would expect when you buy bulk barriers and paving. It all adds up very quickly, so we try to pay as we go instead of having a mountain of expenses, which doesn’t make sense. I try to keep it manageable.

Cole Mack, 12, of Superior, places cones along the track at Black River Motorsports Park
Cole Mack, 12, of Superior, places cones along the track at Black River Motorsports Park south of Superior on Wednesday, July 27.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Trees had grown along the fence and had to be felled. The cracks in the pavement had become overgrown. Everything needed a good coat of paint. A homeless man was sleeping in the garage and later on the bus near the bar. The earth had become a horror and a dumping ground.

Johnson was asked if the project was more work than he thought.

“Yeah, way more,” he said, letting out a big laugh. “Even just mowing the grass and all that alone is a lot.”

Workers recently opened up a 10-by-100-foot space that connects pavement sections that already existed, opening up all sorts of motorsport possibilities. In addition to labour, the project paid off financially. Johnson has already invested $15,000 in equipment and materials on site, including barriers, asphalt and gravel.

Johnson, however, wanted to highlight one key point, which he said gave the project additional meaning. He said it was more than just him and his friends having fun on the weekends. It went beyond. He didn’t do this alone.

“It’s more about community,” he said. “The automotive community is truly amazing. There are many good people who have come out of the woodwork and helped out. They just have an interest, and they’ve provided a lot of help, which has been amazing. It’s a good thing, it’s cool. There have been many good people here.

Smoke billows from the tires of Eric Mack's Ford Mustang GT
Smoke rises from the tires of Eric Mack’s Ford Mustang GT as it burns out at Black River Motorsports Park south of Superior on Wednesday July 27.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Johnson, who graduated from senior high school in 2009, loved cars in high school, worked on stuff in shop class, and drove to Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway for drag races and other events when he could.

“All my friends were drifting when we got out of high school, so I’ve been kinda into it all this time,” Johnson said.

Johnson still lives in the East End of Superior with his wife, Hannah Wells. The couple have a son, William, and a baby girl on the way. Johnson works for the railroad and has a YouTube channel called GreenLightFilming that features motorsports content.

“We searched for many years for a place to do autocrosses, specifically, but I hit a lot of dead ends,” Johnson said.

When people have passion, they go to extremes, even if it means breaking the law. Wells described how once Johnson’s team even used a park-and-ride like it was a motorsport field…anywhere you can do a burnout.

“Wherever they could find where they were least likely to get in trouble,” Wells said with a laugh.

Cole Mack, 12, of Superior, sports a Black River Motorsports Park shirt
Cole Mack, 12, of Superior, wears a Black River Motorsports Park t-shirt at the track just south of Superior on Wednesday, July 27.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Places like the BIR, and now the Black River Motorsports Park, are a way to take an entertaining, but potentially dangerous exhibit off the streets and make it as safe as possible.

Wells was all for her husband’s continued ownership.

“I never said, ‘No, don’t,’ because for years he wanted to do these things,” Wells said. “I would much rather he do it somewhere he can (she laughs again), than try to find a random route or something. There is nothing like it here. Brainerd is a reader, so the idea was that while it doesn’t turn into a big business, it’s a place where our kids can play and his friends can come and hang out.

No problem with that.

“And it’s really fun to watch,” Wells added, “but I wouldn’t want to get in the car.

The establishment had planned a fundraiser for the Lions Club in June which fell apart as soon as the music started. Next up is the Machines and Caffeine Car Show on September 18, featuring beer, kids and burnouts.

Eric Mack's Ford Mustang GT speeds between cones and a barricade at Black River Motorsports Park
Eric Mack’s Ford Mustang GT speeds between cones and a barricade at Black River Motorsports Park on Wednesday July 27.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Mack showed off his 2007 Ford Mustang GT and Johnson gave him some tips.

“You don’t have to go hard,” Johnson said, before whispering under his breath, “He’s going to go hard.”

Mack did just that, but not too hard. This Mustang, as Mack pointed out, “has no scratches on it,” and Mack plans to keep it that way, unlike most drift cars. Mack said he wouldn’t even do autocross with that Mustang because he didn’t want the cones brushing it off.

Drifting cars can be beaten. Some drivers even reinforce wheel arches to minimize potential damage when a tire blows out. Tires are, after all, meant to go forward, not next to.

“Usually it’s big engines, small cars,” Mack said of the popular V-8-powered Nissans. “You get points when you get close to the wall, kind of sinking into it a bit. It’s a very technical ride; it’s not just about going out and exhausting yourself for 20 minutes. It’s super technical, but that’s kind of the goal, to see how far you can drift your car, about to push it out of control and right against the wall, but without hitting the wall.

Little Mack agreed but added that it wasn’t as easy as some might make it out to be.

“It’s kind of scary when you’re trying to hold on,” Cole said, drawing yet another laugh on an afternoon full of them. And that’s part of the fun.

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