One of my favorite stops on the POWERade Drag Racing Series is the annual, late-summer visit to Brainerd.
Sure, there are newer facilities with better amenities elsewhere on the schedule. But for outright friendliness of the locals, party atmosphere among the fans and the feeling that NHRA drag racing is the most important thing on earth for a weekend, you just can't beat the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
One of the important cogs in the Brainerd wheel has been my media colleague, Clint Wood of the Brainerd Dispatch. It might be one of the smaller circulation newspapers covering drag racing, but Wood and his fellow staffers do a fantastic job promoting the race and providing interesting stories each day of the event. The racers and fans love the coverage and they gobble up the newspapers as they make their way through the gates each day.
The last time we visited Brainerd, I was surprised to hear that Wood was a sergeant in the Minnesota Army National Guard and that his outfit, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, had been activated and sent to Iraq.
Brainerd Dispatch photographer Clint Wood, who is serving in Iraq, shows off some of the drag racing goods he received.
A month or so ago, as the recent Christmas holidays approached, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail from Wood. It was just a quick note saying "Hi." I quickly wrote back, and through several e-mails, we each managed to catch up on what was happening on the other side of the world.
Eventually, I asked Wood if he ever came across drag racing fans over there. Of course, he said, all the time. Most of them, not surprisingly, were turning wrenches on the various combat vehicles used in the war effort.
"The motor pools are always a great place to meet soldiers into racing," Wood told me via e-mail. "Another guy I meet while on patrol at Anaconda (Logistical Support Area Anaconda) was into drag racing big-time. He knew all the racers and everything that was going on in the NHRA. We had a lot to talk about."
I asked Wood if he was allowed to receive big packages in the mail, and told him I was going to ask the race teams if they would send items to hand out to the soldiers at Christmastime.
"Anything we get over here from back home is huge," Wood wrote. "People really appreciate the support from everyone."
I immediately sent an e-mail to all the racers and PR people I deal with on a regular basis with Wood's war-zone address. Within a few days, the boxes started arriving. One after the other, the drivers and teams responded, and Wood soon was buried in a sea of drag-racing goodies. When Christmas arrived, he opened the bag of presents and started handing out his haul.
"It was such a morale boost," Wood said. "I remember this one soldier holding an autograph card signed by Kenny and Brandon Bernstein and he just couldn't believe his eyes. He was impressed. It was awesome. The response was great. Everyone was very appreciative."
And so it went. As Wood moved from Logistical Support Area Anaconda to Al Taqqadum and even Camp Fallujah, the NHRA had its own personal Santa Claus spreading a bit of good cheer in one of the most horrible places in the world.
"Spending the holidays here was very tough," Wood said. "Overall, our Brigade Combat Team is in pretty good spirits because we all know we'll be home in a few months. But missing my 4-year-old daughter celebrate Christmas was hard and I know everyone here had a similar story to tell.
"I did get to watch her open presents on a Webcam for a few minutes, so that was cool. That's basically what everyone has done - just make the best of it. Everyone decorated the best they could and it was almost cold enough for it to snow so it kind of felt like Christmas. That's about all you can do.
"At least we had some cool presents from the NHRA gang, and for that we're all very thankful."
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