In two weeks the Sprint Cup Series will be making its annual March pilgrimage to what just may be the best stop on the entire schedule when it rolls into Bristol Motor Speedway. There are not enough adjectives to describe Bristol with its unique half-mile concrete oval and high-banked turns. Much of what we will see and experience at Bristol will be the same, but for longtime fans of the speedway there will be one thing missing.
Bristol lost its leader last October when President and General Manager Jeff Byrd passed away, after guiding the speedway for the last 15 years. During his tenure, Byrd was the man responsible for giving all of us fans the feeling that when it was time to load up and go to the east Tennessee track, that it was just like going home.
I have heard track workers often speak of Byrd in a manner much the way an athlete speaks of his coach. He was their best supporter and at the same time was able to instill in them that they were a team working together to make every fan’s visit the best possible.
Byrd made sure that you were never taken for granted as a fan of his speedway. He and his staff were constantly working to make everyone’s experience better with each visit. There was no problem too big or small for either him or his staff to handle. I know about this better than most as I showed up one spring with my camper loaded with enough food to feed a small army but left six sets of tickets on my desk. My problem was quickly taken care of as the staff went out of their way saying that I shouldn’t let something like that take away from my weekend.
You don’t forget that kind of attitude from workers nor do you forget how under Byrd the speedway attacked the problems caused by the economy when it came to ticket prices. The track set up a payment plan if you needed it, as well as a discount when you ordered your season tickets.
Byrd will also forever be remembered with the partnership that he and the track enjoyed with Food City and its president, Steven C. Smith. While many tracks have problems just getting a company to sign on as a race sponsor for one year, Food City has been the title sponsor of Bristol’s spring Sprint Cup race and August Nationwide race since 1992.
Food City recently extended its race sponsorship for three more years, making it the second-longest race sponsorship in NASCAR racing. Smith and Food City’s involvement just doesn’t occur on race day, it also sponsors two huge events for the fans. Food City Race Night is held on Bristol property in March during the Food City 500 weekend and it also sponsors a second Race Night on State Street in downtown Bristol in August during the Food City 250 week. Both of these events allow fans to get close-up looks at racecars, get driver autographs and walk away with a bag full of freebies while being treated to plenty of food.
As you can see, Food City and Bristol Motor Speedway have a