Food City Race Night in Downtown Bristol celebrates 25th Anniversary
When Food City officials conceived the idea to host a special event for race fans prior to the NASCAR races at Bristol Motor Speedway, they weren’t entirely sure fans would embrace it.
As it turns out, they had no reason for concern. Twenty-five years later, Food City Race Night is one of the largest and most successful fan events held in conjunction with races at any NASCAR venue.
Food City’s fan event was born in August of 1987. Taking place at one of the local stores, the main draw was legendary car owner and driver Junior Johnson, along with Terry Labonte, and a Budweiser show car.
Johnson and Labonte were the only NASCAR personalities in attendance that evening but the presence of a few hundred spectators convinced Food City officials a seed had been planted.
“Food City Family Race Night actually began with a single driver and show car appearance arranged by one of our vendors at the Eastman Road (Kingsport, Tenn.) Food City,” said Steven C. Smith, the company’s president and chief executive officer. “Our customers seemed to enjoy it, so we decided to repeat it the next year, adding a couple more drivers.
“Each year the event continued to grow in driver participation and attendance. When one of our vendors secured an appearance by Richard Petty, the store literally couldn’t hold all of the fans who came out. We knew we had to relocate to a larger space and as they say, the rest is history.”
With each passing year, more and more fans flocked to it, and in 1993 the event was moved to downtown Bristol. The number of drivers appearing at Food City Race Night increased each year with the likes of Petty and Dale Earnhardt attending as well as Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and others.
Smith says the event’s success was directly related to Food City coming on board as a sponsor at BMS in 1992.
“Food City Family Race Night helped us better understand the strong allegiance that the fans have to their favorite drivers and team owners,” said Smith. “That realization is really what prompted our decision to become the title sponsor of the Food City 500 in March and Food City 250 in August.”
The event, which now routinely draws 25-30,000 people, became so popular that it the decision was made three years ago to also have it during the March race weekend at BMS. For the spring race, Food City Race Night is held at BMS in the hospitality area while remaining in downtown Bristol in August.
This year, as Food City celebrates Race Night’s 25th anniversary, another grand event is planned for Thursday, Aug. 23. Plenty of drivers will be on the scene to sign autographs, along with live music, free food sampling, showcars, racing simulators and special appearances by numerous NASCAR celebrities.
“Food City Family Race Night is one way we give back to the fans for the tremendous loyalty and support they have shown our company throughout the years,” said Smith. “It’s a commitment we take very seriously, like many of the drivers and team owners who have made themselves accessible to their devoted fans. It’s what made the sport great and differentiated it from its competitors. Going forward, my greatest desire is to see that commitment thrive.”
Food City Race Night kicks off at 1 p.m. Aug. 23 and continues through 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $5 and can be purchased at selected Food City locations. Tickets will be $6 the day of the event with children 12 and under being admitted free of charge.
As always, proceeds from Food City Race Night will benefit local organizations. This year’s recipients are Abuse Alternatives and Healing Hands. More than $500,000 has been raised through Food City Race Night and donated to various area organizations over the past 25 years.
Further details concerning Food City Race Night can be found at the Food City Race Night page on Food City's website.