What started with a few hundred spectators at the Kingsport, Tennessee Food City location to see Junior Johnson and Terry Labonte with their Budweiser show car in August 1987 has blossomed over three decades into one of the most envied partnerships on the NASCAR circuit between popular grocery retailer Food City and the iconic Bristol Motor Speedway.

From hosting Food City Family Race Night in the mid-1980s to becoming the longtime entitlement sponsor for the tradition-rich Food City 500 NASCAR Cup Series race each spring, Food City has certainly established itself as a primetime player in the world of major league stock car racing.

As the Food City 500 returns to its traditional concrete surface and Sunday afternoon race time, the company, which has grown by leaps and bounds during that time period, will celebrate its 34th anniversary in the sport. In 1992 the company had 4,800 employees and now that it has expanded into five states it boasts nearly 19,000 employees.

Bristol Motor Speedway President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell says the partnership has become more like family rather than two business entities. Food City’s run is the second-longest for a race sponsor in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Today, executives from both organizations gathered in the BMS Media Center to talk about how successful the partnership has been and how they are both looking forward to this weekend’s race with the Cup Series cars on concrete.

Two weeks ago NASCAR drivers Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones and Zane Smith helped BMS officials get a throwback project for painting underway on the new-look track walls that are going back to the vintage red and white design from the 1992 season when Food City first sponsored the Food City 500. It was fitting today that Food City President/CEO Steven C. Smith and Food City VP of Marketing Kevin Stafford, along with several area store managers helped to provide the finishing touches on the paint project.

“This is so much fun and it takes us back a few years for sure,” Smith said. “It seems like only yesterday when we were in Victory Lane with Alan Kulwicki celebrating his 1992 Food City 500 victory. That was such a special time for our company and one that we fondly look back on with amazement.”

Smith said once he saw his customers reaction to their successful fan events he knew he wanted to expand his company’s footprint within the sport and the timing was right to lock in the race entitlements with the track.

“When we started the Food City Family Race Night in 1987 our customers seemed to really enjoy it, so we decided to repeat it the next year and added a couple more drivers. Each year the event continued to grow and when we worked with a vendor to get Richard Petty to attend, the store literally couldn’t hold all of the fans who came out. We knew then we were on to something great and we needed to relocate to a larger space, and as they say, the rest is history.”

For Bristol Motor Speedway, the relationship has been a perfect fit.

“We are so blessed to have such an amazing partner like Food City to help us put on our spring NASCAR Cup Series race and our September Xfinity Series race, the Food City 300,” Caldwell said. “The team at Food City has become like family to each of the staff members at Bristol Motor Speedway and we have such gratitude for their involvement and the collaboration we have with them to make each and every race weekend very special for the fans. We both share that as our number one goal, to make sure the fans have an incredible experience.”

Over the years the relationship has grown in many directions. Today you can purchase grandstand tickets in any Food City store while out on a grocery run. You can also head to the Food City Grab-n-Go in the BMS Concourse near Gate 16 and grab snacks, popcorn, drinks and more while you are at the track enjoying the racing.

“It is so rare in professional sports to have a sponsorship that grows into one with a longstanding commitment,” Caldwell said. “To have a passionate partner like Food City certainly achieves that status and we look forward to continuing to grow our partnership for many years to come.”

The Bristol race weekend will feature action in the NASCAR Cup Series with the tradition-rich Food City 500 on Sunday afternoon, March 17 (3:30 p.m., FOX and PRN Radio) with current champ Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin leading the way.

Saturday afternoon’s (March 16) Bush’s Beans Practice and Bush’s Beans Qualifying for both the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will set the starting lineups for each race and precede Saturday night’s WEATHER GUARD® Truck Race. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series stars Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger, Nick Sanchez, Corey Heim, Ty Dillon and Christian Eckes, among others, are scheduled to take the green flag at 8 p.m. ET for the 250-lap thriller (FS1, MRN Radio).

To purchase tickets for the Food City 500 or the WEATHER GUARD® Truck Race, please visit the BMS website, or call the BMS Ticket Sales Center at (866) 415-4158. For a limited time tickets can also be purchased at your neighborhood Food City store.

Food City is Bristol Motor Speedway’s longest running sponsor and the second-longest in NASCAR. Headquartered in Abingdon, Virginia, K-VA-T Food Stores (Foody City’s parent company) operates 154 retail outlets throughout southeast Kentucky, southwest Virginia, east Tennessee, north Georgia and Alabama. For more information, visit their website at www.foodcity.com.