BRISTOL — Officials from Food City and Bristol Motor Speedway announced a five-year extension of the grocery chain’s sponsorship of the March NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race during a Thursday morning press conference.
Besides the Food City 500 sponsorship agreement, other news included a 50-lap expansion of the track’s August Nationwide Series race, now to be known as the Food City 300, and a number of fan incentives. A couple of those gives current season-ticket holders an extra ticket to the March Sprint Cup race and race-ticket holders discounts on gasoline.
Food City has served as primary sponsor of the Bristol spring race since 1992. It is the second longest sponsorship of a Sprint Cup race, only behind the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
“It will take us through the 25th anniversary. That’s something, being a local company and a family company, we can be proud of,” said Steve Smith, K-VA-T Foods President and CEO. “When you look at marketing, you try to look at how can we connect to our customers and how can we drive more customers into our stores.
“A lot of things have changed since we started as a race sponsor, but we still feel our core customer is a NASCAR fan. Being associated with Bristol Motor Speedway, it opens a lot of doors for us, especially when we go into new communities. We’ve been growing and doing well since we’ve been a race sponsor.”
Financial terms were not disclosed, although Smith said there was a good price tag involved. Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell described a relationship between Food City and track officials as friends more than business associates as a key to getting the deal done.
“It’s unheard of this day and time to hear of a five-year extension or a partnership that goes 25-plus years,” Caldwell said. “When a relationship lasts that long, you begin to view each other more than business associates. You become friends and family.
“It’s exciting for this region. We feel Bristol Motor Speedway is important to this region and obviously, Food City is one of the largest employers in this region. For us to be able to partner with our friends, we’re able to help build that Food City brand.”
Smith talked in length about the friendship he shared with former BMS President, the late Jeff Byrd, and there have been parallels in the growth between the two entities. The speedway has grown from a capacity of 71,000 when Bruton Smith bought the track from Larry Carrier in 1996 to a current capacity of 160,000.
The grocery chain, which employees over 13,000 people, now includes 105 supermarkets as well as a 1.1 million square-foot distribution center in Abingdon, Va. New stores are planned in Johnson City, Morristown and Knoxville later this year, and an expansion of Johnson City’s South Roan location is also scheduled.
Since 1987, the company has hosted Food City Family Race Night, one of the largest fan events in the country held in conjunction with a NASCAR race. The company also served as an associate sponsor on Dale Earnhardt’s black No. 3 Chevrolet for three years starting in 1995.
Smith remembered a time both his father and company founder, the late Jack Smith, celebrated with Earnhardt in victory lane following the 1994 Food City 500.
“That was pretty exciting,” Smith said. “My dad was a big Dale Earnhardt fan and for him to be able to give Dale that trophy and to celebrate that, that was quite a unique experience.”
The decision to add 50 laps to the August Nationwide Series race was one that had to be approved by NASCAR. It comes eight years after the spring race at Bristol was expanded to the same distance.
“We heard from race fans, they would like 50 more laps,” Caldwell said. “We went to NASCAR and explained where we were. They agreed, and it was a very easy process. They were very accomadating.”
The new “Fuel for Fans” program was also unveiled. The program loads two fuel stops on the Food City ValuCard of BMS season-ticket holders and iBelong members.
“We wanted to say thank you to the loyal race fans who patronize our stores and this speedway,” Smith said. “We don’t want to just put our name on a race. We want to have interact with the fans, our customers, and make this a more special event.”