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Jeff Byrd 1950-2010
Jeff Byrd was regarded by both his peers and the general racing enthusiast as one of the most influential track operators and promoters in all of motorsports. Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Jeff was like most of his fellow teenagers in his interest of “really neat” fast cars. But he was more interested in the world of marketing and promotional products including high-performance cars. After graduating from Wake Forrest Universtiy Jeff went to work as a sportswriter at the Winston-Salem Journal covering the local sports world. Before long however he became involved in developing and implementing a multitude of sports that included the world of automobile racing.
In 1973 Jeff left the newspaper and went to work at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company as one of its marketing experts where he soon was made its Vice President of Business Development. His knowledge of both of drag racing and NASCAR enabled Jeff to propose and secure for Reynolds one of the most visible sponsorship titles ever at the nation’s leading NHRA, IHRA, and NASCAR race tracks. The sports marketing group at R.J. Reynolds was the gold standard of sponsorship activation in professional sports.
As much as he enjoyed his tenure at R.J. Reynolds in 1996 Jeff was hired by Speedway Motors Chairman Burton Smith to oversee Smith’s interest at Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway. In this position Jeff was able to guide the facility through a total rebuild of the drag strip and a major facelift of the oval track that’s still to this day holds the record for consecutive sellouts of one of the largest venues in motorsports. Prior to this time the drags trip had operated for some time under the wing of IHRA but as the track was being renovated Jeff also returned the track to NHRA sanction.
With Jeff at the helm, the drag strip hosted two successful all-star events before joining the NHRA touring circuit as host of a national event soon dubbed the Thunder Valley Nationals. In addition to this event Jeff established and promoted several other very successful special events throughout the year at the drag strip including car shows, concerts, etc. On the oval tracks Jeff didn’t limit the use of the big stadium to just racing but made it into one that also hosts football games, concerts, and many other captivating events.
One of Jeff’s most endearing traits was his passion and friendship to the entire hot rodding/racing community. He was always available with a bit of sage advice whether it was for a racer seeking sponsorship or to help one of the sponsors get more bang for its buck. He made a lasting impact with literally every person he encountered. A major part of his success was his ability to build meaningful relationships with all of the drivers, team owners, crewmembers, sanctioning body officials, and fans within the entire racing arena. He led and lived by the mantra of “exceed expectations” which he carried through everything he did at the track and in the communities, he resided in.
In addition to receiving the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame award, Jeff has also collected a number of other honors over the years including induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. It should be noted that in 2011 the sponsor of the major NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Food City, named the race in Jeff’s honor. Prior to his death one of Jeff’s major goals was to open BMS to a major nonautomotive event specifically the big football annual rivalry game between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech that would bring new