‘Race for Children’ set for Saturday at BMS, goal to help Speedway Children’s Charities

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BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — This Saturday, Bristol Motor Speedway will host an event in which you – not NASCAR drivers – get to race (sort of) on the high banks of Bristol.

The inaugural fundraiser event is called Race for the Children, and it’s the latest opportunity to support the region’s premier charity with a specific focus on children.

RELATED: News Channel 11 to partner with Food City, Speedway Children’s Charities to host ‘Race for the Children’

“Our sole goal is to raise money and make life better for the children of our region,” said Claudia Byrd, director of the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities.

SCC is the non-profit fundraising outreach Speedway Motorsports Incorporated, founded by O. Bruton Smith in memory of his son who died as an infant.

Claudia Byrd and her late husband, legendary BMS general manager Jeff Byrd, founded the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities 25 years ago.

Claudia Byrd founded the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities 25 years ago along with her late husband Jeff Byrd, the longtime general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. (photo: Speedway Children’s Charities)

In a moment of inspiration that would have implications they never imagined, the Byrds dreamed up a plan for a signature fundraiser event.

“We thought – how about a (Christmas) light show as our main fundraiser,” Byrd said. “We have a facility. It’s empty in the winter. It would keep everyone employed. Let’s do a light show!”

All the money raised would be given away to non-profit groups that help kids.

The result, Speedway in Lights, the annual holiday light show that’s drawn tens of thousands of people to the track.

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Claudia and Jeff Byrd started “Speedway in Lights” as a signature fundraiser for Speedway Children’s Charities. Visitors drive through the track and surrounding property enjoying holiday light shows that change every year.

“We had no idea if anyone would show up, and they did and have continued to do that and support us over the years,” Byrd said.

“We’ve given back over $17 million, but the need is greater now than its ever been,” Byrd said. “And you know – times are tough.”

In 2019 at the annual “Night of Smiles” event, Speedway Children’s Charities gave away almost a million dollars to non-profit organizations that serve children, all of whom had filled out a grant application. It was a an amazing year, but Claudia Byrd said she couldn’t help but think about the fact that agencies had submitted grant applications requesting more than a million dollars.

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Claudia Byrd calls it her favorite night of the year. The annual “Night of Smiles” event brings children’s charity organizers to the track for the awarding to grants from Speedway Children’s Charities.

Then in 2020, everything changed. Children’s charities were forced to change their operating plans and serve children in unprecedented ways. But pandemic restrictions forced the cancellation of some fundraising events and dramatically reduced race fan attendance at BMS, one of the prime sources for SCC donations.

“The need was out there, and it broke out hearts,” Byrd said. “We were blessed in that we could give some money away.” (Byrd said Speedway Children’s Charities managed to disperse more than $400,000 in 2020 – about half the amount compared to the year before.) “But we were heartbroken that the need was there, and we couldn’t meet those needs.”

This weekend, Speedway Children’s Charities hopes to begin the process of rebuilding with Race for the Children.

“Let’s do something – let’s open it up,” she said. “Let’s let people walk about the high banks of the track.”

Her hope is that the event and others in the months to come will make 2021 the year Speedway Children’s Charities can rebuild and help more kids than ever before.

“We do anything we can to try to make life better for kids,” she said.

You can help Speedway Children’s Charities this Saturday by attending “Race for the Children”.

The event starts at 8 a.m. and continues through 1 p.m. at the world-famous track in Bristol.

The morning starts with a special “track walk”. Kids can enjoy tailgate games, family relay races using Food City shopping carts, and plenty of food. Registration isn’t required, but donations to SCC are encouraged.

The highlight of the event will be a two-hour session of Track Laps presented by Drake’s. People will be able to drive their personal vehicles on the famed high-banked all-concrete oval for a $50 donation for 10 laps.

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