BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Bristol chapter of the Speedway Children’s Charities raised a grand total of $804,560 in 2023 for many child-focused agencies across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Throughout the year, the chapter raised money for these agencies, and “The Night of Smiles” is the annual night when they present these agencies with checks.

“This is the night that we work all year for and what we do is the grantmaking,” Betsy Holleman, Senior Manager of Development for Speedway Children’s Charities said. “We raise that money to give back out to the people who are actually on the front lines, the hands and feet of this community. Our job is pretty simple. Raise money, give it out. They’re the ones who have the difficult jobs of changing the trajectory of lives of children, day to day.”

Funds are raised through events like the annual Drive for Charity Golf Tournament, Red Bucket Brigade and the annual Pinnacle Speedway In Lights.

Claudia Byrd, Executive Director of the Bristol chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities said “The Night of Smiles” is her favorite night of the year.

“I asked if I could be director of this chapter of the charities because it was a great way for me to get to know the community and to get to meet people,” Byrd said. “But I was passionate about giving back to children, so it was just a perfect fit for me.”

Her late-husband, Jeff Byrd was the president of Bristol Motor Speedway and is who the $50,000 Jeff Byrd Grant is named after.

The Family Crisis Support Services based in Norton, Virginia was awarded the Jeff Byrd grant. They offer advocacy, support groups, housing, domestic violence and sexual assault emergency shelters, a 24-hour hotline, youth prevention and community education for five counties in Southwest Virginia.

Michael Wampler from The Family Crisis Support Services holding Jeff Byrd Grant check along with Betsy Holleman and Claudia Byrd (Photo: WJHL)

They have just built a 72-bed emergency shelter in Wise County. The funds from the grant will help them provide an ADA-compliant playground for that campus.

“This was very unexpected,” Michael Wampler, Program Development Administrator for Family Crisis Support Services said. “We’re so happy to get this award. It will go a long way to completing our playground, and it was much needed and much appreciated.”

Wampler said the ADA-compliant playground will have a wonderful impact on those they help in the community.

“Children come to an emergency shelter and it’s really kind of just a lost feeling of ‘where am I’, but with the playground, everything seems kind of normal when they go to a playground,” Wampler said.

Byrd said it was hard choosing out of the many charities which one to award the grant to, but that The Family Crisis Support Services was a great choice.

“If they can have something like a great playground for these kids to be able to use, it’s just going to make a huge difference,” Byrd said. “And so if everything else is new, the playground, the state of the art playground that’s handicapped accessible. Because it’s children, they’re a victim of circumstance. It’s not their fault that they’re where they are. You want to make their life as normal as you can.”

The Pinnacle Speedway in Lights is the largest fundraiser for the Speedway Children’s Charities. It starts on Nov. 18 and runs until Jan. 6.

“When people come through, they’ve got to remember they’re not only hoping to have a great time but just coming to Speedway in Lights is going to make a difference in thousands of children’s lives,” Byrd said.