Jeff Byrd, Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway President and General Manager, passed away Sunday, Oct. 17, following a lengthy illness. He was 60.
The dynamic Byrd, one of the most respected and admired leaders in racing, had been at the helm of BMS since January of 1996 when Speedway Motorsports, Inc., purchased the Bristol facility. Under his leadership, the track became the most popular venue on the NASCAR tour. Prior to his move to BMS, Byrd served 23 years in the sports marketing department at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., departing as vice president of business development. He began his career as a sportswriter at the Winston-Salem Journal.
Byrd is survived by his wife of 36 years, Claudia, daughter Belton Caldwell and her husband Jerry, son Christian Byrd and his wife Amy, seven grandchildren and an extended family of more than 70 fellow employees.
“From his days as a sportswriter to his time at R.J. Reynolds to the last 14 years, Jeff Byrd was one of the greatest promoters both stock car and drag racing has known,” said Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO O. Bruton Smith. “To say his passing leaves a void would be an understatement.
“Simply put, Jeff got it. He understood that more than what happened on the track, it was the experience that fans took home with them that stayed in their memories. And those fans, and the people he worked with at Bristol Motor Speedway, were truly like family to him. Because of the mindset that he possessed, Jeff will stay in our hearts and memories forever. ”
A 35-year veteran in the sports marketing profession, Byrd was involved in the development and implementation of a multitude of sports and event marketing programs across the sports spectrum.
Byrd was extremely active in numerous civic organizations and had made a tremendous impact in the Tri-Cities community, as well as his church, First Presbyterian in Kingsport, where he was a longtime member. He was involved with a number of charitable groups and he and his wife Claudia organized and spearheaded the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities, a non-profit agency dedicated to aiding children in need in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Byrd received his B.A. degree in history and politics from Wake Forest University.
Jeff Byrd’s family invites his friends to join them in celebrating Jeff’s life at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, at Grace Fellowship Church, 2314 South Greenwood Drive, Johnson City, Tenn., with Dr. Greg Jordan and Dr. David Cagle officiating.
A community appreciation service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, in the infield at Bristol Motor Speedway. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Jeff Byrd Foundation, c/o Kingsport Community Foundation, 625 Market Street, Suite 1400, Knoxville, TN 37902. Donations also can be made through the website at www.easttennesseefoundation.org.