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Food City, Bristol celebrate partnership milestone

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Next weekend's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (April 24, 1 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) marks the 25-year sponsorship anniversary between the grocery chain and the track.

 

Yes, 25 years. The Silver Anniversary is a testament, of course, to a perfect pairing of brands that both receive great value from their partnership.

Even now, the Food City sponsorship of Bristol Motor Speedway's spring Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event is as strong as ever. It is the second-longest race entitlement in NASCAR, trailing only the Coca-Cola sponsorship of the 600-mile May race at Charlotte.

Initially, it wasn't a long-term deal between the two, but after the 1992 Food City 500, officials were ready to return as soon as the next season. 

"We signed the (initial) agreement and we had a great first race," Steve Smith, Food City President and CEO, previously told NASCAR.com. "Alan Kulwicki actually won our first race in 1992; I remember that well. We were off and running."

Smith said his company, founded by his father, Jack, became involved at the right time in the sport, when the fan base was on the upswing, TV coverage was gaining traction and sponsorship dollars were flowing.

"What happened with Bristol was really indicative of what was happening with NASCAR -- it was just growing and growing," he said. "Five years later, Bruton (Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc., founder) bought the track and things just really started to escalate here with the amenities and the things that they did for the race fans. ... Folks love coming here, they love the racing environment, and they love, I think, the southern hospitality.

"We try, as a sponsor, to do a lot of things to get them in here a little bit early, whether it's Food City Race Night or other events to really make it a full week of fun for the race fan."


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In addition to the Monster Energy Series sponsorship, the company also sponsors the August NASCAR XFINITY Series event at Bristol. While there have been times that spending money on race entitlement rights might have been questionable, Smith said, "I don't think there's ever been a time when we really thought about dropping the race."

The return for Food City, he said, comes in many forms. No. 1 is name recognition.

"We're a relatively small regional company," Smith said. "But it's a sense of pride for our associates, our customers who know we sponsor racing. NASCAR fans are very loyal, they're loyal to the brands that are involved whether it's Food City or other consumer products sponsors. We think it helps us sell more products and bring more people in to our stores."

In February 2014, Food City and BMS officials announced a five-year extension for the naming rights of the track's spring race. So the relationship will continue through 2019 -- at least.

"At the end of the day, it's hard to put a financial statement together that proves that it's a great spend, but we've been doing good ever since we been sponsoring racing so we don't want to stop there," Smith said.

 

-- Kenny Bruce contributed to this article

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