News & Media

1on1: Caldwell settling into new gig at Bristol

March 15, 2011, Joe Menzer,

General manager excited to honor Byrd with race weekend ... and some cake

As a father of four young children and less than four months into his new job as general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, Jerry Caldwell is a busy man.

He wouldn't have it any other way. Caldwell, 35, was named GM at Bristol in November following the untimely death of his mentor, Jeff Byrd, who passed away last Oct. 17 following a lengthy illness. The former vice president of corporate sales for BMS, Caldwell talked with NASCAR.COM about the challenges of balancing fatherhood and the new job, plus honoring the legacy of the popular and innovative Byrd at this weekend's Jeff Byrd 500 and beyond.

Question: Even though you took over under difficult circumstances because of Jeff's passing, could you talk about how special it will be to honor him this weekend?

Caldwell: Well, it's going to be wonderful. It's our 50th anniversary this year. This season has kicked off to a great start. There is a lot of excitement out there. For us to be able to celebrate our 50th anniversary and bring it all together with the Jeff Byrd 500 presented by Food City is just very exciting. I mean, how often is a company going to give up one of their marquee marketing initiatives to honor a friend? For us to be able to do that because of the generosity of the Food City folks is just huge.

Q: When Food City officials told you of this idea to give up their naming rights and rename the race after Jeff, what was your initial reaction?

Caldwell: I got a bit emotional when Steve [C. Smith, president and CEO of Food City] threw it out there. We had just wrapped up our negotiation. Just the two of us were hanging out talking about some other things, and he asked what we were going to do to honor Jeff. I shared some ideas with him, told him that we had formed a committee here at work and we were letting every employee provide input on what he or she would like to see happen. And then he said, 'Well, we've got an idea here at Food City.' And when he told me what it was, I was in shock.

He told me to take some time and talk to the family, talk to Bruton [Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and Caldwell's boss] and make sure they all are comfortable with it. We did all that, and everybody I mentioned it to jumped at the opportunity and said it was a perfect tribute. Jeff wouldn't have liked all the attention being on him, but he would have loved putting on an event like this for our race fans. He was always concerned about the race fans.

Q: And it's the track's 50th anniversary as well?

Caldwell: Yes, and Food City has teamed with Little Debbie's to make sure everyone in attendance will get a little cake. So everyone is getting some birthday cake. Jeff would have loved that.

"Yeah, I don't even know what [golf] looks like anymore. I don't get the chance to do that very much. But that's OK. I'm couldn't be happier with everything else I'm doing these days."


Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

Caldwell: I grew up in Lexington, N.C., right outside Winston-Salem [N.C.]. I actually met Jeff when I lived there and was growing up. I worked at Tanglewood Park, which is a county park there in Winston-Salem. I ended up coming up here [to Tennessee] to King's College and right after Bruton purchased the track my senior year in college, I had some time on my hands and saw Jeff had been hired. I called him and said, 'I don't know if you remember me, but I'd love to come over there and help you out in some way if I could.'

I actually was a finance major. I was going to go into banking. But I always loved the sport and loved sports marketing. Managing events is what I really enjoyed doing. Jeff told me, 'Come on over here and work with us, or we'll let you go work for a bank for a year and if you don't like that, come back here in a year and work for us.' I decided to come over and join the team and I've loved every minute of it.

Much like Jeff, who said he never had a real job, I guess I've never had a real job. I've always worked at the race track. It's been fun.

Q: So you came there right out of college and you've been working there 14 years, but you're only 35?

Caldwell: Correct.

Q: So you're pretty young to be a father of four, right?

Caldwell: I have my hands full. And a great wife, to be sure. My son has a birthday soon and will be five. My [twin] daughters are three. And then I have another daughter who is six months old.

Q: How do you like being a dad?

Caldwell: There's nothing better. It's insane all the time, but I love it.

Q: What kind of stuff do you like to do away from the track?

Caldwell: You know, at this point in my life, anything outdoors is fun. But a lot of it is around our kids. That becomes my life away from the track. We're always playing outside, going to the park. We love going to the beach. We don't get to go there very much, but we love it when we do.

Q: Does your oldest have a handle on what you do for a living?

Caldwell: He loves to come to work with Daddy. He loves race cars. Any time there are race cars on TV, he wants to stop and watch 'em. He loves Kyle Busch because he's in the M&Ms car. He's a sports guy who likes basketball and baseball and soccer. He can swing a golf club. He'll do anything.

Q: Did you play sports growing up?

Caldwell. Oh yeah. I played basketball, tennis, golf ... a little bit of everything.

Q: Maybe you'd better make sure your son is swinging a golf club -- because it sounds like playing with him might be the only way you get to hit the golf course for a while?

Caldwell: Yeah, I don't even know what that game looks like anymore. I don't get the chance to do that very much. But that's OK. I couldn't be happier with everything else I'm doing these days.