BRISTOL, Va. — Following a one-year hiatus, Food City is poised to move its Family Race Night event back to State Street, but it may assume a new identity.
The 29-year-old racing-themed fan event is expected to return downtown Aug. 14 to its traditional location along State Street, from Volunteer Parkway and Commonwealth Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Organizers also want to include portions of Lee and Cumberland streets, along with Piedmont Avenue on the Virginia side.
The Bristol Virginia City Council is scheduled to vote on the street closing request at its meeting tonight.
“We missed being downtown,” Kevin Stafford, Food City’s vice president of marketing, said Tuesday. “It’s a day earlier on Wednesday, but we’re excited. If everything works that we’re working on, it will be a great event downtown.”
Race Night had been held downtown for more than 20 years, attracting thousands of race fans as part of Bristol Motor Speedway’s traditional August race week, including the Food City 300 Xfinity Series race on Friday and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Saturday.
It was abruptly shifted to BMS last August after NASCAR switched the UNOH 200 truck series race from Wednesday night to Thursday night, conflicting with Race Night’s traditional date. The trucks and K&N Series will again kick off racing at the track on Thursday, Aug. 15.
Officials of the Abingdon-based grocery chain look forward to being downtown again.
“Last year, we did an experiment. They moved the race, so we tried to co-locate our Food City Family Race Night to the track last year. We had to do it earlier because it was an event day, and we really didn’t like the feel of it. Our Race Night event downtown has been so great over the years; it really is all about bringing the community together. We missed the downtown feel,” Stafford said.
Assuming the street closings are approved, the event could take on a new identity with an expanded lineup of music in the community dubbed the birthplace of country music.
“It may not be Food City Family Race Night. It may be Bristol Race Party, we don’t know exactly. It will have some sort of racing feel to it, but it may evolve into more than just a race event,” he said. “We’ll have some musical elements as always. We’re working on some concerts for downtown, and, if that all works out, it’s going to be a huge event.”
That is welcome news for downtown merchants, according to Maggie Bishop, executive director of Believe in Bristol.
“It’s an event the locals and race fans look forward to every year, and we’re looking forward to having that excitement back in downtown Bristol,” Bishop said.
Race Night historically includes a mixture of driver autographs and activities, food sampling and other vendors downtown with some musical acts sprinkled in. Stafford said they expect to have a good lineup of drivers to greet fans, even if the event is in the middle of the week.
“We feel pretty confident with the truck series guys and K&N [series] guys will be able to participate,” he said, adding they are already working to also secure commitments from drivers in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series and Xfinity Series.
The Twin City hosted a smaller, standalone event last year on Wednesday night of race week, and some of those elements might become part of this year’s lineup.
“We’re going to meet with the cities here in a week or two to talk about different things that we can work together with Bristol Motor Speedway to bring an awesome event back to State Street,” Stafford said.