There are certain holiday traditions that bring fun and lasting memories for families in our community. I’m sure that a popular one for most of us is visiting Speedway In Lights at Bristol Motor Speedway. This spectacular event is celebrating 16 years and is unique for the simple fact that it brings joy to children every holiday season, while also benefiting many agencies working with children.
Long before most of us are thinking about Christmas, in early September, the operations department at BMS starts thinking about the first preparations for the lights. With a total of over one million bulbs that need to be checked, the process is tedious. But the end result is worth the time and work.
Claudia Byrd, volunteer executive director for Bristol's chapter of Speedway Children's Charities, said "the proceeds from Speedway In Lights has assisted so many agencies in our community, and the lives of numerous children have been made better from the money received."
With approximately 25 hard-working individuals in the operations department, a lot of passion goes into their work - setting up the displays and performing daily maintenance. Most of the displays are designed and built in-house and it usually takes around one week to complete the building process.
"After the displays are up, it takes up to three days to do a final check on all the bulbs. Once Speedway In Lights is open, there is a crew constantly driving around the grounds looking for displays that may need replacement bulbs or roadway lights that need to be repaired," said Billy Kerns, senior director of operations.
After the last car is through the speedway, a crew starts working on shutting down the lights for the night and making any necessary repairs. On weekends, they may be there until 3 a.m. making sure everything is ready for the next evening.
Senior electrician Josh King and Kerns both agree that the best thing about working on the lights' display is watching the community come together to enjoy the experience, and knowing that all the proceeds are helping so many children in the area. Several weeks before the event opens, community volunteers and family members of the employees join together to work on finishing details for the light displays.
"Volunteers are always welcome to assist and I will find a place for them to volunteer. Donations also are always graciously accepted for Speedway Children’s Charities," said Byrd.
There are also some new changes taking place this year, with the most significant one being the new route starting at the Bristol Dragway entrance. The new route will offer a fresh look at Speedway In Lights as guests start the enchanting drive just off Hwy. 394. A complete map of the route, along with the new entrance, can be found at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com.
The operations department is also responsible for setting up the popular Ice Rink and Chill Hill. The Johnson Controls Ice Rink will open this year on Nov. 15 and is the only rink within a 90-minute driving radius of BMS. Both are open through Jan. 13, but will be closed each Monday for routine maintenance.
"We usually receive requests around $1 million from various children’s agencies in the area and we bring in approximately $650,000," Byrd said.
When you bring your family for an evening of fun and memory-making, remember all the work that started months ago to make your magical night. Speedway In Lights not only is a spectacular light show, but every participant is helping to provide donations to assist the needs of children in our local community.