First Tennessee ups involvement with auto racing

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   BRISTOL--It was big racing day by First Tennessee Bank on Wednesday, with the financial institution announcing a five-year extension of its role as the financial services provider of Bristol Motor Speedway, and their first sponsorship of a Winston Cup car.
   About renewing the sponsorship with the favorite track on the NASCAR circuit, Newt Raff, president of First Tennessee for Northeast Tennessee stated: "We're very excited about being involved with the Bristol Motor Speedway for the next five years. You can't imagine having a better partner.
   "This is the number one ticket. It's hard to believe, but there are so many more people at Bristol Motor Speedway than at UT football or anything else. It's amazing to see 165,000 to 170,000 people here."
   Added BMS track president and general manager Jeff Byrd: "The last three years have witnessed the building of a truly solid business relationship between First Tennessee and Bristol Motor Speedway. We are excited knowing we will be working together for the future of both companies, the sport of racing and the people of the communities across the state."
   Unveiled was a new No. 77 Jasper Motorsports Ford with red, white and blue colors and First Tennessee signage. Although the team normally runs the logos of parent company Jasper Engines in the primary sponsorship role, the opportunity for driver Dave Blaney to steer a First Tennessee car at Bristol was too good to pass up.
   "160,000 people are going to be here," said team owner Doug Bawel. "Dave has raced well here before, but we have never finished that well before. You can get caught up in an accident and it can easily happen at Bristol Motor Speedway.
   "We're excited. We're going to do additional testing on concrete tracks to prepare for this race. I can't tell you how much we want to get that car on the track and see what we can do."
   Added Raff, "NASCAR is a hugely popular sport in Tennessee and it only makes sense that the state's most successful financial services company would support something that's important to so many of its customers. I have to admit our logo looks like it was designed to fit on that No. 77 car."
   Expectations are high as Raff pointed out Blaney had scored three top ten finishes the early part of the 2003 season and currently ranks 19th in the Winston Cup point standings. The team also set on the pole for the Subway 400 at Rockingham.
   It was also announced there will be a sweepstakes called the Ultimate Bristol Experience, where the grand prize winners will receive four suite tickets to the Sharpie 500 and lodging for the weekend.
   To celebrate the announcements, the company sponsored rides for the media, First Tennessee officals and with race drivers from the Richard Petty Driving Experience around the high-banked speedway.
   Among those who participated in the ride was Johnson City businessman Marvin Carter.
   "It was a little bit what I expected, but no so much," said Carter. "You couldn't turn your head and it was hot inside the car. If you've been to a race before, this is a nice thing to do to understand some of what those drivers go through. You appreciate all of what they do. You are confined so much, not able to move around much. It was fascinating. I really enjoyed it."