Jeff Byrd dies of illness at 60

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Jeff Byrd, the longtime president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, died Sunday following a lengthy illness, the speedway said. He was 60.

Byrd had run the iconic Tennessee race track since Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchased the facility in 1996. The track became one of the most popular in NASCAR under his leadership.

Byrd began his career as a sports writer for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, then moved to the sports marketing department at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. He was vice president of business development when he left RJR for Bristol.

"From his days as a sports writer to his time at R.J. Reynolds to the last 14 years, Jeff Byrd was one of the greatest promoters both stock car and drag racing has known," Speedway Motorsports chairman Bruton Smith said.

"To say his passing leaves a void would be an understatement. Simply put, Jeff got it. He understood that more than what happened on the track, it was the experience that fans took home with them that stayed in their memories."

Byrd is survived by his wife of 36 years, Claudia, daughter Belton Caldwell, son Christian, and seven grandchildren.