Bristol Motor Speedway officials announced its Knoxville area Neighborhood Heroes today at a news conference at the Food City location off Western Ave.
The University of Tennessee Athletics Department and five of its student-athletes with ties to Northeast Tennessee communities surrounding the Speedway, have been selected as recipients of the BMS Neighborhood Heroes recognition and will be officially celebrated and honored on Saturday, Sept. 16, during pre-race ceremonies for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, a Round of 16 Playoff race in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“In 2018 we started a mission that has become very important to us at Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Jerry Caldwell, president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “We started a very special program called the Bristol Motor Speedway Neighborhood Heroes that recognizes first responders, military members, educators, athletes and others in our regional communities who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their professions to make significant impacts in the lives of others. Over the years we have honored many very deserving individuals, groups and organizations from cities all around Bristol Motor Speedway.”
Caldwell was assisted today by NASCAR driver and FOX Sports racing analyst Trevor Bayne and NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Chad Finchum, both Knoxville residents. Veteran ESPN racing pit reporter and sports personality Dr. Jerry Punch, also a Knoxville resident, served as emcee for the event and other special guests also included Food City executives Ron Tacker and Steven Jones. Food City is a long-time partner of both Bristol Motor Speedway and the University of Tennessee.
“Today it’s my honor to announce that the BMS Neighborhood Heroes committee selected the University of Tennessee’s Athletics Department as this year’s Knoxville Neighborhood Hero, along with five student-athletes who have hometown ties to the Appalachian Highlands region,” Caldwell said. “These student-athletes have excelled in their specific team sports at the University of Tennessee and continue to be bright shining stars for their hometowns in the ways that they give back to their communities. We look forward to honoring all of them with this very special recognition on Saturday night, Sept. 16, prior to the green flag during America’s Night Race.”
The BMS Neighborhood Heroes selection committee picked the University of Tennessee athletics department for all that it does to provide opportunities for participation in intercollegiate athletics and to train, develop and encourage its student athletes to be the best they can be and exhibit great sportsmanship. The program continually brings the national sports spotlight to Eastern Tennessee through its athletic excellence and stellar achievements in all of its supported sports categories.
“We really can’t thank everyone who is involved with the University of Tennessee’s Athletics Department enough for all that they do and the tireless work that goes into producing championship-contending teams in nearly every one of its sports programs,” Caldwell said. “We look forward to celebrating them for their commitment to excellence and for all that they do to cultivate student-athletes and bring honor to our region.”
“And speaking of Student-Athletes, we are also thrilled to put the spotlight on these five well-deserving UT student-athletes who all have hometown ties to the Tri-Cities area who are making significant contributions to their Volunteer and Lady Vols teams,” Caldwell continued. “We are proud to also name them BMS Neighborhood Heroes for 2023.”
The UT student-athletes who are recognized include, in alphabetical order:
Colby Backus is a redshirt sophomore who is expected to bring both power and speed to the Baseball roster for the Vols in 2024. This summer he had an outstanding season helping lead the Johnson City Doughboys to the season title in the Appalachian League. He was named Hitter of the Month in June and was also selected for the All-Appalachian League Team as an outfielder. Backus was a two-sport athlete at Daniel Boone High School and had a stellar career at JUCO Walters State before landing at UT. Backus also works with kids to help develop their games by hosting the popular ‘Holiday Hitting Camp’ in the Tri-Cities in December each year.
Kirby Connell, or better known as ‘Vollie Fingers’ for his signature handlebar mustache, recently announced that he is returning to the Baseball team for the 2024 season, which is very exciting news for Vol Nation. He was one of the Vols’ top relievers from 2020-2023 and has made two appearances in the College World Series in his career. He will certainly be looked to in the coming season for veteran leadership coming out of the bullpen. For the past two summers Connell has given back to his community by hosting a baseball camp at Daniel Boone High School near Johnson City.
Dayne Davis, No. 66 for the Big Orange, plays right tackle on the offensive line. The former walk-on has now earned a scholarship for the team and is among the top two for his position on the depth chart. The fifth-year redshirt senior is a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll student. A native of Bluff City, Tennessee, Davis was a standout at Sullivan East High School. In late June this summer Davis returned to Bluff City to host his second-annual Football Camp. More than 130 area youth attended the camp, which also featured Davis’ 12 of his fellow Vols teammates, including Freshman quarterback Niko Iamaleava and running backs Jabari Small and Jabari Davis.
Austin Lewis is a sixth-year redshirt senior who plays defensive line for the Vols football team, joining as a graduate transfer last summer. Prior to landing at UT, Lewis excelled at Liberty University in Virginia and then spent one season at ETSU. Lewis was a three-star prospect coming out of Davey Crockett high school in Jonesborough, Tennessee in 2017 and is still the school record holder for career tackles at 246. This spring Lewis was a part of the Reading Champions program at Pond Gap Elementary and also helped teammate Dayne Davis with his summer football camp in Bluff City.
Camryn Sarvis, from the University of Tennessee Softball team. Sarvis is an infielder on the team and she finished the year with a .273 batting average and scored three runs and have five RBIs. She had great performances in team wins over Howard, Tennessee Tech and Belmont. She was part of the team who recently advanced to the semifinals of the College World Series in Oklahoma City. Her team eventually lost to Florida State University after an amazing run. She came to UT from Daniel Boone High School, which is in Gray, Tennessee, near Johnson City.
The Bass Pro Shops Night Race weekend features three nights of electrifying NASCAR Playoff action under the lights including Saturday night’s Cup Playoff race, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7 p.m., USA Network, PRN Radio). The weekend also includes the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Bristol’s high banks in the Food City 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Friday night, Sept. 15 (7:30 p.m., USA Network and PRN Radio). The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will get the fun started on Thursday night, Sept. 14, with the running of the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics (9 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio). The ARCA Menards Series will open Thursday’s racing to make it a doubleheader night with the Bush’s Beans 200 (6 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio).
Off the track there’s tons to do during your Bristol visit with lots of activities available in the BMS Fan Zone and BMS Fan Midway. Kenny Wallace and John Roberts will host Trackside Live at the Food City Fan Zone Stage on Saturday at 4 p.m. where drivers and other newsmakers will be interviewed. Country music band Midland will perform the pre-race concert Saturday at 5:30 p.m. to get the fans revved up for the traditional driver introductions, where each driver enters the stadium to a favorite song or music. There will be post-race entertainment on Thursday and Friday, as DJ Sterl the Pearl will host the world-famous Foam Party after the Thursday night double-header, and country music singer Tim Dugger will perform after Friday night’s Food City 300.
— Bristol Motor Speedway —