Outside of the spectacular racing that takes place each season, there's not a more exciting time of the year than this week at Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway.

It is the opening of the Johnson Controls Ice Rink, as well as the beginning of Autotrader.com Speedway In Lights Powered by TVA. And, more importantly, there's the Night of Smiles. The Thursday evening ceremony at the Bruton Smith Building at BMS is, for Claudia Byrd, the chair of the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities, "my favorite night of the year."

Byrd has good reason to consider it so as it was another banner year for the Bristol Chapter of SCC which presented a record $575,000 to 83 area children's charitable agencies tonight.

In excess of $1.1 million has been raised in just the last two years and this year's sum of $575,000 brings the total raised over the past 11 years by the Bristol Chapter of SCC to more than $4.5 million. The 83 agencies also is a record for organizations in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia aided by the non-profit foundation in a single year.

The Night of Smiles check presentations were held on the eve of the opening night of the Autotrader.com Speedway In Lights holiday light show, the largest in the region, which runs from Nov. 14 through Jan. 3.

Byrd was overjoyed at the amount of funds presented on Thursday.

"This says so much about how truly good people are and how much support we receive," she said. "Every year it seems we're able to add to the total and we could never do that if it wasn't for the number of folks out there who not just willing to open their hearts but their check books as well.

"I think it's remarkable that with the economic challenges we're all facing right now that we were able to raise more money than last year and help so many agencies and children. There's just not a better feeling in the entire world. This night is all about the kids and I could not be prouder of the fact that we're able to make a difference in so many children's lives tonight."

While the Autotrader.com Speedway In Lights Powered by TVA show is the chief fundraiser for Speedway Children's Charities, there are a number of other events held throughout the year that also benefit the foundation. Golf tournaments take place prior to the NHRA event in May and during the August NASCAR race week, during which time the Eastman Motorsports Auction also is held. The popular "Ride of a Lifetime" Speedway Children's Charities Auction held prior to both the March and August NASCAR races also are very productive fundraisers.

The Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities would not be as beneficial to the area were it not for the large number of volunteers who participate in the fundraisers. Byrd feels whole-heartily that those individuals are instrumental in the success of all Speedway Children's Charities events.

"As with any project, the people you surround yourself with, who are so dedicated and so hard-working, are the key to success," she said. "We are extremely fortunate to have so many wonderful and compassionate people who are devoted to bettering the lives of children. Our volunteers are the unsung heroes, without whom none of this would be possible."

The Autotrader.com Speedway In Lights Powered by TVA light show runs nightly from 6-10 p.m. through January 3. Tickets are available at the BMS gate. Ticket prices for cars are $10 Sunday through Thursday, and $12 Friday and Saturday. Activity van tickets are $15 each night and bus tickets are $65 each night.

For more information concerning Speedway In Lights and Speedway Children's Charities please visit www.bristolmotorspeedway.com or call 423/989-6900.