Actress, singer-songwriter and philanthropist Hilary Duff will encourage Kentucky Speedway fans to donate new and used backpacks to the "Blessings in a Backpack" charity when she serves as grand marshal of the June 13 NASCAR Nationwide Series "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz."

Ms. Duff is a national spokeswoman for the charity which supplements food donations for kindergarten through fifth grade students enrolled in Title 1 public schools that qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Meal Program. Backpacks are filled with staple items children take home for weekends.

Race day backpack donations will directly benefit Kentucky students and will be accepted at the Meijer display near the speedway main gate.

Ms. Duff and 24 students from Gallatin Co. Schools will participate in several activities at the track including a pit-road bike relay race before she delivers the command for 43 drivers to fire their engines for the ninth NASCAR Nationwide Series event in Kentucky Speedway history.

"I'm proud to partner with Meijer to benefit children by creating awareness for 'Blessings in a Backpack' during one of Kentucky's premier sports events. I'm thankful for companies such as Meijer that team with teachers and parents to help make 'Blessings in a Backpack' work. They are the true heroes. Students represent our future and we need to do all we can to encourage them to continue working hard in the classroom each and every day," Duff said.

Duff gained early fame for playing the title role in the Disney television series "Lizzie McGuire" and went on to enjoy a successful film career by starring in feature films such as "Cheaper by the Dozen," "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" and "A Cinderella Story." Her pop music collections "Dignity," "Metamorphosis," "Hilary Duff" and "Most Wanted" earned her three Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) platinum certifications when they combined to sell more than 13 million copies worldwide. She is currently working on a NBC sitcom and will play Bonnie Parker in the upcoming "Story of Bonnie and Clyde" feature film.

"We're thrilled that our event will serve as a platform to support local school children and 'Blessings in a Backpack.' We salute Ms. Duff and Meijer for forwarding an important cause and know our fans will be eager show their support for a worthy cause," Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said.

Race tickets, infield camping and Big Ticket Deals can be reserved through the tickets page of this Web site, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223), through the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100 near the Montgomery Inn restaurant or the track Fan Center located off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N in Sparta, Ky. Tickets also are available through Tickets.com outlets including Meijer stores.

MORE ABOUT BLESSINGS IN A BACKPACK "Blessings in a Backpack" is a unique, results-oriented program currently feeding more than 11,000 children in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, California, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Virginia through private sector funding and public partnerships carried out in public schools. In addition to providing food, the program also is credited with generating higher test scores, improving reading skills, developing positive behaviors, encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and increasing attendance among the students served.

An estimated $80 will provide a child food for an entire school year. "Blessings in a Backpack" partners with local grocers to fill donated backpacks with food that requires little or no preparation. Students receive filled backpacks on Fridays and return to schools on Mondays motivated to learn.

Visit the charity online at www.blessingsinabackpack.com.

Kentucky Speedway is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Speedway Motorsports which, through its subsidiary companies, is a leading marketer and promoter of motorsports entertainment in the United States. For more information, visit www.speedwaymotorsports.com.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~Kentucky Speedway ~