Former NASCAR Chairman William C. France, Jr., a
visionary man who led the stock car sanctioning body through the
most dynamic changes in its history, passed away Monday at his
Daytona Beach, Fla. home. He was 74 years old.
France had been in declining health in the last
several years, including a heart attack in 1997 and a bout with
cancer in 1999. Although his cancer was in remission, France’s
condition continued to deteriorate, and in March of this year he
was hospitalized with an undisclosed medical condition. He spent
his final days resting at his home, surrounded by his family.
France, the son of NASCAR founder Bill France,
Sr., served as president and chairman of NASCAR from 1972 until
2000, when he turned over the presidency to Mike Helton. Three
years later, his son Brian Z. France took over as chairman and
“He had a remarkable career and an even-more remarkable life,”
said Brian France. “Words cannot express how much he’ll be
missed by myself and the rest of our family and by the NASCAR
Born in 1933 to William Henry Getty France and
his wife, Anne, Bill France, Jr. became immersed in the world of
stock car racing at an early age. After his father founded
NASCAR in 1947, France, or “Bill, Jr.” as he was called, handled
everything from concessions to scoring at early NASCAR events. A
graduate of the University of Florida, France spent two years in
the U.S. Navy before returning to work in the family business –
International Speedway Corporation - first as a course
supervisor and then as assistant race director.
France joined the NASCAR Board of Directors in 1959 and in 1966
became NASCAR’s vice-president, serving for six years before
taking over the reigns of NASCAR from his father in 1972.
France was a hands-on chairman who ruled the family-owned
business with a fierce determination and an unwavering
commitment to protect and enhance the sport and see it through
some of its most turbulent times as well as its most
tremendous growth, guiding NASCAR from a regional sport into a
multibillion dollar conglomerate.
It was France, Jr. who helped bring the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
company on board as the title sponsor for NASCAR’s premiere
division, which became known as the Winston Cup Series - the
predecessor of today’s Nextel Cup Series – and ushering in what
has become known as the “modern era” of NASCAR.
In 1976, NASCAR attracted over 1.4 million fans, surpassing all
other American motorsports in attendance, a record NASCAR has
“Bill did a tremendous job of implementing the lessons learned
from his father and managing NASCAR and its growth during his
era,” said O. Bruton Smith, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
of Speedway Motorsports Inc. “His father taught him this
business from the ground up and Bill had respect for our sport's
history and a strong desire to continue to move it forward,
which he did. His leadership will be missed.”
France sought to legitimatize and grow the sport of auto racing,
propelling it from a traditionally Southern sport into the
national spotlight by bringing the races to a national
television audience. In 1979, France oversaw a deal with the CBS
television network to televise live flag-to-flag coverage of the
1979 Daytona 500. France also brought in cable networks ESPN and
TNN to televise races, and before long every race on the Winston
Cup Series schedule was televised live.
France also oversaw NASCAR’s expansion as the sport branched out
beyond its Southern roots, from just a handful of small tracks
in the southeast to superspeedways in the Southwest, Northeast
and Midwest, as well as sanctioning races in Australia and
In 1994, France brought NASCAR and the world of open-wheel
racing together, as stock cars raced on the hallowed bricks of
Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time.
“Bill was a great friend and business partner,” said Tony
George, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chief Executive Officer. “He
ranks near the top of the list of people I most respect. His
personal dedication to building NASCAR will be his legacy, and
his leadership will be long remembered.”
Today, NASCAR is now an international sport, sanctioning races
in Mexico and Canada, with races that are relayed around the
world via television, satellite radio and the internet. ISC also
owns and operates 13 race tracks as well as its own radio
network and concessions company. The company also oversees a
Daytona-based motorsports-themed attraction.
Through it all, France never wavered from his commitment to
carry through with his father’s vision of bringing stock car
racing to national prominence.
“I've never seen anyone who could strike the balance that Bill
did,” said NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick. “He knew exactly
what he wanted to accomplish and rarely compromised, yet always
made it a point to be fair. We've lost a strong leader, a
visionary businessman and a truly amazing person.”
France is survived by his wife Betty Jane France, NASCAR’s
assistant secretary; his son Brian; daughter Lesa France
Kennedy, NASCAR’s vice president and assistant treasurer; his
brother James C. France, NASCAR’s vice chairman and executive
vice president; and three grandchildren.
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