William C. France: 1933-2007
William (Bill) Clifton France is remembered – and revered – as the man who followed his visionary father at NASCAR’s helm, in the process becoming a visionary himself, as he guided NASCAR to unprecedented levels of popularity. He combined pragmatism with optimism, an approach that resulted in a calculated – and adventurous – road to success.
France, 74, grew up in the formative years of stock car racing, living and learning every detail of the sport from his own experiences, and those of his father William Henry Getty France – who was known as Bill Sr., or “Big Bill” because of his 6-foot-5 stature. Bill Sr. was the founder and first president of NASCAR.
France became NASCAR’s president in January 1972, replacing his father and becoming only the second president of the world's largest auto racing sanctioning body. His emergence coincided with the sport’s emergence, and its eventual ascent to become America’s No. 1 form of motorsports and the nation’s second-most popular sport overall.
France, commonly referred to as “Bill Jr.,” remained president until November 2000, when Mike Helton took over the position. At that time, France announced the formation of a NASCAR board of directors on which he served as chairman and CEO until October 2003 when he was replaced by his son, Brian Z. France.
France’s involvement in NASCAR was far-reaching, but it began in the sport’s “grass roots.” During his career, he did everything a person can, in stock car racing. He flagged events, scored, promoted, served as a steward and even raced himself a few times in the 1950s.
Before being named NASCAR’s president, France served six years as vice president and prior to that served in other capacities. In addition to his NASCAR duties, France served as Chairman of the Board of International Speedway Corporation (ISC) which oversees Daytona International Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway among other racing facilities around the country. He also served as a director of the National Motorsports Council of ACCUS-FIA.
Born in Washington, D.C., France was less than two years old when his parents moved to Daytona Beach, Fla. in 1934. He attended Seabreeze High School, where he played basketball and later attended the University of Florida in Gainesville. He served two years in the United States Navy and turned to a full-time career in racing when his service stint ended.
In addition to his son, other members of France's family have played major roles in the operation of NASCAR. His wife, the former Betty Jane Zachary, serves as assistant secretary for NASCAR, while daughter Lesa France Kennedy serves on the board of both ISC and NASCAR and is president of ISC. Younger brother Jim serves as vice chairman/executive vice president of NASCAR and is vice chairman/CEO for ISC.