Quotes from The SPEED Report Bill France Jr.
John Cooper, former president of Daytona International Speedway and a France friend for 51 years, on multiple topics:
On his management style – “You always knew where you stood with Bill. He had goals and he did what he had to do to get to those goals … and he did it as a gentleman. As (team owner) Rick Hendrick said, ‘He was a tough guy, but he had a soft spot.’ “
On his softer side – “He and I were in New York City one time … about 3 a.m., he called me and said, ‘I’m going home … there’s been a problem with a good friend of ours.’ It had nothing to do with racing. He got up at three in the morning and went to LaGuardia and caught a plane, leaving the NASCAR plane for me … that’s the kind of guy Bill was.”
On dividing the world into ‘friends and enemies (like Champ Car); those who would help NASCAR racing and those that wouldn’t’ -- “I think that is a little harsh. I don’t think it was a rigid we and they type of thing. But he certainly did enjoy being with people that were on the same wavelength.”
On his decision making style – “There’s been this fallacy that Bill woke up in the morning and decided what to do and brought the hammer down and that was it. It wasn’t it at all … he encouraged people if he trusted their judgment to sit and talk with him … almost all of his decisions were built on a consensus. I can remember Bill sitting, sometimes I’d be with him, but most of the time, he’d have one or two car owners in his car in the garage area on a practice day, feeling them out … getting their thoughts. And it was the same with drivers. He accumulated all the information he could, but then when he made a decision, he made a decision.”
On how Bill France Jr. will be remembered – “I think he will be remembered as the guy who took a fairly prosperous regional sport and turned it into a national pastime. Bill probably wouldn’t answer the question that way, but I think that would please him if that was his legacy.”
Former NASCAR racer and SPEED on-air personality Jimmy Spencer: “I’ve been in his trailer many times … he pointed at me many times , but I always knew when I left that trailer that he was looking out for my best interests. I am going to miss that finger being pointed at me … but most of all, I want to thank him for the opportunity to be in racing … to be doing this TV stuff … because of Bill France and NASCAR. He was a friend of mine and I am going to miss him a lot.”
NASCAR racer and SPEED on-air personality Kenny Wallace: “He was a guy that had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other at functions and it made you think, ‘Wow, maybe I can go up and talk to that guy.’ … I just want all of you to know what kind of person he was. He wasn’t stuck up. He was a great man … he was a normal, good guy that ran a successful sport.”
Former NASCAR crew chief and SPEED on-air personality Larry McReynolds: “I’ve always looked at Bill France Jr. as a family member … like my dad. He took me up in that trailer so many times and Bill always had a way of getting his point across. You were never quite sure while he was doing it, but when you left there, you understood what the man was trying to tell you.
It’s a little bit having a family member that’s been sick. You’re never ready for it. You know it’s coming and the biggest thing, like with any family member, you don’t want to see anyone suffer, and the greatest news I heard about his death is that he passed away very peacefully and very quietly and it didn’t appear that he did any suffering in his final hours.”
“One of the things I admired most about Bill France Jr., was that you would see him in the garage area … he’d walk by those race cars. It may not be on Sunday … it may not be on race day … it may be on Friday, but you could always find him. I can still see him sitting in one of those studio chairs at the back of that NASCAR hauler. He was always easy to find.”
Former NASCAR racer and team owner Junior Johnson on whether they believed Bill France Jr. could fill his father’s shoes: “I have to admit that I didn’t think he could and a lot of other people didn’t think he could either. But I couldn’t have been any more wrong. He did one of the most magnificent of turning the sport around and getting it to where it is today … I absolutely admired him … he is a hero in my eyes forever for what he has done in the sport … he was a great person, a great friend. He is going to be missed by me more than any one person in racing.”
NASCAR President Mike Helton: “We suffered such a great loss today. Bill was such a major, significant, legacy-type impact in NASCAR, just like his father was. Even though we all know our end is imminent, when it comes to be, it’s hard to accept sometimes. His legacy, what the sport is today and what it will be for generations to come, will be a tribute to him and everything he did.”
Two-time NASCAR champ Tony Stewart: “You look at what he’s been able to do in the time he’s been with NASCAR … there are not enough words to describe what he’s meant to this sport and what he’s done for us. I’ll guarantee you that it’s the biggest loss in racing since Dale Earnhardt … probably bigger.”
Four-time NASCAR champ and current Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Gordon: “It’s sad to hear that news. I knew he wasn’t doing well. I wish I could have had a chance to see him and talk to him before he went, but certainly our hearts and prayers go out to the whole France family … he’s going to be missed. It’s going to be hard to be a part of this sport without him.”
FOX Sports announcer Mike Joy: “I worked for him … I went down there (Daytona) with Jack Arute to work for MRN and to do speedway publicity and then I ended up running MRN for about four years … Bill was a very stern taskmaster … he wanted to know the numbers -- he got that from his mom -- he wanted to know the budgets. He very rarely complimented you. The way you knew you were doing a good job was the paycheck arrived and your name was still on your office the next day.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway President & General Manager Humpy Wheeler: “Back in the ‘60s when I was at Firestone, and his dad was still going strong, he put Bill in the enviable position of masterminding the competition of NASCAR. It was a fierce battle back in those days … that was back in the factory wars when Detroit invaded NASCAR. He had to contend with Firestone and Goodyear and Ford and Chrysler all battling each other and throwing millions of dollars in the ring. I was very impressed with the job he did … particularly with the fairness aspect of it. He’s very analytical and I think had it not been for NASCAR and his father being involved in stock car racing, Bill probably would have gone on to law school and been a pretty good lawyer. That’s the kind of mind he had.”
“He and I had quite a few arguments, but the good part about it was that you could argue with him and speak your mind and he would speak back to you. If you had good reason for what you wanted to do and he saw that, he’d generally go along with it.”
“When this whole thing was dumped in his lap in the ‘70s when his father retired, he was presented with some real tough problems … we had no capital back in those days. All the factories had gotten out … the only one left was Goodyear. There were no sponsors to speak of. He just kept going down a steady path … RJ Reynolds jumped in, but when they first got involved, there wasn’t a lot of money coming out of them. But he stayed in there and I think that his firm, steady hand really help guide us, especially when we got into the explosive growth of the ‘80s, when we needed to go down that right path. He always had the industry in mind first and that was a very fair thing about him and the way he did things.”