France Family Voted Newsmaker of the Half-Century by AARWBA Members
Hulman-George Family Close 2d for Media Group's Top 50th Anniversary Honor; 2 Families Combine For 55 % of Total Record-Setting Vote
INDIANAPOLIS -- The France Family, whose vision and leadership turned NASCAR stock car racing from a loosely-organized Southern-based attraction into the country's second-most popular sport, Saturday was named Newsmaker of the Half-Century by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association during the annual AARWBA members breakfast.
Newsmaker of the Half-Century, determined by vote of AARWBA members, is the most important event of AARWBA's 50th Anniversary Celebration. AARWBA is the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals.
The France family received 28.5 percent of the vote among 12 nominees for the award. A record number of AARWBA members participated, according to President Dusty Brandel. The Hulman-George family, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and responsible for building the Indy 500 into the world's largest single-day sporting spectacle, finished second in the voting with 26.3 percent. The Speedway is the site of the 89th Indy 500 on May 29, as well as the June 19 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race, and the Aug. 7 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard NASCAR event.
The two families combined to capture almost 55 percent of the total vote.
Lesa France Kennedy, president of International Speedway Corp, was present for the announcement. She accepted a specially commissioned painting, by artist Hector Cademartori, depicting the family's 50 years of achievement from Brandel and AARWBA 50th Anniversary Celebration Chairman Michael Knight. AARWBA also will donate $1,000 to Speediactrics at the HalifaxMedical Center in DaytonaBeach, Fla., in honor of the France family.
William H.G. ("Big Bill") France promoted the famous beach/road races in Daytona Beach and founded the stock car organization in 1947. He built Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. He died in 1992. His wife, Anne, was NASCAR's first secretary and treasurer. She also died in 1992. William C. ("Bill") France succeeded his father as NASCAR president in 1972 while another son, Jim, became president of the family-founded International Speedway Corp. Bill steadily grew NASCAR into a true nation-wide series that even came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway starting in 1994. National TV exposure and prize money greatly increased. Bill's son, Brian, succeeded his father as NASCAR chairman in October 2003 and quickly revolutionized the series by instituting the "Chase for the Championship" format in 2004. Bill's daughter, Lesa France Kennedy, is a member of the NASCAR Board and president of ISC, which has built and acquired several major tracks in recent years, including California Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. Jim now serves as vice chairman of both NASCAR and ISC and his son, J.C., is a winning driver in the Rolex Sports Car Series.
"On behalf of my entire family, I thank AARWBA and the media for this great honor," said Lesa France Kennedy. "It is especially gratifying for us considering the others who were nominated. I know that my father, in particular, will be very happy. I'm anxious for him to see this painting as soon as possible because it will mean a lot to him and bring back a lot of memories. I also appreciate AARWBA honoring our family with a charitable donation, and we're proud to designate that to Speediactrics at the HalifaxMedical Center.
"My grandfather was a classic American success story in so many ways. He was a risk-taker in the sense he had a big vision that NASCAR and stock car racing could be a very popular sport throughout the United States, and with the support of my grandmother, worked day-after-day to make that a reality. My father worked very hard to build on that foundation and his leadership is what made NASCAR what it is today. My mother and uncle and others helped him along the way and now my brother and I have the opportunity to continue to grow the sport and the business and we are fully committed to doing exactly that."
Mario Andretti was third in the voting, with 8.2 percent. Roger Penske and the late Dale Earnhardt tied for fourth, each with 6.7 percent. Also nominated were: Kenny Bernstein, John Force, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, Wally Parks and Richard Petty.
"AARWBA congratulates the France family for being chosen Newsmaker of the Half-Century," said Brandel. "The process began with a list of 50 great American auto racing newsmakers, from which our Board of Directors selected 12 nominees, for a final vote. AARWBA members have written about, broadcast and photographed the most memorable racing people and events since 1955 and so are the best qualified to make this selection. Many members told me how difficult it was to choose from among these legendary names. It is a tribute to the Frances that they came out first from among this prestigious list."
Knight added, "The story of the France family, and the Hulman-George family, is in many ways the American story. Their entrepreneurial spirit and bold, innovative leadership has defined the growth of American motorsports during the last 50 years. It is almost impossible to imagine what racing would be like without them. This is clear when you see that these two families, combined, earned almost 55 percent of the total vote."
To learn more about AARWBA, please visit the AARWBA.org web site. A membership application form can be downloaded from the site.
Official AARWBA 50th Anniversary Celebration sponsors are: Porsche Cars North America, NASCAR, Toyota Motorsports, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League, Valvoline, Honda, Champ Car World Series, Fernandez Racing, Budweiser, BMW, NHRA, American Le Mans Series and Ford Racing.