After a seven-year battle with cancer, Bill France, Jr., 74, passed away June 4, 2007. The announcement came on the day of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race in Dover, DE -- a day late due to rain. "I loved that old man. He's done a lot for a lot...
After a seven-year battle with cancer, Bill France, Jr., 74, passed away June 4, 2007.
The announcement came on the day of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race in Dover, DE -- a day late due to rain. "I loved that old man. He's done a lot for a lot of people. The things I can remember most are when he told me that I did a good job. He only did it about twice, but when he did, you knew it meant something. I just don't know what we're going to do now that we don't have him," said Darrell Waltrip during the Fox broadcast.
In March, he was admitted to Halifax Medical Center just down International Speedway Boulevard from its namesake, the Daytona International Speedway -- corner stone of the France-family's NASCAR empire -- and later released to spend his final days at home under the care of his personal physician.
With a clear vision and sheer force of will, France's father Big Bill formed NASCAR in 1947, building it around the country boy racers and hardscrabble, red clay short tracks of the Eastern seaboard's piedmont plateau. The organization that Bill Jr. inherited from his father in 1972 was primed -- with the right leadership -- to move up the sports-entertainment ladder. Big Bill's son was the right man at the right time.
Under Bill Jr.'s guidance, NASCAR began a steady, carefully orchestrated period of growth. Leaning heavily on the loyalty of track-owners and sponsors like RJ Reynolds and Unocal, France took stock car racing as far as it could go as a largely regional sport and then had to make a decision.
By the late 1980s stock car racing had reached critical mass. To storm the national stage, NASCAR had to expand beyond the dozen token races run outside the South. So kicked off an unprecedented growth spurt, marked by skyrocketing race attendance and television viewership and a rapid consolidation in racetrack ownership.
With France's International Speedway Corporation (ISC) at the forefront, public companies bought, renovated and built venues at a dizzying pace. Today, two companies own 20 of the 24 racetracks that host NASCAR's top Nextel Cup Series -- ISC controlling a dozen of those tracks.
With that growth came painful decisions. Historic racetracks in the South were trimmed away to make room for new sites across the country. Familiar sponsors were outbid by companies willing to spend big bucks to bathe in NASCAR's sunshine. One significant move was to consolidate television coverage of NASCAR events.
All these changes came on Bill France Jr.'s watch.
When Mr. France turned day-to-day operations of the multi-billion dollar sports-entertainment juggernaut over to his son Brian in 2003, NASCAR was -- by most measures -- second only to the National Football League in popularity and economic impact on the American sporting scene.
France was a soft-spoken, private man, not overly fond of center stage. Yet his presence never failed to create a quiet stir, as his influence spread throughout the world of motorsports. France knew the big picture because -- in American racing -- he painted the big picture.
France remained Chairman of the Board and went to his office every day up until his final hospitalization, March 14. He is survived by his wife Betty Jane, one son Brian, a daughter Lesa and a brother Jim France -- each of whom plays an influential role in the family business.