DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 5, 2003) -- Growing up in the shadow of Daytona International Speedway and as a member of one of the best-known families in motorsports, it comes as no surprise that J.C. France has racing in his blood. While other members of the France lineage continue the family's tradition in an administrative role, J.C. finds he's more at home behind the wheel than behind a desk.
He fulfilled his lifelong dream of competing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona earlier this season and did so with a driver he grew up idolizing, five-time Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood. Last weekend, France reached a personal milestone when he picked up his first-ever road racing victory at the Nextel Grand Prix of Miami. The win also put his name in the history books, as he and Haywood became the first to pilot a Daytona Prototype to an overall victory.
With the driver points lead in hand, France now looks to the future and his shot as the first-ever Daytona Prototypes driver champion.
Series - Rolex Sports Car Series
Class - Daytona Prototypes
Team - Brumos Racing
Car - #59 Porsche-powered FABCAR
Date of Birth - November 1, 1965
Hometown - Daytona Beach, Fla.
Marital Status - Married to wife April
2003 ROLEX SERIES FINISHES
* Rolex 24 At Daytona - 5th Overall; 2nd in class
* Nextel Grand Prix of Miami - 1st Overall; 1st in class
IN HIS OWN WORDS...
When did you begin racing? When did you know that you wanted to pursue racing professionally?
I started racing in junior high. I was racing flat track motorcycles, and actually my first four-wheel race was in junior high. I raced an endurance kart in the WKA in events we have in the Speedway in December. I moved from flat track onto enduro and some motocross races too. My next experience with four wheels wasn't until 1989, I think. It was when I ran in the Legends Series for a year. Then I basically didn't do anything in the '90s.
It's been a lifelong dream of mine to race in the Rolex 24, so when Skip Barber started the school here in Daytona I went out there and went to the school and got my license. My goal at that point was just to buy a ride in somebody's car just to say I competed in it. When the Brumos deal came along that was a complete shock to me, and of course I was overly thrilled to have Hurley as my co-driver, having grown up out there watching him. I was there when Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg won the first 24 hours in the #59 Brumos car. So, to be co-driving with somebody I grew up idolizing was beyond a dream come true.
Your family is traditionally known for its involvement in stock car racing, so what made you want to compete in sports cars?
Well the family is known for stock cars because NASCAR is so well watched around the country and around the world. But, I grew up here in Daytona and here near the Speedway, and the Speedway runs go-karts, they run motorcycles, they run sports cars and they run NASCAR. Just being a little kid, the first thing that blew me away was seeing the Porsches and Ferraris and all the high-dollar cars out there running. So, I was kind of overwhelmed with that from an early age. I think I got my motorcycle genes from my dad (Jim France), who raced some professional flat track for a while as well as when he won the national championship the first year they had the Legends racing.
Do you ever feel like you have to work harder or do more to prove yourself as a driver because you come from a well-known family?
I've felt the pressure of that because some might think I'm only there because of my last name. I've put in a lot of time trying to learn. I try to be a sponge and learn information from everyone on the team -- from the crew chief and our engineers. You know all those guys have so many years of experience and not just in racing, but winning. So to try to learn everything I can from them and keep trying to get better myself. I'm not going to go out there and be the fastest guy off the bat, and may never be, but I just want to be consistent and be a benefit to the team and get consistently better as the team goes on. Hopefully when the Rolex 24 comes around next year I'll be a much better driver in it than I was this year. Constant improvement is my goal.
What is it like to partner with Hurley Haywood, who is known as a legend in the sport?
It's absolutely incredible. He's been really helpful taking his time working with me. Once we got the deal done last year, he actually spent most of the year working with me. I went up to Savannah with my street car and tested with him. We've flown around testing, and he's giving me a lot of advice. Every time I'm in and out of the car, we talk to each other about what the car is doing, trying different lines and we go over the telemetry and look at what each other's doing. He really helps me out. It's like a 24-hour job when we're at the track.
How did it feel to not only win your first road race, but also become the first to win overall with a Daytona Prototype?
That was incredible. I expected to do good because I'm co-driving with Hurley and because Brumos is such a professional team -- just the way they operate everything from Bob Snodgrass's business experiences. That trickles down through the whole team in the way he runs it. It's very professional.
I really didn't expect to win this race when we went out there. I thought our #58 car was going to win it. The best I was hoping for was to get second behind them in class. I wasn't sure how the overall was going to go because the GTS cars were so fast there. But as the race wore on our car just kept plugging away. The Prototype ran flawless and everyone else had their little problems that came up during the race. I think the heat was a big factor for the GTS cars burning their tires up there. The track surface was very hot and very slippery out there, and it was hard to get the power down. You had to be very tentative on the throttle.
It was an absolute blast to win the race. I'll never forget being in Victory Lane on top of the podium for the first time.
What do you feel is the most challenging part of racing?
Probably just trying to figure out the setups for the car. I can get in the car and say it's pushing in this corner and it's loose in this corner. Trying to decide and pick and choose what areas of the track you want to setup for that are going to be the fastest is a hard challenge.
I have amazing respect for guys like Hurley and David Donohue when they come into the pits. They're not just saying the car is tight or loose. They're telling you exactly why. We need to change the spring rates, we need to do this with the tire pressures or change the shock pressures. That's where their experience really comes through, and that helps me. I try to listen to everything that they say to the engineers and the crew chief, and I try to watch the changes they make then see if I notice a difference when I go back out on the track. Usually they make changes and I go out and run faster laps because of changes that they've made.
What goals have you set for yourself?
Ultimately I'd like to win the Rolex 24. We had a good shot at it this year. We had the car and the team and everything, and we just had some unforeseen problems that popped up. I guess that's part of racing. Now we've got the points lead, so I'm just really focused on trying to stay consistent and hopefully get on the podium at every race and see how the championship plays out. It would really be nice to win the championship the first year the Prototype is in existence.
What have been some of the highs and lows for you personally during the creation and development of the Daytona Prototype you now race?
I think the commitment to do it early has been one of our biggest benefits. We had the car, our car was ready early and we got to do a lot more testing than some of the other teams. So they're kind of behind the eight ball as far as experience with their car right now.
For me, I've never really been involved with a development program like that, and it was really amazing to see a car come from just a computer image to actually flying up there to Dave Klym's shop and watching them build the car and keeping track of it over the internet. They posted pictures on there every week of what they're doing and the progress. And we flew up there and test drove it with no body on it and stuff. Just to go through the whole thing was just an amazing experience and it's something I'll never forget.
Daytona, it's because I grew up here and because of the immense history that dates back forever. It just carries a lot of weight. I've got more driving experience driving on that track. I've been taking my dirt bikes out there since when I was a kid, street bikes, and I've drove every car and pick-up I've ever owned around that track. I feel like I know the Speedway pretty well here.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
It was probably from my dad. He has given me advice to be patient and not try too get to aggressive and push things and put the car and myself in stupid situations. To really try and think things through out on the racetrack and approach them from that standpoint. If you get out there and get too aggressive and too emotionally involved, you can really get yourself and the car in a lot of trouble. Dad has been very helpful and very supportive, and I have to credit him with that.
What do you do in your free time?
I do a lot of things. I like to ride motorcycles. I have a garage, and I guess a house, full of bikes. I've got so many bikes they're moving into the basement. I like to ride street bikes. I like to ride dirt bikes. I like a lot of water sports - wakeboarding, fishing, scuba diving. I like to snowboard, snow ski and mountain bike. I play golf, tennis and racquetball. Just about anything active, I like to do.
What has been the greatest influence in your life?
I think it would be just growing up here and the situation that I'm in. Being exposed to racing at such a young age, I've fallen in love with it and it has always been my goal to be involved in it somehow. I've done a lot of jobs out at the Speedway and with NASCAR, but my dream from when I was a kid was to be a racer. So, it's great to live that and have that come true.
Many have commented on what a quick study you have been and that you are already nipping at Hurley's heels when at the wheel of the car. What do you think about that?
I don't know if I'm nipping at his heels. The only reason why I think I'm doing so good is because of the advice that they're giving me and the setup that they do with the car. If I had to go out there and setup the car myself, I'd be behind the eight ball. We wouldn't have a clue where we were going. I'm sure we wouldn't be in Victory Lane.
Those guys are so professional. The way Hurley communicates with the crew and the engineers and gets the car setup so perfect is unreal. All I do is go out there and drive it and then come in and look at the telemetry to see areas where I can make up a little time or carry more speed.
J.C. France and Hurley Haywood's victory at the Nextel Grand Prix of Miami will air on SPEED Channel this Saturday, March 8 at 3 p.m. ET and again on Monday, March 10 at 1 p.m. ET.
The Rolex Sports Car Series will return to action at Phoenix International Raceway for the Phoenix 250, May 3. Tickets are currently on sale for the night race in the desert and can be purchased online at www.phoenixinternationalraceway.com.
Additional information about the Rolex Sports Car Series is available online at www.grandamerican.com.