By Marty Smith DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 28, 2000) Mike Helton ascended another rung higher on the career ladder Tuesday afternoon. Helton, who as NASCAR senior vice president and chief operating officer has overseen the day-to-day operation...
By Marty Smith
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 28, 2000) Mike Helton ascended another rung higher on the career ladder Tuesday afternoon.
Helton, who as NASCAR senior vice president and chief operating officer has overseen the day-to-day operation of the sanctioning body for the past year, has been promoted to president, effective immediately.
Helton, in his seventh year with NASCAR, becomes the third president in the company's 52-year history, and the first without the France surname.
Bill France, NASCAR president since 1972, will serve as chairman of a newly formed five-member board of directors for NASCAR that will oversee the following executive management structure:
Board of directors: A board of directors that will consist of France -- whom the sanctioning body made quite clear would still have the final say in all matters -- Jim France, Brian France, Lesa Kennedy and Helton, has been formed and will be responsible for developing policy and vision for the sport.
President: Helton, who joined the sanctioning body in 1994 as vice president of competition before assuming the COO position, will assume the title of president. He will be charged with executing the policies and visions developed by the board and will have day-to-day responsibilities for all aspects of the sanctioning body.
Executive vice presidents: Jim France will continue to serve as executive vice president and secretary for the sanctioning body with Brian France, who has served as senior vice president, also assuming the title of executive vice president.
Senior vice president: George Pyne, who has been directing the sanctioning body's marketing and licensing efforts while working out of NASCAR's Charlotte, N.C., office, will be relocating to Daytona Beach to assume his new duties as senior vice president. Pyne will have day-to-day operational responsibilities for each of NASCAR's departments and he will report to and execute Helton's direction. "This sport needs to press on, and we're going to press on," Bill France said. "We've got good people to do it."
During two decades in racing, Helton has seen nearly every facet of the business. In 1980, Helton left his position at a small radio station in his native Bristol, Tenn., to become the Atlanta Motor Speedway public relations director. He held that post for five years before being promoted to that track's general manager.
A year later, in 1986, NASCAR president Bill France had director of competition Les Richter ask Helton if he'd join International Speedway Corp., a company started by the France family that oversees several racetracks.
Helton became director of marketing for Daytona International Speedway, but quickly moved to general manager, then president of Talladega Superspeedway, another ISC venue. That's where he remained until 1994, when France invited him to replace the retiring Richter.
Following five seasons as vice president for competition, Helton was promoted to senior vice president and chief operating officer, where he directed the major stock car racing to the pinnacle of sports entertainment. He was named to the post by France, who took a lesser role at NASCAR while undergoing cancer treatments.
France said Tuesday that his cancer fight was the impetus for the latest management moves. He said the discovery of his health problems made him realize that the organization needed to be better prepared.
"That's a valid concern that anybody should have," he said.
On Tuesday, Helton was named to the top post at a sanctioning body that the France family has nurtured from the sport's early days of regional competition to its current status as one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the United States.
"I think it's on a good track," Helton said. "Personally, I just don't want to screw up anything. It's not like there's anything broken, it's not like there's a new ownership package or anything like that. It's NASCAR as the world has known it for the last 52 years. It's just bigger and better today. So, I don't have any great agenda to change anything because it works pretty well the way it is."
Pyne was named head of NASCAR's licensing division in 1996 and took responsibility for the marketing division a year later. Pyne was instrumental in the successful rollout of various marketing and licensing initiatives including NASCAR's 50th Anniversary celebration in 1998, NASCAR's Automotive Aftermarket program and NASCAR Racers, NASCAR's new animated series on Fox Kids and the first animated series based on a major professional sport.
"George has had quite a bit of experience organizing and building the marketing office in Charlotte and the licensing and marketing office in New York City and has shown the ability to manage employees and organize the business side of just about anything in our opinion," Helton said.
Brian France, the grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., and the son of NASCAR president Bill France, Jr., has been actively involved with the sanctioning body for more than a decade.
Since taking over the marketing side of NASCAR in 1994, France has tripled the marketing, sales, licensing and public relations staff and has been at the forefront of dramatic sponsorship involvement. <pre> Helton Bio BORN Aug. 30, 1953, in Bristol, Va.
RESIDES Ormond Beach, Fla.
FAMILY wife, Lynda; three grown children: Rich, Tina and Jon
EDUCATION King College, Bristol; accounting major, math minor
EARLY JOBS accounting, football and basketball officiating, sports director at a small radio station
NASCAR CAREER public relations director, Atlanta, 1980 general manager, Atlanta, 1985 marketing director, Daytona, 1986 general manager, Talladega, 1987 president, Talladega, 1989 competition director, NASCAR, 1994 chief operating officer, NASCAR, 1999 president, NASCAR, 2000
FAVORITE FOOD: Steak
HEROES: John Wayne, Johnny Unitas
THE MOUSTACHE: A constant fixture since he was 17, with the lone brief exception in 1985 when he lost a bet.