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William "Bill" Clifton France, Jr.
4/3/33  -  6/4/07
Born: Washington, DC   -    Hometown: Daytona Beach

I'll Be   by Edwin McCain

(Sung by Edwin McCain at the June 7th Memorial Service)
 

The strands in your eyes that color them wonderful
Stop me and steal my breath
Emeralds from mountains thrust toward the sky
Never revealing their depth
Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated
I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache that hang from above

Chorus:
I'll be your crying shoulder
I'll be your love suicide
and I'll be better when I'm older
I'll be the greatest fan of your life

Rain falls angry on the tin roof
As we lie awake in my bed
You're my survival, you're my living proof
My love is alive not dead
Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache, that hang from above

Repeat Chorus

I've been dropped out, burned up, fought my way back from the dead
Tuned in, turned on, Remembered the things that you said

For more than a quarter of a century, it was the guidance of William C. France, known to the racing world as Bill France, Jr., that thrust NASCAR to the top of the professional sporting world. After taking the reins from his father, family patriarch Bill France, Sr., in January of 1972, Bill Jr. used his business acumen to take the family business to new heights. Other than the founding of NASCAR itself, Bill Jr.ís appointment to leadership is probably the most significant event in the history of the sanctioning body. As rule-maker, promoter, ambassador, and salesman, France has set the standard by which all other forms of motorsports are measured. He has taken it from a regional sport to a national sport, and nurtured its growing popularity on television, culminating in a record-setting $2.4 billion broadcast contract.  He handed the presidency of NASCAR to Mike Helton in 2000, and was succeeded by his son, Brian, as the CEO and Chairman of the Board in 2003. As of his induction in 2004, Bill France, Jr. and his brother Jim were co-vice chairmen of a six-member Board of Directors that also included Brian, Lesa Kennedy, Helton and George Pyne.

Bill France Jr. Dies at 74

His father may have been the architect of NASCAR, but throughout his life, Bill France Jr. proved to be the ultimate general manager.

His plaque at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame may put it best: "Other than the founding of NASCAR itself, Bill Jr.'s appointment to leadership is probably the most significant event in the history of the sanctioning body."

France Jr.'s ability to transform his father's original vision into something greater than the sum of its parts was his greatest accomplishment. Under his three decades of leadership, NASCAR evolved from a regional sport to one with a world-wide fan base. He was a trailblazer in the field of corporate sponsorships and the guiding force behind a television contract worth billions of dollars.

"In life you've got rules you have to live by, and you have to have people to enforce those rules," France Jr. once said. "If you don't have rules, you have chaos. Basically we are the government in the little country of motorsports.

"Our rules are the statutes and the laws of this little country. To gain and keep the confidence of everyone involved with NASCAR, those participating need to know, as evidenced by our behavior, that the rules are applicable to everyone and are enforced fairly."

France Jr. suffered a mild heart attack in 1997 while in Japan for a NASCAR exhibition race, and was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. He has never revealed what type of cancer he had.

Although his cancer was in remission, he handed off day-to-day duties of running NASCAR to his son, Brian, in late 2003.

In March, France Jr. was admitted to Halifax Medical Center under the care of his personal physicians but was released to his doctor's care.

William C. France, chairman of the board of directors for International Speedway Corporation, died Monday at home ironically during a race rain delayed from the day before. He celebrated his 74th birthday in April.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1933 but raised in Daytona Beach, Bill Jr. was immersed in the sport of auto racing from the time he could talk. Being the boss' son, that also meant a measure of responsibility.

After attending the University of Florida and a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy, France Jr. returned to make racing promotion his full-time occupation. He parked cars and sold concessions at the old beach and road course, then took a hands-on approach to his father's dream of building a superspeedway in the swampland west of Daytona Beach.

"We went seven days a week for 13 months to build the speedway," France Jr. recalled. "We went from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, and worked in the winter until it got dark."

In many cases, that meant operating the equipment himself.

"I ran a motor grader some and a bulldozer, but mostly I was on a compactor," France Jr. said. "I did a little of this, that and the other. I even had a mule out there one time pulling trees out of the swamp.

"Everything that was motorized back then got stuck in the swamp. I said, let's try a mule. That didn't work either."

With miles of strip malls and restaurants along International Speedway Blvd. today, it may be difficult to imagine how wild that tract of land would have been 50 years ago.

"We'd have big piles of stumps that we had to burn," France Jr. said. "I remember seeing a big rattlesnake out here one day. They asked me, 'Where did you find him at?' I pointed to where I found it.

"This one man had an ax and he swung it into a stump and we heard rattles buzzing all over the place. The area was full of snakes. We cleared out of there pretty fast."

France Jr. had an uncanny ability to recognize potential growth and take advantage of those opportunities. While in the service, he developed a relationship with Californian Bob Barkheimer, a move which strengthened NASCAR's ties to the west coast.

He loved motorcycles and competed in the Baja 1000, which led to the addition of a motocross race at Daytona International Speedway. The Daytona Supercross is now one of the highest-attended events at the track and correlated with the growth of Daytona's Bike Week.

France Jr. served as vice president of NASCAR for six years before his father retired in 1972. France Jr. negotiated a deal with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to sponsor NASCAR's top-tier series, then went after television partners to expose his product to potential fans.

Following successful ratings for flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 by CBS in 1979, France Jr. was able to leverage the broadcast rights to the point where he negotiated a $2.4 billion contact with FOX, NBC and Turner Sports for the 2001 season.

Jim Hunter, former president of Darlington Raceway, said France Jr. was open to suggestions but only to a point.

"Bill always let you speak your piece," Hunter said. "And if you disagreed with him, that was OK, if he thought you had a good reason. But he had a way of looking at you over his glasses after a while, and when he did that you knew he'd had about enough of you. Bill France didn't lose many arguments."

Still, France Jr. never lost sight of what made NASCAR popular in the first place: its drivers.

"If you go back and look and think about it, NASCAR started off in 1948 with a group of racecar drivers who were in their 20s and 30s and started racing," France Jr. said. "They all came up together, and then they went out together. Then you had the Fireball Roberts of the world ... but then came David Pearson and Richard Petty. Then came Darrell Waltrip.

"I remember when Waltrip put out a statement that said the old guys better watch out because there are some new kids in town. Then came the time when he had to step back. So this is another cycle we're going through now, that's all."

I'll Be (Sung by Edwin McCain at the June 7th Memorial Service)

The strands in your eyes that color them wonderful
Stop me and steal my breath
Emeralds from mountains thrust toward the sky
Never revealing their depth
Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated
I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache that hang from above

Chorus:
I'll be your crying shoulder
I'll be your love suicide
and I'll be better when I'm older
I'll be the greatest fan of your life

Rain falls angry on the tin roof
As we lie awake in my bed
You're my survival, you're my living proof
My love is alive not dead
Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache, that hang from above

Repeat Chorus

I've been dropped out, burned up, fought my way back from the dead
Tuned in, turned on, Remembered the things that you said

Repeat Chorus

 

Bill France Jr. headed NASCAR for nearly 30 years, starting in the early 1970s, and guided that association during its period of explosive growth into the most popular form of motorsports in America. Over the years, he did about everything possible in the racing business, from selling concessions and parking cars at the old beach/road course in Daytona Beach, Florida, to fashioning complicated mergers with captains of industry. He spent more than a year of his life working 12-hour days, seven days a week, to build Daytona International Speedway.

France also continued his fatherís legacy of fostering the growth of Americaís premier motorcycle race, the Daytona 200. In addition, he brought innovative new ideas, such as the introduction of supercross racing to the Speedway, which helped Bike Week grow to the point of attracting 500,000 motorcyclists to Daytona Beach each March.

France was born in Washington, D.C., in 1933, but his family moved to Daytona Beach when he was just a toddler. Young France began working in the familyís burgeoning racing business as a boy. His early jobs included helping in the concession stands and he later advanced to parking cars. Parking cars on the beach could be a major challenge, as France remembers in one humorous incident.

"When the tide started coming in after the race, some of the cars would be caught by the water. I was riding around in a truck with a public address system telling everybody to keep moving. You can drive in the water because it doesn't drown a car and you won't get stuck. If you stop, by the second wave you're stuck for good. I'm out in the ocean with this truck telling people to keep moving. I had waves crashing over that old truck I was riding in, but it kept running."

France loved motorcycles and starting riding at a young age.

"I had a little Harley 125 that I loved to ride on the beach," France remembers. "Jim Davis, the great old racer, taught me how to ride when I was pretty young. You couldnít have gotten lessons from a better person."

In an interview, Davis recalled teaching France to ride.

"I asked him if he knew how to ride a bicycle. He said 'Yes,' so I told him it was just like riding a bike except you didnít have to pedal."

When construction began on Daytona International Speedway, France Jr. worked tirelessly to complete the mammoth project.

"I ran a motor grader some and a bulldozer, but mostly I was on a compactor," he remembers. "I did a little of this, that and the other. I even had a mule out there one time pulling trees out of the swamp. Everything that was motorized back then got stuck in the swamp. I said, let's try a mule. That didn't work either.

"We'd have big piles of stumps that we had to burn. I remember seeing a big rattlesnake out here one day. They asked me, 'Where did you find him at?' I pointed to where I found it. This one man had an ax and he swung it into a stump and we heard rattles buzzing all over the place. The area was full of snakes. We cleared out of there pretty fast.

"We went seven days a week for 13 months to build the Speedway. We went from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, and worked in the winter until it got dark."

In the 1960s, France, like thousands of motorcyclists of the era, got caught up in the off-road revolution. He started riding off road and competed in enduros. In the early 1970s, France entered the motorcycle division in the legendary Baja 1000.

"My co-rider had a high-speed crash so I didnít do much," France says. "The bike was all bent up so I just tried to nurse it home to the finish."

His interest in off-road motorcycling led to his idea of bringing in the up-and-coming sport of motocross as part of the Daytona racing program in the early 1970s. The motocross races started with little fanfare, but grew into the popular Daytona Supercross.

"I thought motocross was going to be a big thing," France remembers. "At first, we ran the race by the lake in the back section of the Speedway. My dad was the one who suggested we move the race up in front of the grandstands. After that it really took off and started attracting big crowds."

France is quick to credit his younger brother, Jim, as one of the driving forces behind the emergence of AMA Superbike racing.

"We saw that the old 750 class (Formula One) was dominated by one brand and the factory bikes had too much of an advantage. Jim wanted to give all the riders a better chance and he saw the superbikes as a way to do that. I think it worked out pretty well."

France deserves much of the credit for helping make Daytona the biggest week of motorcycling in America. His decision to include motocross in Speedway racing activities proved to be one of great foresight.

France passed on the legacy of his famous father to his son, Brian, who was named CEO of NASCAR in 2003. Bill Jr. remained active in guiding the familyís racing business even after his retirement.

© 2007, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum

FRANCE FAST FACTS

Father: William Henry Getty France (founder of NASCAR) b. 26-Sep-1909, d. 7-Jun-1992
Mother: Anne Bledsoe France
Brother: Jim France (NASCAR Board of Directors)
Wife: Betty Jane Zachary France (Chair of NASCAR Foundation, m. 20-Sep-1957)
Son: Brian France (b. 2-Aug-1962, NASCAR Chairman and CEO)
Daughter: Lesa France Kennedy (President of International Speedway Corp.)

    High School: Seabreeze High School, Daytona Beach, FL (1951)
    University: University of Florida (did not complete)

    NASCAR CEO (1972-2003)
    NASCAR President (1972-2000)
    NASCAR VP (1966-72)
    Member of the Board of NASCAR (as Chairman, 2000-2003, as Director, 2003-07)
   
    Motorcycle Hall of Fame 2000
    Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame 2001
    International Motorsports Hall of Fame 2004

Note: He was buried on the day of June7th, the same date that his father died in 1992


We Will Miss You . . . . .

To: Bill France, Sr.


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