Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Passing of a True American Legend – Bill France Jr.

In a few short weeks the annual celebration fathers and their children share will be marked not with the U.S. Open but the time honored remembrance of fathers and their kids sharing those special times together. Sports remains an arena (pardon the pun) where families and in particular fathers and their son’s share moments in time. No greater has that bond be exhibited than with the France family and their connections to NASCAR. Three generations of France’s have led NASCAR. From its infancy on the beaches of Daytona Beach where NASCAR founder Bill France first believed, to his grandson Brian France the current chairman of the board and chief executive officer of NASCAR. But while Bill France may have started NASCAR and Brian France is responsible for safeguarding the legacy – Bill France Jr. is responsible for developing NASCAR into a multi-billion industry. Monday, Bill France Jr. passed away at aged 74 succumbing to cancer.

"He had a remarkable career and an even-more remarkable life. Words cannot express how much he'll be missed by myself and the rest of our family and by the NASCAR industry overall." France’s son Brian offered on the passing of his father.

After attending the University of Florida, Bill severed his country as a member of the United States Navy from 1953 to 1955. After leaving the Navy it was time to go to work for his father, and a lifetime commitment that in large part due to his efforts propelled NASCAR into the money-making machine it is today. Some of the highlights of Bill France Jr’s NASCAR related career included:

1956 - Goes to work for his father at Bill France Racing Inc., the predecessor of International Speedway Corporation. Also works as NASCAR course supervisor and dabbled in driving, plus working as flagman, scorer, promoter and steward.

1957 - NASCAR director of course.

1958 - NASCAR assistant race director.

1959 - Member of the Board of Directors of Daytona International Speedway, which opens that year.

1960 - Daytona International Speedway track superintendent.

1962 - Daytona International Speedway general manager.

1963 - Daytona International Speedway vice president.

1966 - NASCAR vice president.

1971 - R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's Winston brand becomes sponsor of the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National Division, which ran 48 races.

1972 - NASCAR Winston Cup Series' schedule is cut to 31 races, all on paved tracks.
February 1974 - Shortens Daytona 500 to 450 miles to show concern for U.S. "gas crisis."

1976 - The NASCAR Winston Cup Series takes the lead in worldwide motorsports attendance at 1.4 million spectators, which it never has relinquished, according to figures compiled by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

1978 - President Jimmy Carter invites NASCAR athletes to the White House.
Feb. 18, 1979 - First live flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500, by CBS Sports.

February 1980 - The first $1 million purse for the Daytona 500.

1981 - The NASCAR Winston Cup Series' post-season awards ceremony is moved from Daytona Beach, Fla., to New York City, its current location.

1982 - Anheuser-Busch Inc. assumes sponsorship of a new series, the NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series.

1984 - Anheuser-Busch's Busch brand takes over sponsorship of the series that today is titled the NASCAR Busch Series.

February 1985 - The Winston Million, a bonus posted by R.J. Reynolds for winning three of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' "Big Four" events: Daytona 500, Winston 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500, opens.

1986 - NASCAR's premier series is re-titled the "NASCAR Winston Cup Series," with the point fund increasing from $750,000 to $2 million.

1989 - Every event in NASCAR's premier division is televised, for the first time.

May 16, 1992 - NASCAR's all-star race, "The Winston," is held under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first time.

June 7, 1992 - William H.G. France dies.

February 1993 - Announces, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, that the NASCAR Winston Cup Series would race in the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Aug. 6, 1994 - The inaugural Brickyard 400 is held. With a purse of $3.2 million, it was the best paying NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at the time.

February 1995 - The first event for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is held at Phoenix International Raceway.

1995 NASCAR.COM is launched through a partnership between NASCAR and ESPN Internet Ventures.

Nov. 24, 1996 - A demonstration event is held at Japan's Suzuka Circuit.

1998 - NASCAR celebrates its 50th Anniversary and names its "50 Greatest Drivers."

December 1998 - NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon takes a $2 million payoff from the series' point fund, then a record; and NASCAR announces season attendance of more than 6.3 million fans.

February 1999 - Mike Helton named NASCAR's chief operating officer, the first time the company's day-to-day operations have been outside France family control.

Nov. 11, 1999 - Announces $2.4 billion television deal with FOX, NBC and Turner Sports, set to begin in 2001.

November 1999 - DaimlerChrysler announces its Dodge nameplate will return to NASCAR's premier division in 2001, after a 15-year hiatus.

January 2000 - R.J. Reynolds increases the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' point fund from $5 to $10 million, with the champion's share increasing to $3 million.

Nov. 28, 2000 - Passes NASCAR presidency to Mike Helton and assumes role as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of NASCAR.

February 2001 - Inducted into the Oceanside Rotary Club of Daytona Beach, Fla., Stock Car Hall of Fame.

February 2001 - The first $10 million Daytona 500 is held, pushing it past the Brickyard 400 as the best paying NASCAR Cup Series race, a title it still holds today.

Sept. 25, 2001 - NASCAR Radio, the first 24-hour radio station dedicated to a single sport, debuts on XM Satellite Radio.

January 2003 - The $10 million NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C., is unveiled.

June 19, 2003 - Nextel, currently doing business as Sprint Nextel, is announced as the sponsor of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, effective for 10 years with the 2004 season.

October 2003 - Passes roles as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of NASCAR to son Brian Z. France. Becomes co-vice chairman of NASCAR, with brother Jim, who is also NASCAR's executive vice president.

May 2004 - Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.

June 2004 - Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Mich.

October 2004 - Inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio.

October 2006 - Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Midland, Mich.

The motorsports industry stood as one Monday in tribute to the man who made NASCAR a household world.

"Coming in, I had two big pairs of shoes to fill [Bill France and Bill Jr.]. I was more familiar with Bill Jr.'s way of doing business but that didn't make it any easier.

"He blazed so many trails for our sport. He was determined to follow the vision of his father while also expanding on that vision. Over nearly four decades, he did a masterful job." Mike Helton NASCAR’s longtime president observed.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Bill France, Jr. Bill was not only a great friend of ours personally, but he was a great friend of the Speedway as well. Our entire family will cherish the many memories that we shared with him. His influence on the sport of auto racing will be felt forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with Betty Jane, Brian, Lesa, and the entire France family." Bob and Gary Bahre -- chairman and president, New Hampshire International Speedway

"Words can't describe the impact Bill France Jr. had on our sport. From the millions of NASCAR fans to those of us who make our livelihood in NASCAR, we all have Bill to thank for his vision and leadership.

"I knew Bill for more than 17years, so I know he would have wanted us to get right back to work to help promote the sport he loved. We will carry on, but we'll do so with heavy hearts. We will miss him tremendously." Doug Fritz -- president, Richmond International Raceway

"The world of racing has lost a true innovator in Bill France, Jr., who made NASCAR the premiere sport it is today. His vision, tenacity and friendship will be missed. He left the sport better and provided the foundation for continued growth. Chevrolet and General Motors extends its thoughts and prayers to the France family." Brent Dewar -- vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing, General Motors North America

"Bill France Jr. was more than a good friend of mine. He was a legend in motor racing. NASCAR and motor racing worldwide would not have seen the growth and prosperity it has without Bill's vision and determination. He single-handedly made it the reality it is today by understanding what the fans wanted and by creating an environment where on-track competition was king. Bill also understood and encouraged the automobile manufacturers to become a major part of the sport.

"I personally loved the opportunities I had to sit with him, discussing racing, business and family. He had a wonderful perspective on everything going on around him. Everyone at Ford, and me personally, lost a great friend today." Edsel B. Ford II -- Board of Directors, Ford Motor Company

“It is with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of Bill France Jr. His vision and determination played a critical role in guiding and developing the sport of NASCAR into what it is today. We join with all members of the NASCAR family in remembering a great leader and in sending our condolences to the France family." Jim Aust -- president and CEO, Toyota Racing Development

"It is with the passing of one of NASCAR's greatest icons that Sprint Nextel joins millions of fans in grieving today. Bill France Jr. orchestrated the transformation and fostered the growth of NASCAR to the heights it enjoys within the world of sports.

"He did so with passion and an uncanny business sense that put the interest of fans as utmost importance. That will forever be his legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Betty Jane, Brian, Lesa and the entire France and NASCAR families." Dean Kessel -- director, Nextel Cup Series marketing for Sprint Nextel

"As a former Daytona International Speedway president, Bill France always kept a keen eye on the track that his father Bill France Sr. founded and built. I have been honored to have his guidance and experience at my disposal during my tenure as track president.

"Bill France was a great ambassador to the sport and under his watch, led unparalleled growth for Daytona International Speedway, International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family at this time." Robin Braig -- president, Daytona International Speedway

"Everyone involved in the Ford Racing program is thinking of the France family and wishing them the best at this very difficult time. There's no way to put into words how much Bill France Jr. meant to NASCAR and auto racing in general, because if it wasn't for him, this sport obviously wouldn't be where it is today.

"He wanted to take NASCAR from a regional sport to something that is followed worldwide, and with great determination, he made that vision come true. Every sport needs a strong leader at the top in order to be successful and no organization had a man that stood taller these last four decades than Bill France Jr. We will truly miss him." Dan Davis -- director, Ford Racing Technology

Some men are born into greatness; others have it thrust upon them. If you’re last name is France and you’re the son of NASCAR founder Bill France your future was decided the day you were born. It can be argued Bill France Jr. wasn’t born with as silver spoon but a never-ending passion for speed. More importantly Bill France Jr. will long be remembered as the man who took his father’s dream and made it a reality – a billion dollar dream come true.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

Labels: , , , ,