In 1972, Bill France Jr. succeeded his father, NASCAR funder Bill France, Sr. as the CEO of NASCAR. He remained CEO of NASCAR for nearly three decades, before turning the presidency of the company over to Mike Helton in 2000 after being diagnosed with cancer. In 2003, Brian France – the son of Bill France, Jr. – became the CEO of NASCAR.
It was during Bill France Jr.´s time at the helm that NASCAR went from being mostly a Southeastern regional sport to becoming a national – and even international – brand.
About Bill France, Jr.
Full name: William Clifton France
Nicknames: Bill France, Little Billy
Birth: April 4, 1933 in Washington, D.C., USA
Death: June 4, 2007 in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA
Alma mater: University of Florida
Spouse: Betty Jane
Children: Brian France and Lesa Kennedy (neé France)
In 1933, William Clifton France was born in Washington, D.C. to William France and Anne Bledsoe. In 1935, the Great Depression made the family move to Daytona Beach, Florida.
Since his parents were heavily involved in the world of car racing, France, Jr. grew up around the Florida race tracks and also worked in the family business, doing thing such as help parking cars at the Daytona Beach Road Course and selling concessions during events.
France, Jr. attended Seabreeze High School and the University of Florida, and he also served two years in the United States Navy. During the construction of the Daytona International Speedway in 1957-1959, France Jr. – who was now in his mid-20s – worked seven days a week for thirteen months, typically driving machines such as bulldozers, compactors and graders. In one famous incident, he attempted to use a mule to pull trees out of a swamp because the more modern equippment was getting stuck in the unreliable terrain.
In the 1960s, France, Jr., began competing in Enduro, a type of motorcycle sport where the competitions take place on extended cross-country, off-road courses.
In the early 1970s, he entered the motorcycle division of Baja 1000, and this was also the period when he explored a then new-fangled sport called motorcross.
When France, Jr. became head of NASCAR in early 1972 he had already served as vice-president of the company for six years.
One of France´s many achievments during his time as CEO for NASCAR was to introduce stock car racing to Australia under the NASCAR label. In the early 1980s, he inked a deal with the Australian tire retailer and retired racer Bob Jane to build a suitable high-banked speedway at Jane´s Calder Park Raceway in Melbourne, and this resulted in the creation of the Calder Park Thunderdome – the first high-banked NASCAR style speedway outside North America. The premier race was held on February 28, 1988.
France was also instrumental in turning NASCAR racing into a widely available television sport in the United States. When France took over as CEO in the early 1970s, it was still unusual for NASCAR races to be televised, and when a race did air it was ususually as one of many segments in programs such as ABC Wide World of Sports. Franc was the one who negotiated a deal with CBS Sport´s president neal Pilson to televise the complete 1979 Daytona 500 race – from flag to flag. As luck would have it, a snowstorm made a lot of people in the Midwest and Northeast stay home in front of their TV:s on the day of the race, helping to boost the viewership dramatically outside NASCAR´s main geographical range. And these new spectators were indeed treated to a captivating show, because when Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough had crashed into each other during the final lap, Allison´s brother Bobby Allison stopped and got into a punching match with Yarborough. France went on to sign television deals with entities such as ESPN, TNN and TBS, and in 1999, he managed to negotiate a record-breaking $2.4 billion broadcasting contract for the 2001 season.
After being diagnosed with cancer, France turned the presidency of NASCAR over to Mike Helton in the year 2000, but remained a member of the six-person NASCAR board of directors, and also continued as chairman of the board for the International Speedway Corporation (ISC).
France died of lung cancer in Dayton Beach on June 4, 2007, during the rain-delayed Autism Speaks 400 Cup race. His death was reported at lap 261 of the race, and the announcer Mike Joy held a moment of silence during a restart around lap 270. The tracks flag was lowered to half staff.