Bill France Jr., the leading force behind the transformation of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) from a regional sport into a multibillion-dollar industry with fans worldwide, is born on this day in 1933 in Washington, D.C. France’s father, William France Sr. (1909-92), founded NASCAR in 1948.
In 1934, Bill France Jr.’s family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, where his auto mechanic father, known as “Big Bill,” raced cars on the hard-packed sand and promoted races. After witnessing how racing rules could vary from event to event and how dishonest promoters could abscond with prize money, France saw a need for a governing body to sanction and promote racing. NASCAR was officially incorporated in February 1948.
Bill France Jr., nicknamed “Little Bill,” began working for his father as a teenager and joined the family business full-time after attending the University of Florida and serving in the U.S. Navy. From the start, the younger France’s involvement with NASCAR was hands-on. According to his New York Times obituary: “At various times at racetracks, he was a corner worker, flagman and chief steward. He dug post holes, parked cars, sold programs, repaired guard rails, worked in concession stands and took tickets.” France also tried racing for a brief period. When Bill France Sr. built the Daytona International Speedway, his son drove a road grader and performed other jobs. The track opened in 1959 with the first Daytona 500 race, which became one of NASCAR’s marquee events.
France became head of NASCAR in 1972, after his father retired. At the time, NASCAR races were held primarily in the South and the sport’s drivers and fans were largely Southern. Under France’s leadership over the next three decades, NASCAR grew into one of America’s most-popular spectator sports. According to USA Today, when Bill France Jr. handed over the chairmanship of the family dynasty to his son Brian (1962-) in 2003, “NASCAR had morphed into a multibillion-dollar industry flush with Fortune 500 backing, long-term network TV contracts and races at gleaming super-speedways in metropolitan markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Boston.”
Bill France Jr. died at age 74 on June 4, 2007, in Daytona Beach. In 2010, NASCAR sanctioned over 1,200 races at 100 tracks in 30 states across America, as well as locations in Canada and Mexico. The races were broadcast in over 150 countries.