26/9/1909 - 7/6/1992
Record updated 14-Apr-08
Bill France was the co-founder of NASCAR, the sanctioning body of United States-based stock car racing.
William "Bill" Henry Getty France, Sr. "Big Bill" was the co-founder of NASCAR, the sanctioning body of United States-based stock car racing.
France was familiar with Daytona Beach's land speed record history when he moved his family from Washington D.C. to Daytona in 1935 to escape the Great Depression. He had less than $100 (US) in his pocket when they left D.C. He set up a car repair shop in Daytona.
On March 8, 1936, the first stock car race was held on the Daytona Beach Road Course, promoted by local racer Sig Haugdahl. The race was marred by controversial scoring and huge financial losses to the city. France finished fifth.
Haugdahl talked with France, and they talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club to host another event in 1937. The event was more successful, but still lost money. Haugdahl didn't promote any more events.
France took over the job of running the course in 1938. There were two events in 1938. Danny Murphy beat France in the July event. France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings to win the Labor Day weekend event.
There were three races in 1939. There were three races in 1940. France finished fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September.
France was busy planning the 1942 event, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. France spent the World War II working at the Daytona Boat Works. Most racing stopped until after the war. Car racing returned to the track in 1946.
France knew that promoters needed to organize their efforts. Drivers were frequently victimized by unscrupulous promoters who would leave events with all the money before drivers were paid. On December 14, 1947 France began talks at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach, Florida that ended with the formation of NASCAR on February 21, 1948. He built the Occoneechee Speedway in September 1947.
By 1953, France knew it was time for a permanent track to hold the large crowds that were gathering for races at Daytona and elsewhere. Hotels were popping up all along the beachfront. On April 4, 1953, France proposed a new superspeedway called Daytona International Speedway. France began building a new 2.5 mile superspeedway in 1956 to host the new premiere event of the series – the Daytona 500. The event debuted in 1959, and has been the premiere event since.
He later built the Talladega Superspeedway which opened in 1969.
He served as Chairman and CEO of NASCAR until 1972, when he handed the position to his son, William France, Jr.. R.J. Reynolds became the title sponsor in 1970, a moved that changed the name of the series from "Grand National" to "Winston Cup". Reynolds convinced France to drop all dirt tracks and races under 100 miles from the NASCAR schedule in 1972, a move that defined the "modern era" of the sport. Big Bill then turned the reigns of NASCAR over to his son Bill France Jr. Big Bill kept an office at the headquarters until the late 1980s.
He built the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, which inducted France in its first class on July 25, 1990.