- Bill France Sr. had the vision and idea for NASCAR and was the organization's president from 1947-72.
- When Bill Jr. came along, he was a natural understudy for his father.
- At an early age, Bill Jr. was on the road to races, nailing posters advertising events to roadside poles.
William Clifton France was groomed to eventually replace his father, William Henry Getty France, as the leader of NASCAR.
Although the son was not a junior, he was called Bill Jr. throughout his life. His father was either Bill Sr. or “Big Bill."
The elder France had the vision and idea for NASCAR. A driver and race promoter in the 1940s, he corralled stock car racing, which had been run by a zany assortment of men attracted to the concept of motorsports competition, into a viable organization. In December 1947, France called together many of racing’s most prominent drivers, promoters and officials for a series of meetings in Daytona Beach, Florida. The result was NASCAR, an organization that was incorporated two months later.
France, a take-no-prisoners leader who ruled the sport with a power that was rarely challenged, built a foundation under racing’s many disparate entities, turning stock car competition into a chase for national championships and bigger and bigger paychecks.
He dealt with a wide spectrum of problems, from driver boycotts to car manufacturer issues to speedway financial problems to disputed scoring. Others might not agree with his approach or opinions, but it was clear that he was in charge.
“I think he had that characteristic that drew people in,” said Mike Helton, who would become NASCAR president in 2000. “He was able to share the concepts and visions and motivate them to believe in it and to work on it. When he was there holding court, so to speak, you knew that there was an authority.”
When Bill Jr. came along, he was a natural understudy for his father. At an early age, he was on the road to races, nailing posters advertising events to roadside poles. He sold snow cones in race infields. He learned the ins and outs quickly.
Bill Sr. remained NASCAR president from 1947 to 1972. It was clear his son would follow him into that role, and the transition was made in ’72, the moment symbolized by Senior handing the NASCAR “keys” to Junior.
Although Bill Sr. retired as NASCAR president in 1972, he remained active in the sport for several more years as an advisor. He retained an office at NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach.
At the start of the 1972 season, Bill Jr. took his father’s blueprints and expanded them. For much of its existence, NASCAR had been seen largely as a Southern phenomenon (although it scheduled races outside the Southeast). Bill Jr. worked to give the sport more of a national (and, later, international) footing.
He was instrumental in broadening television’s interest in the sport as the Cup Series moved from spot appearances to full exposure. With that growth came more interest—and sponsorship money—from Fortune 500 companies, and NASCAR became a legitimate competitor for other big-league sports.