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The France Family

August 17, 2010 - 10:08am

You need look only at the France family tree to understand NASCAR’s history – and its current position at the pinnacle of American motorsports.

From founder William H.G. “Big Bill” France to his son William C. France to third-generation leader Brian Z. France – who took over the sport’s leadership in October 2003 – the family’s expertise is obvious.

When Brian Z. France became NASCAR’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, he replaced his father William C. France. That announcement completed a natural progression. Brian has been at the forefront of NASCAR’s dramatic sponsorship growth, including the 2003 ground-breaking announcement of Nextel Communications as the new sponsor of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series beginning in 2004. The series is now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, due to the merger of Sprint and Nextel.

Brian also has led a host of marketing initiatives including internalizing the sanctioning body’s licensing efforts and developing NASCAR’s consolidated television plans that culminated with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series events being broadcast on FOX, FX, ABC, ESPN, NBC Sports and TNT.

He has been very successful in directing all aspects of marketing including sponsorship sales and services, special projects, new business development and communications. In a short time, he has used his creativity and salesmanship to make the last 20 years the most exciting decades the sport has seen.

Brian clearly represents the vision of his grandfather “Big Bill” France, who created the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) in 1948 to organize and promote stock-car racing on tracks such as the one carved out of the sand of Daytona Beach. With tracks scattered throughout the Southeast, each with different rules and facilities, the sport needed leadership. That’s exactly what was supplied by Big Bill, who also founded the International Speedway Corporation (ISC) which produced two premier – and revolutionary – high-banked facilities in the form of Daytona International Speedway in 1959 and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 1969.

Big Bill’s two sons, Bill and Jim, were handed the reins to the company upon their father’s retirement. “Bill Jr.” became president while Jim took over the role of executive vice president and secretary, as well as president of ISC.

Other than the creation of the organization, Bill France Jr.’s ascension to the leadership role of NASCAR is likely the most important event in the sanctioning body’s history. As rule maker, promoter, ambassador and salesman, he set the standard by which all other forms of motorsports are measured.

While NASCAR’s popularity during the 1970s and ’80s grew primarily on a regional level, Bill Jr. continued to work toward his vision of national recognition.

Today, millions of fans pack NASCAR venues across the country each year for what is arguably the most exciting form of motorsports entertainment.

In November of 2000, Bill France Jr. announced that he would serve as chairman of a newly formed five-member board of directors for NASCAR that consisted of him, Jim France, Brian France, Lesa Kennedy and Mike Helton with responsibility for developing policy and vision for the sport. At that time, Bill stepped down as president and was replaced by Helton. Brian’s move into the Chairman/CEO positions resulted in Bill becoming a NASCAR vice chairman. Bill’s wife Betty Jane continues to serve as NASCAR assistant secretary and as chairperson for the NASCAR Foundation. Lesa France Kennedy, Brian’s sister, joined the NASCAR board and has worked her way to president of ISC, and serves on the ISC board, helping to oversee the company’s 12 race tracks and the successful Daytona 500 Experience motorsports attraction. Lesa also is a NASCAR executive vice president. Jim France is vice chairman and executive vice president.

“Big Bill” France passed away in June 1992. His son Bill passed away in June 2007. They are remembered for what they did during their lives, and for the groundwork they laid for the future.

Both were living legends – who left powerful legacies. They are the main reasons that after five decades, NASCAR is not only a successful sport but also one of the most successful family businesses in the country.