Friday, October 5, 2007

Bill France Jr., You Will Be Missed

Note: This was originally posted on June 6, 2007.

My last entry was a quick acknowledgement of the death of Nascar's leader over the last 30 plus years, but today I want to try to pay a proper tribute to Bill France Jr.

Big Bill, as Bill Jr.'s father was known, was the genesis of Nascar back in the 1940's and 1950's. The early years of Nascar were very uncertain. Big Bill was a race promoter who had a bigger vision than many of his contemporaries did. He wanted to see a national racing series, and worked to make his vision come true. Sadly, in many ways, Big Bill did not see, nor could he have imagined what his racing series has become today.

Bill France Jr. started his career as many kids did, helping out his father whenever and where ever he could. Bill Jr. nailed posters promoting races to telephone poles. He helped build the present Daytona race track, reportedly even using a mule to pull tree stumps out of the ground. Bill Jr. learned from his father, and eventually took over the reigns as chief of the Nascar empire.

Bill Jr. helped usher in Winston as the series sponsor in 1972, an event which we now call the birth of the modern era of Nascar. Stock car racing at it's highest level was now performed at established paved tracks of 1/2 mile or greater. Earlier, Nascar's stars raced in a haphazard schedule of 40 or well over 50 events a year, from places like Daytona to tiny tracks like the Ona racetrack in Huntington, West Virginia. Bill France Jr. basically turned what had been a rag tag bunch of drivers into a group of legitimate major sports stars.

Bill France Jr. was present for the beginning of what is now the modern Busch series, as well as the Craftsman Truck series. Bill Jr. was in charge with this sport achieved national attention by brokering the deal with CBS to show the 1979 Daytona 500 from the green flag through the exciting finish, which featured a fist fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie and Bobby Allison. Bill France Jr. also helped the sport grow to the point that major television networks were bidding for rights to broadcast each and every race on television every week.

For those of you who have been fans of Nascar for more than 10 years or so, you've seen the enormous growth in popularity that this sport has experienced. A lot of credit for that phenominal growth belongs to Bill France Jr.

In 2000, Bill Jr. passed the torch to Mike Helton, and retired as the chief promoter and rule enforcer. A few years later, his son, Brian, was promoted to the exalted spot as CEO of the company. Brian has started out with a bang, creating the Chase for the Cup and the Lucky Dog pass. Young men tend to try things to make the overall situation more exciting, and Brian is no exception. I hope that Brian has half the brains and cunning that his dad had. If he does, Brian will go far with Nascar.

NASCAR. It was created by the France family, and we will all miss the son of the man that started it all. Bill France Jr., thanks for all you've done over the years to keep this sport exciting and growing. Bill France Jr. defined the acronym National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

Go with God, Bill Jr. We'll miss you.

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