Hall of fame's first class: Bill France Jr.
Thursday, Mar. 04, 2010
William Clifton France became NASCAR’s president in January 1972, succeeding his father and becoming only the second president of the family held business, the world’s largest auto racing sanctioning body.
Bill France Jr.
William Clifton France became NASCAR’s president in January 1972, succeeding his father and becoming only the second president of the family held business, the world’s largest auto racing sanctioning body. He oversaw a period of phenomenal growth as television coverage, attendance and revenue exploded and stock car racing ascended to No. 1 in U.S. motorsports.
France, often referred to as “Bill Jr.,” remained president until November 2000. At that time, France announced the formation of a NASCAR board of directors on which he served as chairman and CEO until October 2003, when he was replaced by his son, Brian Z. France.
Tom Higgins on 'Bill Jr.'
Motorsports writer and historian Tom Higgins shares a standout memory of each of the 10 nominees we're featuring as we count down to the NASCAR Hall of Fame vote and announcement.
Hampton, Ga. – the 1970s
During the late 1970s new owners of Atlanta International Raceway decided to add Indianapolis-style champ cars to the track schedule.
The race for the open-cockpit cars – and such stars as Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford – boasted a purse almost twice that of the track’s NASCAR shows of the time.
NASCAR officials were livid.
Paraphrasing, this is what NASCAR's president, Bill France Jr., told Atlanta track officials: “You might make love to me, but you ain’t going hold me when you do it!”
He immediately announced that purses for the NASCAR races at Atlanta would top those raced for by the champ car stars.
Stunned track leaders protested, but to no avail.
When the junior France succeeded his famed father as president of the organization in 1972, some observers predicted he’d never be the equal of “Big Bill.”
It was a classic underestimation.
“Junior” proved every bit as tough as his dad, and perhaps even more visionary, leading NASCAR to once unimagined growth when the TV networks came calling.