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France, "Bill" (William H. G.)

Auto racing

b. Sept. 26, 1909, Washington, DC
d. June 7, 1992

A stock car driver in the 1930s, when the sport began with relatively informal competition, France called an organizational meeting of car owners, drivers and mechanics in late 1947 to establish racing standards and regulations.

The meeting was held at Daytona Beach, FL, the site of a popular track, part sand and part road. As a result, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing was incorporated in February of 1948, with France as its president.

France ruled NASCAR from that point until 1972, building stock car racing into the richest most popular of all motor sports. The 6-foot-5 France, known as "Big Bill," was often called a dictator. In response, he once smiled and said, "Well, let's make that a benevolent dictator. What I'm doing is best for the sport, not just me."

In 1959, France opened Daytona International Speedway, the first so-called "superspeedway" a 2.5-mile, high-banked oval and the site of NASCAR's most prestigious race, the Daytona 500. By building it in Daytona, he signaled that the days of beach racing were over.

Within the next decade, other superspeedways were built at Atlanta, Charlotte, Dover (DE), Michigan, Pocono, and Rockingham. France opened another superspeedway, the 2.66-mile oval at Talladega, AL, in 1969.

When members of the newly-established drivers organization, led by Richard Petty, proposed boycotting Talladega because tires might not be able to handle its 195 mile-per-hour speeds, France borrowed a car and did several laps at 176 miles an hour. "Surely the young pros can run 20 miles an hour faster than I can," he said, and the boycott fizzled.

After his retirement in 1972, France was replaced by his son, Bill France Jr., but he remained active behind the scenes until his death.

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