Williams H.G. France, better known as Bill France Sr. or "Big Bill," passed away 20 years ago today at the age of 82. The co-founder and original guiding force of NASCAR, he set the stage for the family business that has grown into the most popular motorsports franchise in North America.
After a racing career of his own on board tracksFrance helped promote races in Daytona Beach and subsequently led talks among stock car drivers, mechanics, and car owners in Daytona Beach, that resulted in the formation of NASCAR in February, 1948, based on the premise of providing uniform rules, insurance coverage and guaranteed purses for race events.
In 1953, France proposed a new superspeedway called Daytona International Speedway, and directed the effort to build what become NASCAR's home and the site of its most prestigious race. The Daytona 500 debuted in 1959, and has grown in stature ever since. France went on to build Talladega Superspeedway which opened in 1969.
When R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. became NASCAR's title sponsor in 1970, it convinced France to drop all dirt tracks and races under 100 miles from the Winston Cup schedule in 1972, a move that defined the "modern era" of the sport.
"Big Bill" then handed over the chairman's role at NASCAR to his son Bill France Jr., but kept an office at NASCAR headquarters until the late 1980s. His grandson, Brian France, took over the reigns of the family business in 2003.