William Henry Getty France could never have forseen or believed that his early attempts to organize and legitimize stock car racing would evolve into one of America’s fastest growing and most popular sports.
In the 1930s and 1940s on the West Coast, there was a growing phenomenon called hot rodding. During that same period in the South, particularly in Florida, Alabama and up through the Carolinas, there was a parallel phenomenon called stock car racing – and leading the movement was a big man named Bill France.
France, a Daytona, Florida service station owner, could sense the popularity of this new sport. But the sport lacked race tracks, race promoters, respect and, most importantly, rules. In 1947, France called a meeting of owners, drivers and mechanics at Daytona’s famed Streamline Hotel and outlined his vision for organizing the sport, including uniform rules, insurance coverage and guaranteed purses. That meeting was the beginning of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing, or NASCAR, and a France family member has been at the helm ever since.
Stock car races in the 1950s were held on makeshift tracks that often included sections of beach and roads. France envisioned an enclosed, paved track with amenities for both teams and spectators. That vision became reality in 1959, when France opened the Daytona International Speedway. At 2.5 miles around, Daytona was the same size as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but with banked turns as much as 31 degrees (vs. 12 degrees at Indy), France had paved the way for the superspeedway concept. To this day, Daytona is the spiritual center of stock car racing, and the Daytona 500 one of the most sought after championships in all of racing.
A decade later, in 1969, France would raise the bar again, opening the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. At nearly 2.7 miles, it is still the largest and fastest oval track in the world. France remained at the helm of NASCAR until 1972, when he passed the reigns to his son, Bill France, Jr., but stayed actively involved until his death in 1992. NASCAR is now a multi-billion dollar industry, outgrowing every other professional sport in America and attracting over 7 million passionate race fans per year with tens of millions more watching on television. Visionary that he was, even Bill France himself could not have envisioned this result when he called together a small group of people in a Daytona meeting room in 1947.