By admin | May 3, 2010
By Richard Allen
When NASCAR laid the groundwork for building a Hall of Fame there were two men who simply had to be on the list of initial inductees. Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. were the guiding forces for the sport in its formative years. Without their leadership NASCAR would likely never have reached its place among the other major league sports in America.
Bill France, Sr. was the visionary founder of the sport. His early leadership built NASCAR and his iron-handed control established him as its unquestioned head. He built the massive tracks at Daytona and Talladega that have become cornerstones of the yearly schedule. At the same time, he truly ran the sport in a very hands-on way. Drivers, owners, media and everyone else answered to him, and only him, for better or worse.
While many have questioned or even criticized Big Bill’s hard leadership style, it can be argued that in the sport’s infancy such control at the top was a necessity.
Bill France, Jr. took the sport he inherited from his father and raised it to a new level. One can easily picture ‘Little Bill’ as a back room deal maker, much like an old style politician, who positioned people, sponsors and media in such a way as to best serve him and his organization.
Major sponsors and live national television broadcasts ushered in an era in which a level of attention to the sport that delivered it to locations never thought possible.
Now, however, the current generation of the France family is doing little to add to the legacy of their predecessors.
As has been well documented, J.C. France, the son of Jim France and grandson of ‘Big Bill’, was stopped by a police officer in Daytona Beach, Florida last year and charged with street racing, driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance. A Florida judge recently dropped the charges because the arresting officer was outside of his jurisdiction.
The person France was alleged to have been racing, his half-brother Russell Van Richmond, reportedly told police officers, “No, this is a mistake for you. I’m a France, we own this city.
“You’re done,” Russell Van Richmond reportedly spouted to an officer. “Your job is over. This is the biggest mistake ever and you’re so done in Daytona.”
Whether guilty or not of the charges, the incident left the impression of spoiled rich people who believed they could behave in any manner they wanted and then use highly paid lawyers to get off on a technicality.
Like them of not, J.C. France’s grandfather and uncle were hard working men. They may have been self-centered in many ways but their actions more often than not served the sport of NASCAR well in the long run. It would be hard to imagine either of them running the risk of doing damage to the sport they worked so hard to build with such careless actions as these.
Besides the type of stupid behavior that was alleged to have occurred by one family member, the current generation of the France family has incurred the wrath of many who initially became fans of the sport when it was being run by Senior and Junior.
Brian France, the son of Bill Jr., has become a lightning rod of criticism during his reign at the helm of NASCAR. Where his father and grandfather were very much hands on type leaders, the perception of the younger France is that he rules from afar as a reactionary with little concern for the long term best interest of the sport.
Whether true or not and whether fair or not, many believe Brian France runs NASCAR as if he would rather be somewhere else. Rumors have had him showing interest in buying an NFL franchise, spending more time in New York than Daytona Beach or Charlotte, and being more concerned with his own financial health than the overall health of the sport.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that the current lucrative television contracts were inked during Brian France’s time as NASCAR chairman and that he has expanded the sport into regions where it has never reached before. However, on the other side of the coin, many of his critics will contend that the television contracts and expansion have served to do more harm than good to the sport’s most sacred traditions.
The current NASCAR chairman has recently been the subject of considerable speculation because of a nasty lawsuit between he and his former wife, Megan France. His lawyers argued that, despite precedent in the state of North Carolina, court documents in the case should be sealed because opening the case to the public, “would cause huge adverse effects for Mr. France.”
Brian France’s sister, Lesa France Kennedy, serves as the head of the International Speedway Corporation. She has been regarded as one of the most powerful women in sports. While her leadership has not come under the same type of criticism as her brother’s leadership of NASCAR, ISC has been faulted for placing tracks and securing dates in locations considered outside the roots of stock car racing.
Few things raise the ire of traditional NASCAR fans quicker than the mention of the tracks in Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas and Miami. Each of those are ISC tracks, and thus, are under control of Ms. France-Kennedy.
Were Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. controlling? Yes.
Were they self-serving? Yes.
Were they prone to favoritism? Yes.
But, were they good for NASCAR? Absolutely.
Those two men, without question, deserve the place they will soon take in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The question now is, will any other members of the France family be deserving of a place beside their predecessors?
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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