William Henry Getty France was born in Washington DC on September 26, 1909. He would be known as Big Bill, but motorsport history will be remembered as Bill France Sr., the man who founded and led NASCAR.
(Welcome to Today in History, the series where we dive into important historical events that have had a significant impact on the world of cars or racing. If you have anything you would like to see falling on an upcoming weekend let me know at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] with.)
France grew up infatuated with his family’s Model T, which he had taken for laps on a track near Laurel, Md., Instead of going to school. Part of his reason for moving to Daytona Beach was to avoid the desolation of the Great Depression, but he was also very familiar with the fact that Daytona Beach was known to host land speed records. The city lost its appeal when runners started heading for the Bonneville Salt Flats, but authorities wanted to keep its track record tied to speed.
So France, which had participated in some of the Daytona Beach races, decided to take a few steps after the end of World War II. A driver himself, France knew there was a huge organizational problem in the world of stock car racing. Drivers were often charged appearance fees by the promoters who kept all the money themselves, and different tracks offered very different points systems or championships. There was no uniformity between races or tracks, which made it difficult to build a career in motorsport.
He brought together drivers, mechanics and car owners at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach to develop a set of ground rules that would govern a specific set of races that would all make up a championship. It became the sanctioning body that we now recognize as NASCAR, or the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
France has also used its control over sport as a means of keeping it within the family; when he retired, France gave his son, Bill France Jr., control of the series. NASCAR remains a French family affair to this day.