NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Bill France, Jr. (Part 4/6)
Topics: NASCAR, Bill France, Jr.
Lesa France Kennedy
May 23, 2010
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
MIKE JOY: NASCAR's first generation built the sport. But NASCAR's second generation of leadership brought our sport to America's supermarket aisles and to our living rooms on live television.
Coming up next, the induction of Bill France, Jr.
Bill France, Sr., and Richard Petty are now inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The former director of NASCAR's West Series has also held the long time unofficial title of NASCAR's West Coast ambassador. He was also the long time loyal friend of Bill France, Jr. Would you please welcome Ken Clapp.
KEN CLAPP: Thank you, Mike.
Ladies and gentlemen, what a wonderful day for so many hundreds of thousands of people. As Mike mentioned, Bill, Jr., and I indeed were friends and we spent a lot of time together on the West Coast through the years.
When NASCAR was first getting started, Bill France, Sr., Big Bill, had a motto for his vision: NASCAR being a nationwide sport. He called it "Sea to Shining Sea," which meant of course coast-to-coast stock car racing under the NASCAR banner.
Bill, Jr., made that happen. Of course, he made many, many other things happen.
KEN CLAPP: Bill France, Jr., as we all know, was a car guy, a real car guy. He could take engines apart, put them back together again. He loved cars, particularly fast cars. He also loved fishing, deep sea fishing. It's only natural that with someone who loves fast cars as well as deep sea fishing officially inducts Bill France, Jr., into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Rick Hendrick obviously loves cars. He has a tremendous number of dealerships all over the country. By the way, he started with one small dealership in Bennettsville, South Carolina, and made it the most successful, profitable dealership in the region. The rest is history.
Rick Hendrick has won more NASCAR championships than any other car owner. He also won a national championship in drag boat racing. There are probably a few folks in the NASCAR garage who wish he had stuck with boats. His name is synonymous with NASCAR, especially in most recent years.
One of his drivers, Jimmie Johnson, has won four Sprint Cup championships in a row. Both Bill France, Jr., and Rick Hendrick shared a bond that many successful businessmen share: hard work, surround yourself with good people, and don't worry about the things you can't do anything about. The hard work part really impressed Bill because Rick put in as many hours as Bill did.
We all know that was a lot.
Please welcome Mr. Rick Hendrick.
RICK HENDRICK: Thank you. First I'd like to congratulate all the inductees and their families, the Earnhardt family in the front row, the France family, Junior Johnson, his family, and Richard Petty and your family. Congratulations to you folks. You made this sport what it is. Without you we wouldn't be here today. So let's give them another hand. Thank you.
I am proud and honored and humbled today to induct my friend Bill France, Jr., into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I was honored when Betty asked me to do this. I knew that I couldn't do it justice, but I'm going to try.
Bill lived an astonishing life. He didn't have anything handed to him. If you know the France family, you've got to work for what you get. So Bill sold snow cones, chased people that got into the racetrack without paying, and escorted them off the track. He actually helped build Talladega with his own hands with a bulldozer, both Talladega and Daytona. So he grew up the hard way.
He served our country in the Navy. When he came back and took the helm at NASCAR, that was about the time that I got involved. Harry Hyde gave me some really good advice. He said, Don't ask Mr. France anything. If you see Bill France coming into the garage area, you go the other way. If he wants to talk to you, he'll find you. But other than that, you best just leave him alone.
Well, I had this tremendous fear of this guy. I didn't know how anybody that was so successful could be that tough. I found out years later. I went to the trailer. I had some of the worst thrashings I ever had. I would rather he beat me with a stick than sit there and get it by the tongue.
But Bill did some phenomenal things. If you think back to the Winston sponsorship, bringing RJ Reynolds and Winston into the sport, you think about the TV deal that we celebrate today, which really catapulted us from a regional sport to a national sport, then to an international sport. Bill had this unique way of separating his professional feelings and his personal feelings.
I'll tell you a couple stories about his professional feelings. Richard Childress is sitting down here in the front. If you saw The Days of Thunder, that movie was created a lot after a meeting Bill France had with Richard Childress, myself, and Jeff Bodine. I got a call and said, How does your calendar look for the next two or three days, are you busy for the next few weeks? He said, You get Bodine and you be in my office in Daytona next Thursday at 5:00.
Richard and I, we had spent a lot of money on racecars at that point. So we ended up in Daytona. I thought we were going to watch movies, try to figure out who did what to who.
So Richard and I sat there. Bill started off with the speech he's given me many times. This sport is bigger than you, it's bigger than me, and it's going to be here when we're all gone. That's the way he ran the ship. He told Richard, he said, Richard, I don't know what you can do if you don't do this. I guess, Rick, you can go back and sell used cars in Charlotte. He looked at Dale and said, Dale, you can make a pretty good living at this. I don't know what you could go if you're not driving a racecar. He looked at Jeff and said, You may go back to doing what you were doing before you got here and don't care. He said, Now we're going to go and eat dinner.
Dale said, I have an appointment, I can't make it. Bill said, There's a phone over there, you change your appointment.
So Richard and I rode in the car together. Dale and Bodine rode in the car together. The rest is history.
If you saw those two on the track, you could drive another car between them, you'd have no problems.
The second story that was probably one that Jeff Gordon got me in the middle of this one. Drivers always get me in trouble. If it's not the crew chiefs, it's the drivers. But we won Indy, which was a huge race. There's a lot of celebrations. So we were taking pictures, getting rings, drinking champagne, doing all the things you need to do. One of the NASCAR officials said, Mike Helton wants to see you in the trailer. I thought he wanted to congratulate me on the race. About 20 minutes later, I had another NASCAR official say, Mr. Helton wants to see you now. Then I thought, Uh-oh, we're too low, we're too high, we're too short, we're too something, so I better get down to the trailer.
So I walk in. Mike is sitting there. Let me kind of set it up for you. Before that week, drivers were getting out of their cars and knocking the NASCAR sponsors off the roof. When I got to the trailer, I found out how uncool that was.
Mike said, Your problem is not with me. You need to call Bill. I said, I don't really need to call Bill. What's the problem? He said, No, your problem is not with me, you need to call Bill. So he said, There's the phone right over there.
So I go over there and I said, I don't know his number. He said, I'll dial it for you. So I take the phone and I'm going to say, Hey, Bill. But when the phone rang and he knew that it was this number calling in, he started cussing me. I mean, for 15 minutes I got it. You have that little blank, blank, blank Jeff Gordon down here in my office in the morning at 9:00. If you can't make it and he can't make it, don't you even think about carrying your car to Watkins Glen, you're done.
He said, But, it doesn't affect your fishing trip (laughter).
So I immediately called Jeff. I said, Jeff, do not answer your cell phone. So immediately Jeff is on the defensive. He said, Well, now... I said, Jeff, he's the maddest I've ever seen him. Do not answer your cell phone. Turn your cell phone off. Let's give it a couple of days. Maybe we can talk to Brian, see what we can do.
When you think about Bill, you think about a guy that was feared, a guy that was respected, and a guy that could be the best friend a man ever had. And when I look, Richard, at this podium right here, you can pick it up and you can get the history, I know that Bill was not alive when he designed that, because it's free. You would have to put a quarter in it if you wanted to listen to any story about Bill.
Now, I got to tell you, too, there was a real soft side of Bill. He's really going to be upset with me for telling you this. We shared something common to both of us, and it was called cancer. I actually went down after two years of chemotherapy, and Bill met me. I could hardly walk to get off the plane. The treatment killed me, just getting up, getting dressed, getting to the airport wore me out. Just getting down there was even worse.
He said when I got in the car, had to help me get in the car, he said, Man, you don't look too good. He grabbed my hand. I saw a tear running down his eye. I was so touched that he felt that way.
Then we had the crash in '04. I know Bill France was going through cancer, so he didn't need to come to Charlotte. He said, I want to come have lunch with you, I'm going to be in town. After lunch, he said, I just wanted to see that you were okay. That's the soft side of Bill France. He was compassionate, but he was a hammer when he needed to be and our sport needed that.
But above all else, Bill France was a family man. He loved his family. He loved Lesa, Brian, Kim, Betty Jane. He bragged on you guys all the time.
You know, in closing, I'd like to now bring to the stage, please join me welcoming the CEO of International Speedway Corporation, NASCAR's vice chairman, Lesa France Kennedy, and chairman and CEO, Brian France.
LESA FRANCE KENNEDY: Thank you, Rick.
I have to tell you, this is a huge honor today for me, Brian, and our entire France family. We are so humbled to be here. I know my dad would have been so touched to be a part of this inaugural class.
He had great respect for Junior, for Richard, and of course Dale was one of his own. He always felt that way. Dad did say that the sport was always bigger than any one person. He always said that. But it also applied to himself. He didn't mind reminding other people of that, as well. But he applied it to himself.
Dad was tough. There's no doubt about it. He was a tough, tough man. He was demanding. He had every single right to be because he expected more from himself. He always did.
He loved this sport. He was passionate about it. He built it literally from the ground up. When I say 'the ground up,' I'm talking about a backhoe at Daytona International Speedway.
On the personal side, I just had a couple of quick stories. For vacations, Talladega. Our summer vacations were definitely Talladega. And Brian and I were afforded the right to work. That's what our summer vacation was all about. He instilled that work ethic in everything that he did.
I could also tell you that holidays, that was an opportunity to plan for the next season. So he'd have a chance to get everybody together. Loved fishing with Rick. Absolutely loved it. Was one of his great passions with you and all the boys, was always so much fun for him. He was a guy that loved a great French restaurant. There's no doubt about that. But his favorite place was a hot dog stand at any one of his NASCAR tracks, absolutely.
And I have to tell you, too, that my mom, she deserves a medal, too. This woman is absolutely amazing. In the 50-year partnership they had together, has every bit as much to do with who Bill France was and how this sport was built.
So my dad liked the term 'straight shooter.' That referred to a good business person. My dad was a straight shooter. And I have to tell you, too, if you were his friend, he would do anything in the world for you. But for me, I was just lucky to call him Dad. Thank you.
BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you very much. You know, in my world, I wear a lot of hats. Today I've only got one on: I'm a very proud son of my father, certainly of my grandfather, and these other three champions.
But of my father, he was this incredible combination of being, as we've heard from Rick and others, incredibly tough guy, yet had the compassion and certainly the pragmatism and smarts to keep the sport rolling with 30-plus years under his watch. Pretty incredible.
Of all the people that worked with him, I have one distinction besides being his son that no one else has, I was fired more by my father than anybody. He was very tough on me in that respect.
You know what, I always knew with my dad that he was also my greatest champion. Sometimes he had a tough time expressing it, all that, but you always knew with my dad, if he believed in you, and you shot straight, he was going to be there when it got tough or when you needed somebody to lean on, and he was going to be fair.
You know, I want to say just a couple of other quick remarks.
You know, this business, when you're in our family, all the families that represent this industry, it's tough. It's tough. It's a weekend sport. Puts strains on the best of marriages. We work together, that's not an easy thing, our family in some cases. But it all works because somebody has the vision at the time to look out for the sport and what's good for everyone. That was my father.
Frankly, my mother, who doesn't get nearly enough credit for being an amazing champion of his throughout everything. So with that, I'll leave you on one last note. One of the great quotes that I ever saw was a headline, when I was a teenager at Talladega, said about my father mowing the grass, painting the fences, running auto sport's biggest show, I'm very, very proud of my father.
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