Class of 1990
The big man had big dreams – and he made them come true. William Henry Getty France is the founding father of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR), considered the most popular form of motorsports in the United States. From humble beginnings, he directed it through uncertain growth and into the multimillion-dollar industry it is today.
Along the way, he saw come into being three visions: visions that would enhance the entire world of racing. The first was Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile track which opened in 1959 and is the home of the most prestigious stock car race of them all, the Daytona 500.
The second was the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., formerly called Alabama International Motor Speedway. At 2.66 miles, it is the largest and fastest track in the world. It opened in 1969.
Finally, there is the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located adjacent to Talladega Superspeedway. This tribute to the great people and machines embraced France and 19 others on a memorable July 25, 1990.
As a teenager growing up around Washington, D.C., France was captivated by racing. He would often play hooky to catch the races at the high-banked board track in Laurel, Md. He even managed to get the family car on the track for a few laps. The hardest thing for him to do was to keep a straight face when he went down to the tire dealer to complain about the tires wearing out on his Model T.
France became a service station owner and determined that if he had to help get customers’ cars started, he might as well do it where the weather was warm. So he took his wife Anne, his young son Bill Jr., a set of tools, $25 cash and a Hupmobile and headed for Florida. When they got to Daytona Beach, France thought it was the prettiest place he’d ever seen, so they settled there.
In 1936, the city of Daytona Beach promoted a stock car race and lost money. The following year, the Elks Club did likewise. Since racers gathered at France’s service station, he was asked if he would like to help promote the next event. He tried to enlist the help of an Orange City, Fla., promoter, but his 15-cent collect call was refused. France decided to do it himself.
France was successful and branched out to other races. The going was tough. The sport was haphazard and lacked respect. France amended that in 1947. In the now-famous meeting in the Streamline Hotel, he organized NASCAR, complete with uniform rules, an insurance plan and guaranteed purses.
From its rough-and-tumble early days, NASCAR grew into a giant. It became the circuit which provided motorsports with many of its greatest drivers and events. And the speedways in Daytona and Talladega, along with the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, remain titanic testaments to one man’s visions, ambition and determination.