|Bill France, Sr.|
With the July 28 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway set to kick off ESPN’s coverage of the final 17 races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the series will give readers new insight into the family that took stock car racing from dusty short tracks in the late 1940s, shaped it into a mainstream, national sport and continues to guide its fortunes today.
ESPN.com senior writer Ed Hinton, who has covered NASCAR since the early 1970s and has interviewed and written about all three generations of the France Family that have headed the sport, spent more than a year researching, reporting and interviewing for the series.
“The story of the France Family and NASCAR has been told in bits and pieces over the years, but no one has put it together from the beginning to today with this much documentation in a piece of long-form journalism,” said K. Lee Davis, ESPN.com motorsports editor.
Hinton interviewed members of the family as well as surviving pioneers of the sport who were there in the early years and through much of the growth period.
“This is a fascinating look at the dynamics of the family that has built one of the world’s largest sports,” said Davis. “And with the access Ed was able to gain, and the people he was able to talk to, it also humanizes the family and brings out stories that a broader audience may have never heard.”
|Bill France, Jr.|
New and exclusive interviews with NASCAR Chairman Brian France, the grandson of NASCAR Founder William H.G. “Bill” France and the son of former NASCAR President Bill France Jr.; Brian’s sister, Lesa France Kennedy, Vice-Chairwoman of NASCAR and Chairwoman of International Speedway Corporation; and their mother, Betty Jane France, widow of Bill France Jr., bring out stories and thoughts of a family that grew up with the sport.
NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty, one of the few who raced under all three generations of the family and is still active in the sport, and Bobby Allison talk about the sport’s early years, dealing with Bill France Sr. and the evolution of the family, while current NASCAR star Jeff Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick speak in the series about their relationships with Bill France Jr. and Brian France. NASCAR President Mike Helton, the first person not a member of the France Family to hold that title, also speaks throughout the series.
More than 35 years later, legendary driver A.J. Foyt talks about a cheating scandal he was involved in during qualifying for the 1976 Daytona 500 and how the respect he had for Bill France Sr. made him change his mind about withdrawing from the race.
Betty Jane France reveals that her late husband, often perceived as gruff, had a softer side that few saw.
Brian France, who says “nobody’s been fired more in NASCAR than I have,” tells of one such time when, as a teenager, he was fired by his father from a job cutting grass, and Brian, Lesa Kennedy and Betty Jane France tell of a family vacation that almost ended with 12-year-old Brian lost in the wilderness of a national park.
Brian France also addresses those who have said that nepotism, and not qualifications, got him his job, with Petty adding that Bill France Jr. faced the same talk in his early days at the helm.
The France Family series also will include old photos and video.
Some selected quotes from the ESPN.com France Family series:
Brian France on nepotism: “No one says it, but you know. You can see people who don’t know my story and don’t want to look at my life … at what I’ve done and the mistakes I’ve made … and want to [think], ‘He’s running everything and it’s all been handed to him.’ I think the road has been bumpier for me than people might realize.”
Richard Petty on Bill France Sr. and Jr.: "Big Bill was 100 percent dictator. I don't know that he took a lot of people's advice. I mean, he talked to people, but then he made up his mind and he wasn't going to change his mind. It was a one-man show. Bill Jr. was 50 percent [dictator], because he left a lot of stuff up to a lot of people. He was good about bringing in information before he made his comment …"
Betty Jane France on the France Family’s biggest gamble: "Pop [Bill France Sr.] took me around that racetrack before they put asphalt on it. They had gravel on it … I remember him saying this was going to be my future. I thought, 'Right.' I go out there and look at it now, and I think, 'Yep. It is.' "