NASCAR Chairman Bill France Dies of Cancer

Bill France, the longtime chairman of NASCAR, lost his battle against cancer Monday. He was 74. He was the son of NASCAR founder William France. Under the leadership of Bill France Jr. the sport grew from a rural Southern diversion into a multibillion dollar enterprise.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the key figures in a stock car racing history died yesterday. Bill France, Jr. was 74. He became chairman of NASCAR in 1972. During three decades of his leadership, the sport went from being a regional curiosity in the South to a billion-dollar industry and a national sports phenomenon.

NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN: Bill France, Jr. had been sick for a while, but when he started showing up at the racetrack less and less, those close to him knew it must be serious because NASCAR always had been his life. From those long days in the late 1950s when he helped build the monstrous Daytona International Speedway, to that moment in 1999, when as NASCAR chairman, he helped negotiate a multibillion-dollar TV contract for the sport.

His father, Bill France, Sr., created NASCAR. Starting in 1972, Bill Jr. took it from its Southern moonshining roots and made it play in California and New Hampshire. NASCAR beat writer David Poole says a big part of the sport's success was the way Bill Jr. made sure it grew in a measured way.

Mr. DAVID POOLE (NASCAR Beat Writer): Part of the '90s, even if when - as sport was exploding, it seemed like that everybody in the sport - the car owners, the track owners - NASCAR, everybody sort of agree that there was enough money for everybody to go around. And nobody really fought over every last dollar.

GOLDMAN: But Poole says the sharing ethic ended when it came to resolving disputes. NASCAR and Bill France, Jr. were going to win, no question. NASCAR was born in 1948. It's a sport, says David Poole, that's old enough to have a history, but young enough that much of that history - the first drivers, the first track owners - is still alive. Poole says in death, Bill France, Jr. takes with him a big chunk of that living history.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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