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NASCAR’s France family to receive 2018 Argetsinger Award from the IMRRC

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Jim France. Photo courtesy International Motor Racing Research Center.

In 1948, William H.G. “Big Bill” France founded the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), both to grow the sport and to protect its drivers from unethical promoters. In the seven decades since, the France family has maintained a leadership role in American motorsports, so it’s fitting that the entire France family will be honored with the 2018 Argetsinger Award for Outstanding Contributions to Motorsports, presented by the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) in Watkins Glen, New York.

NASCAR wasn’t Big Bill France’s first attempt to create a series dedicated to stock car racing. In early 1947, he approached the American Automobile Association for financial backing of his proposed “National Championship Stock Car Circuit,” but the AAA turned him down. Undeterred, France published the series’ rules and awards on his own, promising a payout of $1,000 to the league’s first champion. Fonty Flock won the honor, and as promised, France handed him a check for the stated amount, accompanied by an oversize trophy.

Other winning drivers received cash payouts as well and, as a promoter, France frequently delivered a full house to local racetracks. By the time he announced the December 1947 meeting that would ultimately form the basis of NASCAR, France had a reputation as a man who could get things done. Drivers and track owners alike loved – or at least respected – Big Bill, and it was his energy and drive that aided the growth of the series in its early years.

In 1953, France founded Bill France Racing, which would later become the International Speedway Corporation (ISC). Its initial purpose was to oversee the construction of the Daytona International Speedway, a shrine to speed situation just a few miles west of the legendary beach that had played host to racing and speed-record attempts for decades. Construction of the superspeedway began in 1956 and, in 1959, the first Daytona 500 was won by Lee Petty. A decade later, France and ISC built a second superspeedway on the site of a former Air Force base in Talladega, Alabama. Today, ISC owns and operates 13 tracks in 11 states that play host to a variety of racing series and events.

Big Bill France retired as chairman and CEO of NASCAR in 1972, handing the job to his eldest son, Bill France Jr. The younger France ran the organization until 2000, though it’s said that his brother Jim France, who then served as president of the ISC, had nearly as much influence over NASCAR’s direction. Bill Jr. stepped down in 2000, appointing Mike Helton as NASCAR’s president and, in 2003, Brian France, Bill Jr.’s son, took over as NASCAR’s CEO and Chairman.

Big Bill died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in June 1992, with Bill Jr. dying of cancer in June 2007. Today, Jim France has assumed the role of family patriarch, and serves as vice chairman of NASCAR’s board of directors, chairman of the ISC, and chairman of the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA), which has had ties to the France family since its founding in 1969.

(L-R) Jim France, Betty Jane France, Brian France, and Lesa France Kennedy stand with statue of Bill France Jr. at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2012, in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR.)

Racing remains the family business. In addition to the roles occupied by Jim and Brian France, Lesa France Kennedy, daughter of Bill France Jr., serves as the CEO of the ISC, and as a vice-chairperson of NASCAR. Lesa’s son, Ben Kennedy, raced in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series (earning rookie of the year honors in 2014) and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and now serves as general manager of the Camping World Truck Series. Recently, Reuters reported that the France family is in dialogue with Goldman Sachs, potentially seeking a buyer for its majority stake in NASCAR, though talks remain in the exploratory stage.

The Argetsinger Award is named for Cameron R. Argetsinger, founder and organizer of the first races at Watkins Glen, now a dedicated circuit owned by ISC. Past recipients of the award include Mario Andretti (2017), Roger Penske (2016), Richard Petty (2015), and Chip Ganassi (2014). Of this year’s award, Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup said, “The France Family and Jim France in particular have a longstanding connection to Watkins Glen International. We are proud of that connection. Our facility’s success and legacy will forever be linked to what we consider the ‘first family of motorsports’ in the United States.”

Brian France added, “It is most appropriate that, on a night when the France family will be honored, Jim France would be the main focus. Jim learned the business of motorsports from his father, Bill France Sr., then worked alongside my father, Bill France Jr., for years, helping to guide NASCAR through a tremendous period of growth. Jim was my dad’s best, most experienced confidant and supporter – and he has continued to be mine, as well.”

The 2018 Argetsinger Award will be presented at a gala dinner on Thursday, June 28, at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. A limited number of tickets, priced at $250 per person, are still available. Visit for additional details.