Over 65 years ago, visionary Bill France Sr. gathered 35 roughneck racers, track promoters and businessmen alike for the “First Annual Convention of the National Championship Stock Car Circuit.” At the conclusion of the 4 day meeting, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or more commonly referred to as NASCAR was born. The first race took place at the Daytona Beach road course on February 21st, 1948. World War II air gunner, Robert “Red” Byron won the race driving a car prepared by legendary owner Raymond Parks. Together, they went on to win 11 of the 52 races on the schedule that year in route to what is now known as the first ever Modified championship.
“Big” Bill France created what would become the largest spectator sport on the planet attracting millions of fans and bringing in billions of dollars. In 1972, he handed control of the sport over to his 38 year old son; Bill France Jr. Bill Jr. took this predominantly southern sport and made it a nationwide spectacle. Jr. put together a deal with CBS Sports to have them nationally televise the 1979 Daytona 500 flag-to-flag which had never happened before. To this day, all race fans from every generation know about that historic race that put NASCAR on the map. The nation watched as Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison battled fiercely for the win on the final lap crashing into the turn three wall giving the victory to Richard Petty. Just when you thought it was over, a brawl ensued between Cale and the Allison brothers in the infield which was just icing on the cake for NASCAR.
During Bill Jr.’s tenure, big money sponsors entered the sport and multi-million dollar TV deals made NASCAR easier to watch than ever before. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2000, he made his son Brian France the new chairman and CEO of NASCAR. With Mike Helton by his side, the two led the sport through some tough times including the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, the free fall in TV ratings around 2008 and a major drop in fan attendance. They are finally beginning to turn things around and 2013 will undeniably be looked back on as a major turning point in NASCAR’s history. The racecars actually look like their street counterparts again, we are returning to a dirt track for the first time 40 years, TV ratings and attendance have been up at almost every event and the drivers are actually showing emotion and passion for what they do.
A 4th generation France is coming up through the ranks but he isn’t dressed in a three-piece suit. No, the great grandson of Bill France Sr. is instead walking around the garage area in a fire suit with a helmet in his hand. His name is Ben Kennedy and he is the newest winner in the NASCAR K&N East Series. Last weekend, he led flag-to-flag at Five Flags Speedway winning in dominating fashion over Gray Gaulding. It was technically his second NASCAR sanctioned win but it’s his first on American soil. He won a NASCAR Euro Racecar event last year in a race that featured both wet and dry conditions. He currently sits 5th in the K&N East standings with two top 10’s after three races. In August, the 21 year old racer will make his Camping World Truck Series debut driving for Turner Scott Motorsports at Bristol. The future looks bright for this kid as he looks to make his mark on this sport not off the track like those who came before him did but behind the wheel of a racecar.