Most of the time, when you hear that a NASCAR legend has died, you think about a famous racer. Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Adam Petty are just a few of the NASCAR drivers that have had their careers cut short. Without Bill France Jr., however they probably wouldn't be as well known as they are. Bill France Jr. passed away today at the age of 74.
France took over the duties as the chairman of NASCAR from his father in 1972. He was a major reason why NASCAR became a billion dollar industry, and puts on some of the most attended events in the U.S. He was even responsible for helping build the Daytona International Speedway.
"France worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week as he drove a compactor, bulldozer and grader in the 13 months it took to build the track. He once even tried to use a mule to pull trees out of the swamps, because the motorized equipment kept getting stuck."
Under France's guidance, NASCAR grew it's TV presence(many times ranking behind only the NFL in the ratings), and expanded on an international scale with races in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Australia. He was a big part of the $2.4 billion TV contract that began in 2001, and of the numerous corporate sponsorships that NASCAR has secured over the years.
Without his leadership it's unlikely that NASCAR would have grown to the sport it is today. Jeff Burton had this to say about Bill France Jr.'s impact:
"His role in the impact of the sport has been huge," Burton said. "His personality came at a time when it was what our sport needed. I think he did an incredible job of basing his opinion on what he believed the facts to be and then having the courage to make that decision and see it through."
Bill France Jr. may be gone, but his legacy will live on forever through every driver that puts on a flamesuit and gets behind the wheel of a stockcar.