NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Bill France Sr. (Part 2/6)
Topics: NASCAR, Bill France, Sr.
May 23, 2010
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
JIM HUNTER: Good afternoon, everyone. You know, it's not often that anyone gets to introduce a video like this one. This is a video about a man who created a sport. This video is about a great man, Bill France Sr.
JIM HUNTER: You know, it was a pretty tall order to determine who should formally induct William HG Big Bill France into NASCAR's Hall of Fame. It turned out to be a lawyer. In this particular instance, he received a unanimous verdict from France family members. John Cassidy has been an insider at NASCAR for more than 50 years, a true family confidant and a close family friend.
He was NASCAR's first legal counsel and remains an advisor today. Back when Don was beginning his legal career, he worked with some pretty big guns. He worked with special assistant to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy during the Kennedy administration. In fact, he'll tell you Bill France, Sr. helped him start his own firm.
Don has provided three generations of France family members advice on legal matters ranging from drafting rules for competition, substance abuse problems. Most importantly, he is simply a long time friend of our sport and the sport's founding family. A man who drank a little Scotch with Big Bill over the years.
Please welcome John Cassidy.
DON CASSIDY: Thank you very much and good afternoon, everyone. No one, absolutely no one, deserves to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame more than Bill France, Sr., since there would not have been a NASCAR without Bill. Bill France, Sr., first became a part of my life almost 50 years ago when I was working in Washington as a special assistant to another great man, Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the United States.
Kennedy called me on the telephone one day and he gave me what you might call a warning. He said a man named Bill France was coming down the hall to my office. This fellow has something to do with automobile racing, said Kennedy, who obviously knew very little about motorsports.
He went on to say Jimmy Hoffa is giving him and NASCAR a hard time, and we must help them.
Shortly after Kennedy's call, the door to my office opened up, and there stood one of the biggest men I had ever seen. He literally filled the doorway. I'm looking up at him, and he looks at me, and his very first words were, Son, we have a problem, and Mr. Kennedy says you have the answer.
Bill pulled up a chair beside my desk and proceeded to educate me for several hours on the history of motorsports, on racing on the beach, on stock car racing, on NASCAR. He explained to me that NASCAR was created to bring order to the sport, to guarantee that prize money would be paid, and to adopt and enforce rules of competition.
He emphasized to me that there would come a day when NASCAR and stock car racing in the NASCAR tradition would become a nationally recognized professional sport.
Little did I know then how much that first encounter with Bill France would change my life's work, for it led to a career in the practice of law focused in large part on motorsports.
I witnessed firsthand the growth of NASCAR and stock car racing to a level of public acceptance well beyond Bill, Sr.'s wildest dreams. My experience was not unlike that which many of you all here today have enjoyed, whether you're a fan, a competitor, a sponsor, a car owner, a track owner, or promoter, we all have experienced the joy of being associated with NASCAR because NASCAR stands for excellence in motorsports.
Bill frequently was described as a visionary. I don't dispute that. It might be because of his Irish heritage, I prefer to call him a dreamer who was a man of action, someone who turns dreams into reality. Not only did Bill follow his dreams, Bill expected each and every one of us to follow our dreams.
Bill, Sr., relished the challenge. The bigger the better. He once quoted George Bernard Shaw, saying, Some look at things that are and ask, Why? I dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? The key to Bill France, Sr.
When I left the department to start a law firm, Bill, Sr. and his wonderful wife Annie B. , saw to it that NASCAR and ISC were our very first clients. I soon found myself in Daytona working with both of them on many NASCAR projects. I lived with them while in Daytona and was involved in many breakfast discussions that were primarily focused on how to expand the sport, make it bigger, whether to build Talladega, an immense debate.
It was during those discussions that frequently included their oldest son Bill, Jim at that time was in the service, that the significance of Annie B.'s role of NASCAR and ISC became apparent to me. Annie B. , had a fine sense of business and finance. She was, in fact, a full-fledged partner with Bill, Sr., on every significant business issue that confronted NASCAR and ISC.
While Bill, Sr., created NASCAR and built two superspeedways, he did far more. Sr. championed the effort to gain national and worldwide recognition for NASCAR's brand of stock car racing. His efforts attracted some of the finest competitors and corporate sponsors, many of whom are substantial supporters of this Hall of Fame.
Sr.'s efforts led to the creation of a NASCAR fan base which is second to none in professional sports. To attract this type of attention, Bill, Sr., knew his sport needed a national champion if it was going to be recognized on the same level as other professional sports in this country. Needless to say, the NASCAR champion of today is mentioned in the same breath as World Series champions and the champions in other professional sports.
In fact, four-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was named male athlete of the year in 2009 by the Associated Press. This was a seminal event. It was a recognition of NASCAR's sports prominence.
Bill, Sr., not only nurtured a major professional sport from infancy to adulthood, but he and Annie B. , raised a family, a wonderful family, who have followed in their footsteps with the help of an extremely talented NASCAR family. All of this taking NASCAR to the next plateau, a plateau of great popularity, not only in this country but worldwide.
Bill France, Sr., never forgot the humble beginnings from which NASCAR and he himself sprung. And while he walked with ease in the corridors of power in Washington and elsewhere, he walked with equal grace through the infields and garages of NASCAR events. I've done the walk with Bill, Sr. through an infield, it was truly, truly a walk among good friends, most of whom greeted him simply as 'Bill'.
While he could be tough as nails, especially dealing with race competition issues, Sr. was always fair and compassionate to those faced with adversity. And when a racecar driver or owner was down on his luck, it was not unusual for Bill, Sr., to be there to help him out.
Bill was loyal and especially interested in those that shared the very early days of the sport with him. He could be a consummate diplomat and politician when the occasion demanded. He had a forceful personality combined with a reputation for integrity.
The word 'big' was never that far from Bill France, Sr.'s mind. I remember a lot of nights many years ago Bill, Sr., and I were in one of those big Pontiacs that GM used to have down at Daytona. We were driving up Daytona Beach. And over the ocean rose a harvest moon. It was gigantic. It looked like molten gold. It's one of the biggest moons I've ever seen. And Bill, Sr., who was somewhat of a poet, he looked at me and he said, Son, that's a pretty big moon for a small town like this. I loved that.
Bill's dreams of growth for NASCAR were only exceeded by his desire that stock car racing become a recognized and respected professional sport in America. And if he were here today, he would be the very first one to acknowledge that NASCAR has exceeded his dreams.
I can think of no better way to close than to quote the last verse of one of Bill, Sr.'s favorite songs. I've lived a life that's full. I've traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Suffice it to say that Bill France, Sr., indeed, did it his way.
Please join me now in welcoming to the stage Bill France's son, vice chairman of NASCAR, Jim France.
On this, the 23rd day of May, 2010, it's my honor to formally induct Bill France, Sr., into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and present this Hall of Fame ring to you on his behalf.
JIM FRANCE: On behalf of everyone in our family, thank you, John, for that introduction and great tribute to my father.
Let me begin by saying that our family is very proud to be involved in this memorable afternoon for the induction of my father and my brother Bill. We would like to thank the Hall of Fame voting panel for including them in this inaugural class with Junior, Richard, and Dale, truly the iconic heroes of NASCAR.
If Dad were here today, he would be proud, as well, but in a different way. He would be proud mostly for NASCAR. He would be proud of this Hall of Fame, a commitment made to honor our past and to recognize the individuals who are responsible for making NASCAR what it is today, for their great accomplishments.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in many ways is the ultimate tribute to my father, the hopes and dreams that he had for our sport.
In closing, I would like to offer the donation of this ring back to the hall for display wherever they would choose to place it. Thank you.
WINSTON KELLEY: It's been an incredible two weeks here in Charlotte, beginning with our grand opening ceremonies where 44 legends and current members of the NASCAR community joined hundreds of local celebrities and several thousands of our guests to officially open the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It may be an equally remarkable five years from the point this community began the quest to become the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Over the last two weeks, the consistent theme we have received about the hall is there's far more to experience than anyone expected, from the more than 50 interactive exhibits, incredible array of highlighting the 62-year history of NASCAR and what has been often described to me as perhaps the most remarkable collection of used cars anywhere.
We've had many very special days these past five years, and it is my belief that May 23rd, 2010, will stand out as easily one of the most memorable. In the years ahead, this day will be equal in stature to June 12th, 1939. You see, that was the day the baseball world first gathered in Cooperstown, New York, to induct their first Hall of Fame class, including greats like Ruth, Cobb, Magnussen, Wagner, and Johnson. Now ours will have a place to call home.
Look around, take a moment, soak it all in as you are a part of history. Charlotte is proud to be the home to honor all those who built this great sport and business into what it is today.
So on behalf of the entire team and the thousands involved in developing the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we want to welcome you to Charlotte, North Carolina, and enjoy the rest of the program.
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