Bill France Jr. is named the second president of NASCAR, replacing his father as the head of stock car racing's premier organization. Just 38 years old, France had been the vice president of NASCAR for six years before his appointment, but that didn't stop skeptical observers from questioning whether the smaller, more even-tempered son of NASCAR's famous founder could get the job done. Turns out he could, pushing forward an ambitious agenda that lifted the sport into the national consciousness over his 28 years at the helm.
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Feb. 18, 1979
The Daytona 500 is aired by CBS Sports, the first time the Great American Race is broadcast flag-to-flag by a major sports network. A blizzard keeps most of the Northeast shuttered in their homes, giving a larger-than-expected audience to a race that had an amazing finish; Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough crash on the last lap while going for the win, handing legend Richard Petty his sixth Daytona 500 victory as Yarborough and Allison engaged in a fistfight once their cars came to rest. Millions were captivated, and the seeds for growth had been planted; NASCAR was on its way to gaining nationwide recognition.
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1980 & 1981
Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, rising stars of the sport, win their first Cup championships in back-to-back years. France would frequently go to both his stars for advice and support, although his opinion would always seem to win out when it came to any sort of disagreement. Waltrip was especially heartbroken in the wake of France's death Monday, finding it hard to keep himself composed after finding out about the tragedy midway through the FOX broadcast.
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The postseason awards banquet for the Winston Cup Series, long held in Daytona Beach, Florida, is moved to New York City for the first time. Points champion Darrell Waltrip and the rest of NASCAR's elite gathered at the famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan, attracting the watchful eyes of Madison Avenue in an attempt to push the sport beyond its typically Southern roots. France's big idea paid major dividends; while New York City citizens were slow to embrace the sport, corporate sponsorship from Wall Street exploded in the 1980s, while the ceremony remained popular enough to retain its place in the Waldorf through to the present day.
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July 4, 1984
A sitting U.S. president visits a race for the first time, as Ronald Reagan flies down in Air Force One to view the Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach. Reagan gives the "gentlemen, start your engines" call from the plane, before touching down as the race begins. And what a sight he got to see once he settled in; Richard Petty prevailed in a door-to-door race to the finish with Cale Yarborough to score his 200th and final career victory. Since then, NASCAR's been visited several times by the Oval Office, including current president George W. Bush and vice president Dick Cheney.
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May 25, 1985
Darrell Waltrip wins NASCAR's first version of The Winston, an All-Star Race for Cup drivers at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte. Held for the 12 previous winners from the 1984 season, the event joins the Busch Clash (now the Bud Shootout), which had been established in 1979. The two exhibition races established under France's tenure give the fans the benefit of seeing their favorite drivers put it all on the line...without the added burden of "points racing" or running for a championship.
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Aug. 6, 1994
After 83 years of existence, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway holds its first stock car event, as the Brickyard 400 takes the green flag. The race is a culmination of years of negotiations between France and Tony George. In another good luck charm for France, budding superstar Jeff Gordon takes the checkered flag in the first race.
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Feb. 5, 1995
After 47 years of racing stock cars, France establishes a series for trucks for the first time, as the first official Craftsman Truck Series race gets underway at Phoenix. Developing its own separate audience with a unique style of racing, the Truck Series has also developed into a feeder series for Nextel Cup talent, producing current NASCAR stars Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and others in its dozen years of existence
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July 5, 1996
Daytona USA, a fan-friendly interactive experience showcasing the history of the Daytona 500, is opened to the public. Among the quirks of the racing museum, spearheaded by France, is that every winning car from the Great American Race must be impounded and put on display at the museum for a full year after taking the checkered flag. The museum is a critical success, becoming one of the premier motorsports fan attractions in the United States.
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Nov. 11, 1999
In one of his last major acts as president, France spearheads a $2.4 billion dollar television deal with FOX, FX, NBC, and TNT to broadcast all NASCAR Cup races beginning in 2001. Taking control of broadcast rights from the individual tracks, the deal is easily the biggest in the sport's history and centralizes control of money received from the sport's television partners. The dollar figure serves as a clear indicator that NASCAR is one of the nation's fastest growing sports.
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