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Friday, September 12
Updated: February 5, 2:14 PM ET
NASCAR's top job stays in France family
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
In the past few years he's beaten cancer and undergone heart surgery, but Bill France Jr. has decided it's finally time to let somebody else drive.
ESPN.com reported Friday night that the 70-year-old chairman and CEO of NASCAR is stepping aside and putting his 41-year-old son, Brian, behind the wheel of the stock car series that has mushroomed into a marketing monster and America's No. 2 sports pastime behind pro football.
A source close to Nextel, which assumes title sponsorship of NASCAR in 2004, confirmed the changing of the guard was to be announced early next week. NASCAR then went ahead and made the announcement Saturday, since the news was already out.
"Only a few people know but it's not really that big a surprise when you think about it," said the source. "And Big Bill will still be around to show Brian the ropes."
Bill France Jr. had denied that he was retiring outright, saying instead he will be cutting back further on his daily activities.
"Brian is well prepared to lead this sport and this company into the future," Bill Francis Jr. said in a statement Saturday. "I am confident the future of NASCAR is in very capable hands.
"NASCAR is my life's work, and my father's before me; this decision is probably one of the most important ones I've made at NASCAR -- and I know it's the right decision."
Currently president of NASCAR's broadcasting and digital entertainment, Brian France will assume the duties of chairman and CEO immediately and move back to company headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla.
He will also leapfrog Mike Helton, and that could explain the recent rumors that Helton is going to leave NASCAR for a job with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Helton has denied those rumors.
In an interview with USA Today earlier this year, Bill France Jr. was asked about who might replace him: "Mike Helton has come on, his name is not France, and I think he's done an excellent job in the competition area," was his reply.
"My son, Brian, I think has done an excellent job in the marketing, sales and with awareness. I can't think of anybody who's done a better job than he's done."
Bill France Jr. took over the day-to-day management from his father, NASCAR founder Bill Sr., in 1972 and led it into unimaginable territory -- scoring a billion dollar television deal from FOX and NBC in 1999.
He named Helton president of NASCAR in 2000 but has continued to stay involved in decision making despite his health problems.
"I'm trying to stay out of the way," said France in his USA Today interview. "I think there are still some things I can contribute but I'm not going to all the meetings. Our latest sponsorship deal with Nextel, I had an idea what was going on but I wasn't sitting in the meetings, negotiating.
"We've got some pretty good young people coming along."
Brian France is the youngest of Bill's children, and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, is the president of International Speedway Corp., which owns and operates 12 of NASCAR's major tracks.
Jim France, who is Bill Jr.'s younger brother by 18 years, serves as NASCAR vice chairman and executive vice president.
All four members of the France family, COO George Pyne and Helton compose NASCAR's board of directors.
Last winter, Brian France was promoted to the title of vice chairman and Pyne was named Chief Operating Officer, in addition to being added to the Board of Directors.
"These promotions ensure our organization will continue to benefit from the best and brightest people under the leadership of Mike Helton," said Bill France Jr. at that time.
In a press release, Helton stated:
"Brian France has been a key player in all of NASCAR's major strategic initiatives. His vision and comprehensive knowledge of NASCAR will serve as an invaluable asset for the sport in years to come.
"These promotions reflect the depth of talent NASCAR has. Brian has been instrumental in the development of a number of crucial initiatives that have made NASCAR what it is today."
Robin Miller covers open wheel racing for ESPN and ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories