There was a Sunday in 1947. Most of the men at the gathering in Daytona Beach were dressed in suits. It was not a church event. It's far from it. There was too much liquor and smoke on the table. It was a religious event. 75 years ago today, the start of a billion dollar business. NASCAR was born.
The first of four days of meetings was held on Sunday with nearly 40 people in attendance. booters is not included in the list of occupations They just didn't want anyone to know that they were all types of people.
In 2007, three years before his death and ten years before his posthumous election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, attendee Raymond Parks said that they were a group of men who knew what they were doing. We were all trying to get things straightened out. We would go back to doing what we were doing before. It did work out. For some people, it did.
It was a roughhewn continental congress of racers, summoned to the space-themed Ebony Room, a rooftop lounge atop Daytona's still-new art Deco show palace known as the Streamline Hotel.
The attendees accepted the challenge via an advertisement in Speed Age magazine. The ad was placed by William Henry France, also known as "Big Bill".
"That's the nickname you get when you're 6-foot-5 and you're around race car drivers all the time, because race car drivers are usually little people."
France had risen from house painter and gas station owner to part-time racer and eventually the overseer of racing on Daytona's famous white sand beaches. The two years after the end of WWII saw veterans returning from Europe and the Pacific who immediately wanted to drive. On the beach course operated by "Big Bill", they raced their street cars from coast to coast.
In 1947, France started his own sanctioning body because he was fed up with what he perceived to be condescending behavior from the crowd. He used to call it the National Championship Stock Car Circuit. The American Stock Car Racing Association, the National Stock Car Racing Association, and the Stock Car Auto Racing Society were all started by racers scattered around the country.
None of that mattered because the rules were essentially unenforceable. A spaghetti pile of names and cars, run by an unintelligible alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies, ensured constant chaos that allowed shady track promoter to rob racers blind and kept any would-be race fan from having any clue as to who, what and where they should be watching
France told his guests that every track and area has a national champion of every type of racing. Sportswriters give up in disgust when they try to give the public an accurate picture.
"It was all a big mess, and my father knew it, but so did everyone else," said Bill France Jr.
During Daytona Speedweeks 1998, he did so. The tour guide's microphone was pushed through by his voice as he led the bus. The tour stop was in front of the Streamline.
He said it didn't take much persuasion to get those guys to show up. They were all smart, even though it wasn't the most educated group of men. If it got organized, they would all benefit.
The majority of the attendees were locals, but they also came from as far away as New England and New Rochelle, N.Y. From the right side of the Mississippi River, you'll find the buttoned-up and the dressed-down.
There was a lot of distrust in the room. There were arguments that went on for a long time. There are secret one-on-one asides in group discussions. A lounge full of alpha males couldn't agree on what to call their organization or what to call their race cars.
Roy Hall, who was in prison at the time, was one of the men who bankrolled the meetings at France's request. The man who'd made his fortune in real estate and cars, not to mention gambling houses and moonshining, initially refused to sit at the table with France and the others because he was so skeptical. Parks sat at the bar with a couple of female students from the charm school that "Big Bill" brought in for the meetings.
I was hoping it would work. Everyone was paid for to be there. Parks said he wasn't buying in until he saw that everyone was serious about the meeting. On the second day, Red and Red told me that there was progress being made.
RedByron was the first Red. Red Vogt was the second person. They were blown away by the way Big Bill took charge of the proceedings. He started the day with a loud call to action.
There's nothing left in the world. Things get larger or smaller. He wore a blue collar tone on the first day of his illness. There are different possibilities for stock car racing on Sunday shows. I would allow race-minded boys that work all week who don't have enough money to buy a race car to compete against the rich guy. They can show their stuff at a racetrack on Sunday and possibly win a prize.
As they discuss F1 and the people behind it, they will be joined by hostKatie George. You can listen on the sports network.
France was looking for stock cars. It's right off the street. Racing on dirt on Sundays. There was some opposition but not a lot. "Big Bill" was able to make those in the room believe that they were making the decisions and not him. The organization's new name was also taken into account. There is a national stock car racing association. France liked "NASCAR" because it rolled off the tongue. France reminded them that there was already a NSCRA in Georgia, and that they might like to consider it. They voted a second time. NASCAR won.
"'Big Bill' should have been a politician, because he was a NASCAR Hall of Famer," said Tom Higgins, a Charlotte Observer journalist, about seven months before he died. He had the right mix of friends and enemies on his invitation list. Who convinced them to give Bill France Senior the first Presidency of NASCAR and the most shares? That's Bill France Senior.
It was correct. The man with the title of NASCAR president and 50% of the shares left the Streamline Hotel on December 17, 1947. Not knowing yet what they had signed over, the group posed for a picture in the Ebony Room, with Big Bill at the head of the table.
"Next thing you know, NASCAR belonged to Bill France," Parks said with a smile.
France's belief in one-man rule proved to be wise after his death in 1992.
NASCAR was founded in 1948. The winner of the first race was RedByron, who drove for Parks. Not a single one of that was in a stock car. The Strictly Stock division took the green flag in Charlotte on June 19, 1949, after NASCAR started using fender-less modifieds.
After handing over the keys to Bill France Jr. in 1972, Big Bill had survived financial crises, gas shortages, driver strikes and the deaths of multiple superstars. The Modern Era of the sport began in the 1970s and lasted for 30 years.
"Bill Junior," who died in 2007, was succeeded by Mike Helton as president, followed by Brian France and Steve Phelps. Jim France is the second son of Bill France. He was three years old at the time. Lesa France Kennedy is Bill France Jr.'s niece. Ben Kennedy is seen as the heir to the stock car kingdom by most.
There will be a celebration at the Streamline Hotel on Wednesday. The Sky Lounge Bar, where the stock car racing forefathers gathered to burn tobacco, sip amber fluids and draw up the paperwork that started the world's largest stock, is now wallpapered with photos of the men who gathered there.
It is a reversal of recent misfortune that is happening in that series. The old hotel is no longer in disrepair. There was a bus tour with Bill Junior. He wouldn't get off the bus and go inside because the place was so bad. It has become a hot spot after a $6 million renovation and a Travel Channel star turn. Earnhardt and his wife were on the roof of the bar where Parks used to hang out with the charm school students.
While keeping one foot planted in 1947, this year's Dec. 14 festivities mark the beginning of NASCAR's 75th anniversary celebration, with the promise of both eyes in the future.
Wouldn't it be cool to watch a race on the beach again? It's important to figure out when what's low tide. How high is the tide? The Streamline has a view of the Atlantic Ocean. "Then I look out my window at the track and see it." It's amazing to be able to create this in the 1940s and '50s. Bill Senior had an idea of what this would look like.
NASCAR's fifth-ever president spoke of the sport's recent gains in television ratings and attendance and the successes of experiments such as racing at the L.A. Coliseum. He talks about how he can rely on the France family. One of Big Bill's speeches from the Streamline Hotel is on display in the NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.
Jim France and Mike Helton always state that we are stewards for the sport. We have to leave it better than when we found it. We do ladders to that. That is helpful to me. We know what to expect when people come to work. At the Streamline Hotel, it began.