Although NASCAR first officially sanctioned races starting in 1949, Bill France was promoting races prior to the incorporation of what we know today as NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Bill France Sr. was born in Washington, D.C. and lived there until his early 20s. His father was a teller at Park Savings Bank in Washington, and his son might have followed in his footsteps with the exception that he had a fascination with the automobile and how it performed. As a teenager, Bill Sr. would often skip school and take the family car to a nearby track and run laps until he had enough time to get the car, a Model-T Ford, back home before his father got home. He held several hands-on jobs until he eventually owned his own service station. He made a name for himself and built a customer base by getting up early in the wintry mornings and going out to crank the cars for white collar bureaucrats.
In 1934 the Frances loaded up their car and headed for the south with a total of $25. Where they were headed has never been clearly established but some say Tampa and others say Miami Beach. Two days later they arrived in Daytona Beach. Rumors say that they were broke and had to settle there while some say his wife had a sister in nearby New Smyrna Beach and still others say that their car broke down and they had no choice but to settle in and stay there. However years later Bill Jr. stated that his mother did not have a sister living in New Smyrna Beach and that a broken down car would never stop his father from getting where he wanted because he was an experienced mechanic.
The hard packed sand between Daytona Beach and its northern neighbor Ormond Beach was the site of the world-record automobile speed trials. They started in 1902 and picked up speed right up to the '30s. By then the speeds were approaching 300 miles per hour along the firm and smooth inviting sand. In the spring of 1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell was taking his Bluebird rocket car to Daytona Beach in hopes of running at 300 miles per hour for yet another land-speed-record. Along with this and the weather and the smaller hospitable and more affordable area maybe this is the reason behind the Frances staying in Daytona Beach.
Campbell never did get his record of 300 mph at Daytona, instead his best he could do was 276.82mph and on March 7, 1935 Campbell announced that he was moving the speed trials to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It was the shifting winds and changing tides that made Campbell realize that he would not reach his goal of 300mph if he kept working out of Daytona Beach. Campbell did beat the 300mph speed at Bonneville in late 1935.
Daytona Beach area officials were determined to bring in speed-related events after Campbell left and this was how Bill France Sr. got his start in race promotions in late 1935. City officials asked championship dirt track racer and local resident Sig Haugdahl to organize and promote an automobile race along a 3.2 mile course which included Highway A1A southbound from Daytona Beach and the same beach that had been used for the land speed record runs. The 78-lap, 250 mile event for street-legal family sedans was sanctioned but the American Automobile Association for cars built in 1935 and 1936. Daytona Beach posted a $5,000.00 purse, with $1,700.00 for the winner. The biggest problem was that people arrived there earlier than the ticket-takers and established their spots on the beach. The turns at each end very virtually impassable, leading to stuck and stalled cars which created scoring disputes and technical protests. Then the race was called after 75 laps with Milt Marion declared the winner. France finished fifth behind Marion, Shaw, Elmore, and Sam Purvis. Ben Shaw and Tommy Elmore both protested the race but their appeals were squashed. That was the first and last race the City of Daytona Beach ever promoted. Well how would you feel if your City lost $22,000.00 from one race promotion?
Haugdahl and France had become very good friends and were not about to give up. Together they talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club into helping promote a race over Labor Day weekend of 1937. Despite a paltry $100.00 purse and improved management, promotion, and track conditions the Elks lost money too. They also like the city lost their interest in motor sports promotion. With that Haugdahl decided that he too had enough and he bowed out of the motor sport promoting as well. This left France all to himself to try and get the area interested since he could still see a future for stock car racing, however he was a struggling filling-station operator and didn't have enough cash to cover a purse, advertise and promote the race plus pay the city to set up the course.
France was finally able to convince local restaurateur Charlie Reese, rich and well known, to post a $1,000.00 purse and let France recruit drivers and spread the word. Danny Murphy beat France in the 150-miler that generated just enough profit to convince the co-promoter to do it again. They managed another successful stock car promotion on Labor Day weekend of 1938. France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings in that race and then organized and promoted three more races in March, July, and September of 1939. They did it again in March , July 4, and September of 1940 France fared well in those three races of 1940 finishing fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September. France was able to promote two races in March, one each in July and August of 1941 prior to the war breaking out. The war brought a stop to motor sport racing and France went to work for the Daytona Boat Works while his wife handled the family filling station.
Shortly after the war ended and things started returning to normal Bill France left the boat works. France was obsessed with the idea that a single, firmly governed sanctioning body was necessary if stock car was to be a success. He was well aware, as a driver and promoter, that the minor-league sanctioning bodies reeked of inconsistency. France wanted an organization that would sanction and promote races, bring uniformity to race procedures plus technical rules. He wanted an association that would oversee a membership benefit and insurance fund, and one that would promise to pay postseason awards, and crown a single national champion using a clearly defined points system.
At that time there were several organizations who claimed to sanction national championship races. One was the American Automobile Association (AAA), but they were more concerned with open-wheel, open-cockpit, champ car racing. The A.A.A eventually became known as the USAC/CART league (Indy-car racing). The other groups were the United Stock Car Racing Association, National Auto Racing league, and American Stock Car Racing Association. The Georgia based National Stock Car Racing Association was only interested with-in the state and so they didn't crown a national champion. The Daytona Beach Racing Association only promoted within the city so they made no claim to a national champion either. France was so devoted to creating a racing association that would adhere to the rules mentioned above. With that in 1947 he retired from racing so he could concentrate all his time and attention to organize that body.