The Real NASCAR Family

NASCAR CEO Says Confederate Flag Is Not A Proper Symbol For His Sport.


Cheerios and maker General Mills have the most prominent displays on the car. "They're your major sponsor. But then you come back with these guys here and they're minor sponsors," Petty says, showing smaller decals on the racecar. "These are probably a million dollars apiece."

Lesa France Kennedy is Brian France's sister. While he runs NASCAR, she runs racetracks. She is the president of ISC, International Speedway Corporation, which owns 11 tracks, including Daytona, NASCAR's Yankee Stadium.

As the governing body of the sport, NASCAR is supposed to be even-handed in deciding where races are run. So it's an issue that it gives half the races to Lesa's tracks.

Richard Petty says it's like a benevolent dictatorship, "if you look at the whole different program."

Some of Lesa's competitors, owners of other tracks, call it a monopoly and think that the France family has a stranglehold on the racetracks.

Brian France rejects the criticism, pointing out that "most of the dates were awarded 25, 30 years ago."

Petty says, "from the outside looking in," it does appear that the Frances have the best of everything and that ISC is getting the best races.

But Petty's no outsider; his family has been part of NASCAR forever. His father Lee drove in the very first race organized by Brian and Lesa's grandfather, the founder of NASCAR, "Big Bill" France.

"Big Bill started this out of the back of a car, ok? Basically," says Petty. "They took nothing, kept working, and over 55 or 60 years, this is what you see, Ok? That's capitalism."

NASCAR was born in Daytona Beach, where Big Bill ran a gas station and raced cars in the sand. In 1947, he organized his weekend hobby into a league, and took it to racetracks throughout the south.

Spectacular crashes were common, and Big Bill knew that was what fans came to see.

It's something his son Bill France Jr., who took over NASCAR in 1972, also got. "Hemingway said it best. He said 'There are only three sports: mountain climbing, auto races, and bullfighting. The rest are all games.' That describes us pretty good, I think," he says.

NASCAR really took off in 1979, when CBS aired the Daytona 500 flag-to-flag and live for the first time, and the race turned out to be an all-time classic.

"Cale Yarborough and Davie Allison got into a big deal, the last lap," recalls Petty. "And as they're crashing, we get by the wreck. And we wound up winning the race."

And as if that wasn't enough, a fight erupted between Yarborough and Allison.

Tempers still overflow. Recently, Brian France fined a helmet-tossing driver $25,000.

Brian's been in charge since his father turned NASCAR over to him in 2003. At the time, lots of people thought he wasn't up to the job.

"There's people in my generation who say 'No way that Brian's going to be able to handle this situation,'" says Petty.