NASCAR's 'Genial Dictator' Dead at 74

Bill France Jr. transformed NASCAR into a national pastime
By Jesse Andrews,  Newser User
Posted Jun 5, 2007 4:17 AM CDT
In this undated photo released by NASCAR, Former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. is seen. France died Monday, June 4, 2007, in Daytona Beach, Fla. He was 74. France transformed NASCAR from a small southern...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Bill France Jr., the NASCAR chairman who took a Southern pastime and transformed it into a national mania, died at 74 on Monday. Sickly in his final years, the godfather of stock car racing from 1972 to 2000 was nonetheless fiery and irascible until the end. France's father had founded the sport in the 1940s.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon described France, who would not hesitate to berate veterans in his league for unsafe driving, as "a real soft-hearted guy who had a real hard shell on the outside."  Added racer Greg Biffle: "He single-handily made this sport what it is today."