NASCAR’s First Lady Leaves Her Own Legacy – 1938-2016

Photo courtesy of NASCAR

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

Betty Jane France, a beloved mother, grandmother, philanthropist, community leader, volunteer and the matriarch of NASCAR, died Monday evening at the age of 78-years-old.

Ms. France is the widow of the late William C. France, also known as Bill France Jr., who preceded her in death in June 2007. She is the mother of NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy but she is also a beacon of hope and compassion to thousands of children she helped throughout her life.

Lesa France Kennedy

Lesa France Kennedy

“We are saddened by the passing of my mother and inspiration Betty Jane France,” said International Speedway Corp. CEO, Lesa France Kennedy, in a statement released Tuesday morning. “She played a significant role in NASCAR’s history, leading the charge to elevate the experience of our sport for the fans who love it, and her philanthropic efforts will forever remain a part of our sport.

“My mother launched the NASCAR Foundation as a steadfast champion of children’s healthcare and in 2011, the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award was created in her honor. In her hometown of Daytona Beach, she served as a community leader touching countless lives with her charitable efforts. She was very touched and proud last year when Halifax Health Medical Center unveiled a statue just outside the hospital tower which also bears our family’s name.

“Beyond her greatest community service, her starring role was that of mother to my brother Brian and me. She was an incredible role model, cherished friend, and someone who demonstrated limitless possibilities that helped so many people pursue their dreams.

“Her legacy will be treasured and she will forever be missed not only by her loving family and close friends, but by the many lives she touched along the way.”

Her son, Brian France, who now presides over NASCAR also released a statement on Ms. France’s passing – calling her “and the light that guided the sport’s charitable arm” and someone who “Foundation improved the lives of millions of children throughout this country” through her charitable endeavors.

“Last night, the NASCAR family lost a mother, a grandmother, a friend and the light that guided the sport’s charitable arm,” said Brian France. “My mother taught us incredible values, that of love, patience, compassion and joy. She embraced life every day, and nothing fueled her passion more than children. Her unmatched efforts in building The NASCAR Foundation improved the lives of millions of children throughout this country. And because of that, her legacy will live forever.

Brian France

Brian France

“My father leaned on my mother throughout his life, relying on her wisdom and calming demeanor to help grow the sport of NASCAR. She was there, every step of the way. When we lost my father, her positive presence remained, as she used her immense skill to grow NASCAR’s heart and soul, The NASCAR Foundation.

“Our family thanks you for all of your thoughts, prayers and well wishes. My mother was a special woman, and an impressive person, and she will be dearly missed.”

A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Betty Jane Zachary, met and fell in love with Bill France Jr. The two were soon married and then moved to Daytona Beach, where they helped to further build the racing empire created by Bill Jr.’s father, William H.G. France.

Betty Jane France NASCAR

Betty Jane France

Even after her husband died, Ms. France stayed active in the sport he once ran with solid determination. She still served as Executive Vice President and Assistant Treasurer of NASCAR, Inc. and was the Chairwoman-emeritus of the NASCAR Foundation. In addition, she remained a powerful and caring force in her Daytona Beach community, where she not only donated her money to many charitable causes but she invested her time, as well, watching over her interests with great care. In 2004, she created and chaired The NASCAR Foundation and went on to help form the Speediatrics program for children at Halifax Health, just a mile from the iconic Daytona International Speedway, and a similar program at Homestead Hospital, in Homestead, FL. She was a member of the Junior League of Daytona Beach, a board member of Garden Club of Halifax County and the Volusia/Flagler Red Cross and served in numerous other capacities. In 2008, she was named honorary co-chairperson for the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma – an endeavor founded by racing legend, Richard Childress.

In 2011, the NASCAR Foundation created its highest award in honor of Ms. France – The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is given out each year to a worthy charity that goes above and beyond to help others – granting four finalists with $10,000 and one grand prize winner with $100,000 to be used toward their causes.

The first news of the loss of Ms. France came via a tweet from her grandson, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, Ben Kennedy, who alerted the world that she would be missed.

“We all miss you grandma. Thank you for being you still can’t believe it. #neverforgotten,” Kennedy tweeted at 8:33 p.m., according to his Twitter timeline.

Since it was so late in the evening and family members were still being contacted, NASCAR officials waited until morning to release an official statement but thoughts and prayers were already spreading throughout the tight-knit racing community.

On Tuesday, the sport’s greatest driver, Richard ‘The King’ Petty,  said Betty Jane France “stood as tall” as her husband in the NASCAR world.

“They say behind every strong man is a very strong women,” said Richard Petty, Co-Owner, Richard Petty Motorsports. “In this case, Betty Jane stood just as tall as Bill Jr. She did just as much as anyone to build the sport and help it grow. The Petty family sends our thoughts to Brian, Lesa and the entire France family at this time.”

Funeral arrangements for Ms. France will be announced soon.

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