Sunday, December 14, 1947. On that gloomy, dismal day at Daytona Beach, Fla., most men wore suits. Not a church service. Nonsense. Too much brown booze and cigar smoke. A christening took place. Today marks 75 years since the start of a billion-dollar firm. NASCAR's birth.
On Sunday, almost 40 businesses, promoters, race car owners, and drivers met for four days. "Bootleggers" aren't listed. They were, from white lightning dabblers to moonshine titans, but they didn't want anyone to know.
Three years before his passing and ten years before his posthumous election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, attendee Raymond Parks reflected on the event in 2007. "The way y'all remember it now was like the pictures we took, that we were this cleaned-up-looking bunch of men who knew exactly what they were doing," he said. "In actuality, we were a cast of characters seeking to resolve various issues. If we didn't, that's okay; we'd just resume our previous course of action. But it undeniably turned out well. At least, it did for some people."
Greetings from the Ebony Room
The Ebony Room, a rooftop club atop Daytona's still-new art deco show palace known as the Streamline Hotel, which was best known at the time for housing Al Capone and his shady accomplices as they relocated south during World War II, was summoned to host the rough-hewn continental congress of racers.
The inquisitive participants arrived after accepting an invitation—more accurately, a challenge—through an advertisement posted in Speed Age magazine, the de facto bible of American motorsports. William Henry Getty France, often known as "Big Bill," a businessman and former racer from Daytona Beach, had placed that advertisement.
"That's the nickname you acquire when you're 6-foot-5 and constantly around race car racers," said Parks.
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France went from house painter and gas station owner to part-time racer and manager of Daytona's beautiful sandy beaches. After WWII ended, veterans from Europe and the Pacific quickly sought driving thrills. From coast to coast, they raced street vehicles on country roads, oval racetracks, and "Big Bill's" beach course.
France, disgruntled by AAA and IndyCar, started his own sanctioning body in 1947. He termed it the National Championship Stock Car Circuit (NCSCC), where "the fastest that run, run the fastest." All of these racers had formed their own stock car series, from the American Stock Car Racing Association through the National Stock Car Racing Association to SCARS.
Each series had its own intricate points system and rulebook, but neither mattered because rules were unenforceable. Spaghetti names and cars, run by an incoherent alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies, provided continual confusion that permitted dishonest track promoters to rob racers blind and kept would-be racing fans from knowing who, what, and where to watch.
France told his guests in the Ebony Room, "Every track and every area has a 'national champion' of every sort of racing." "Sportswriters are so bewildered by this that they give up trying to be accurate."
Bill France Jr., or "Bill Junior," said, "My father knew it was a catastrophe, but so did everyone else."
This was during Daytona Speedweeks 1998, NASCAR's 50th anniversary. Winston burned, and he led a media bus tour around town. "Bill Junior" pointed to the Streamline roof when the trip stopped.
"They didn't need much convincing to come help," he claimed. "They weren't well-educated or cultured, but they were smart. Smart enough to see that organization would benefit everyone."
NASCAR was founded at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona.
Getty Images/ISCA/CQ-Roll Call
Attendees came from Atlanta, North Carolina, New England, New Rochelle, N.Y., and the Midwest. The buttoned-up and the dressed-down, from the right of the Mississippi.
Mistrust flooded the room like smoke. Whispers interspersed open arguments. Secret asides pepper group conversations. A lounge full of alpha males couldn't agree on their race cars' design or their new organization's name.
Parks, a famed car owner with dead racer Lloyd Seay and inmate Roy Hall, financed the meetings at France's request. The man who made his riches in real estate, vehicles, gambling houses, and moonshining originally refused to sit with France and the others in the Ebony Room. "Big Bill" invited two female students from a nearby charm school to the meetings, where Parks sat.
"I desired success. I paid everyone's way. I wasn't convinced until I saw everyone was serious "Parks commented on Streamline's 60th anniversary. "Red and Red told me there was progress on the second day, so I went in."
Bill France soon owned NASCAR.
First was Parks' Red Byron. Vogt built Parks' automobiles. They were astounded by "Big Bill's" leadership. He opened with a rallying cry.
"The world never stops. Things grow or shrink." He set a blue-collar tone for hangover day two. "Sunday stock car shows are possible. I'd let race-minded boys who work all week but can't buy a racing car compete with the rich guy. They can travel to a racetrack on Sunday to show off and earn a prize."
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France wanted sedans. Immediately. Sunday dirt races. Opposition was light. "Big Bill" allowed just enough argument to make others think they were making the decisions. Even the new name followed suit. Byron recommended NASCAR. France loved "NASCAR" since it was easy to say. France informed them that Georgia already had an NSCRA after Byron's name won 7-4. Revoted. NASCAR triumphed.
"Big Bill" should have been a politician, said NASCAR Hall of Famer Tom Higgins seven months before his death. "He invited the perfect mix of friends and opponents to these sessions. Who encouraged them to give Bill France Senior the first NASCAR presidency and the most shares? Bill France Sr."
Indeed. On Dec. 17, 1947, the man who later boasted, "I can hold my board meetings in a phone booth" left the Streamline Hotel with 50% of NASCAR's shares. The group posed for the now-famous portrait of their meeting in the Ebony Room, "Big Bill" at the head of the table.
"Next thing you know, NASCAR was Bill France's," Parks would say.
A new Streamline.
After his death on June 7, 1992, France's belief in one-man rule proved wise.