Originally created 09/14/03

NASCAR gets new leader



LOUDON, N.H. - When Bill France Jr. took control of NASCAR in 1972 from his father, he took it from the dusty Deep South speedways and into America's living rooms.

Now it's his son's turn to take it even further.

A day after his father denied rumors of retirement, Brian France, 41, took control of a business that's become a multibillion-dollar industry. Bill France Jr. said in a statement he will be a co-vice chairman and member of the board of directors.

Brian France took control of NASCAR's marketing department in 1994 with a plan to elevate it among the ranks of the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. He succeeded with television ratings that are second only to the NFL and an average attendance that makes it No. 1 among all professional sports in America.

"Brian is well-prepared to lead this sport and this company into the future," Bill France Jr. said. "I am confident the future of NASCAR is in very capable hands. NASCAR is my life's work, and my father's before me. This decision is probably one of the most-important ones I've made at NASCAR - and I know it's the right decision."

Brian France helped develop the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the Research and Development Center. He opened NASCAR's New York office, and he had a hand in the $2.8 billion contract between NASCAR and Fox, NBC, TNT and FX.

Until Saturday, he was the president of the company's broadcasting and digital entertainment division at the Los Angeles office. He will move to NASCAR's headquarters in Daytona Beach,Fla., spokesman Jim Hunter said.

Hunter said NASCAR planned to make the announcement on Monday, but it was forced into an impromptu press conference once word of the change started to appear on the Internet.

Bill France Jr., 70, has battled cancer and heart problems in the past. He said he will come to the office, but he said it was time for him to sit back and let somebody else deal with the daily responsibilities.

Hunter said Mike Helton will remain as president.

"The entire senior management team at NASCAR remains intact," Hunter said.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.