NASCAR mourns loss of its ‘first lady’

Baltimore Sun - - NASCAR - — Ge­orge Diaz

The France fam­ily and the ex­tended NASCAR na­tion are in mourn­ing af­ter the death of Betty Jane France, con­sid­ered by many to be the first lady of NASCAR.

France, the widow of Bill France Jr. and mother of rac­ing ex­ec­u­tives Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy, died Mon­day evening. A state­ment from NASCAR on Tues­day did not dis­close de­tails of her death, in­clud­ing her age.

“Last night, t he NASCAR fam­ily lost a mother, a grand­mother, a friend and the light that guided the sport’s char­i­ta­ble arm,” Brian France said in a state­ment.

“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.”

Betty Jane France was ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and as­sis­tant trea­surer of NASCAR and chair of the NASCAR Foun­da­tion. She was mar­ried to the son of NASCAR founder Bill France. Their son Brian is chair­man and CEO of NASCAR while France Kennedy is CEO of In­ter­na­tional Speed­way Corp., whose hold­ings in­clude Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

“They say be­hind ev­ery strong man is a very strong woman,” said Richard Petty, a seven-time Cup cham­pion and co-owner of Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports. “In this case, Betty Jane stood just as tall as Bill Jr. Betty Jane France was a NASCAR ex­ec­u­tive and chair of its foun­da­tion. She did just as much as any­one to build the sport and help it grow.”

France’s stew­ard­ship of the foun­da­tion fo­cused on health care for chil­dren, help­ing es­tab­lish the “Speedi­atrics” chil­dren’s care unit at Hal­i­fax Health in Day­tona Beach, Fla., and at Home­stead Hospi­tal in Home­stead, Fla. Smok­ing gun: The Smoke — and maybe a few tears — may get in the eyes of the most ar­dent Tony Ste­wart fans this week. It’s of­fi­cial: Ste­wart has qual­i­fied for the post­sea­son Chase in his fi­nal sea­son, clinch­ing the spot af­ter fin­ish­ing 21st Sun­day at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Ste­wart needed to stay above the top-30 slot af­ter his win at Sonoma in June, a bit of a predica­ment be­cause “Smoke” missed the first eight races while re­cov­er­ing from a bro­ken back suf­fered in a duneb­uggy ac­ci­dent near Phoenix.

Ste­wart, 45, is a three­time Cup cham­pion.

CHRIS TROT­MAN/GETTY IM­AGES

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