Bill France Jr.

Bill France Jr., who transformed NASCAR from a small Southern sport into a billion-dollar conglomerate during his 31 years as chairman, died Monday. He was 74.

He died at his Daytona Beach, Fla., home, NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said.

France had been in poor health for much of the last decade — he was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. Although he was in remission, the extensive treatments took a toll. He never regained his full strength, often had difficulty breathing and had taken to using a motorized scooter to get around.

France was hospitalized at least twice this year but spent his final days resting at home. His last public appearance was Feb. 12 in Daytona Beach, where NASCAR's top names gathered to "Roast and Toast" him at the Bill France Hot Dog Dinner during the Daytona 500 build-up.

Even there, especially there, France Jr., who ruled NASCAR with an iron fist, called the shots.

His toasters that evening were gently reminded to avoid any harsh roasting. France did not speak during the dinner but received guests from his seat on the banquet floor.

Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 4, 2007