NASCAR confirms passing of ‘First Lady of NASCAR’, Betty Jane France

Betty Jane France was the mother of Lesa and Brian France. (Getty Images)
Betty Jane France was the mother of Lesa and Brian France. (Getty Images)
Betty Jane France was the mother of Lesa and Brian France. (Getty Images)

NASCAR confirmed Tuesday morning that Betty Jane France the Executive Vice President and Assistant Treasurer of NASCAR, Inc., and Chairwoman of The NASCAR Foundation passed away Monday. Her youngest child, Brain France chairman and CEO of NASCAR released a statement early Tuesday morning:

“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.

“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.”

Lesa France Kennedy, Betty Jane’s daughter eldest child, and CEO of ISC released a statement around the same time:

“We are saddened by the passing of my mother and inspiration Betty Jane France. 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.”

Mrs. France was the wife of Bill France Jr. and mother of Lesa and Brian France.  Her children now lead the racing empire founded by her father in law, Bill France Sr. in 1948.

A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina,  the former Betty Jane Zachary met her husband at a swimming pool in Winston-Salem, where she worked as a lifeguard. Bill Jr. visited looking for contestants for a Miss NASCAR beauty contest.

Bill Jr. escorted Betty Jane in the pageant, and the rest is history.

“I was a finalist, but I did not win Miss NASCAR,” Betty Jane said. “His (Bill Jr.’s) father tells the story that I didn’t win Miss NASCAR, but I won NASCAR.”

Bill Jr. is credited with taking the company his father founded and bringing it into the modern era. Mrs. France went on to work as an accountant for the company and sold tickets at Daytona International Speedway.  Bill France Jr. passed away in June 2007 at the age of 74.

Mrs. France will be most remembered perhaps for her charitable efforts particularly health care for children. She helped establish the “Speediatrics” children’s care unit at Halifax Health in Daytona Beach and also was instrumental in the establishment of a similar unit at Homestead Hospital, in Homestead, Fla.  And was instrumental in the fundraising and design of the units.

She was also a member of the Junior League of Daytona Beach and served on boards of many area community service organizations including the Volusia/Flagler chapter of the American Red Cross and the Garden Club of Halifax County.

Mrs. France became chairwoman of The NASCAR Foundation when it was founded in 2004. The foundation’s flagship charitable initiative, the annual NASCAR Day held each May, has benefited a variety of causes, including Speediatrics.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award was created in her honor in 2011.  Through The NASCAR Foundation, this award recognizes outstanding charitable and volunteer efforts of NASCAR fans. France presented this award annually at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards.

“They say behind every strong man is a very strong women,” said Richard Petty. “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.”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.