When, in the winter of 1947, Bill France, Sr. stood over a smoky room at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, to describe his vision for a unified stock car racing circuit, the former mechanic admitted he had “no idea how big it could be.” His wish was to organize a burgeoning sport that had struck a nerve with post-WWII America. At its core were a humble work ethic and an enduring commitment to family and country—do-the-best-with-what-you-got.
Nearly 70 years later, his grandson, Brian France, now the CEO of NASCAR, sits atop a sports and entertainment empire built on the hardscrabble gospel of the self-made and contemplates how to stay attuned to the spirit his grandfather had keyed into. Success does have its pitfalls. Sitting in their Manhattan penthouse, Brian and his wife, Amy, admit they’ve struggled with the idea that wealth can be an “albatross,” never prompting children of privilege to develop the skills necessary to think and act independently. “If you entitle someone, you look past their ability to find their own way and reach their true potential,” says Brian, who recalls walking into the NASCAR offices while in his late teens to ask his father why he hadn’t mentioned anything about a trust fund. His father replied, “Because you don’t have one.” Instead, Brian took a job as a janitor at Talladega Speedway and began working his way up.
Warding off entitlement could be considered a France family tradition, but it’s also congruous with what families like the Buffets or Gateses have done in recent years, putting their wealth towards philanthropic causes instead of stashing it away for the kids.
To that end, Amy and Brian have created the Luke and Meadow Foundation, an umbrella charity named after their 4-year-old twins and focused on children’s causes like funding pediatric cancer research and neonatal intensive care facilities. Amy, who doesn’t see the sense in simply sitting on a board and writing a check, has taken a hands-on approach to the foundation’s giving. For instance, the Frances have helped place several children with adoptive families. As their kids near school age, Amy’s attention is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.
“This foundation is very much a mirror of Brian and I—his business values, my compassion and the environment I want my children to be raised in,” says Amy. “And it’s also consistent with the NASCAR model of how the business began. Consider yourself lucky that you have an in at the track so that yes: You can be a janitor. You’re welcome.”