BY: Douglas S. Fritz
I like to think there are two types of events in life, memories and moments. Memories are something that years later, you think back on and say, "That was great." Moments are times when you KNOW you are doing something that is very special and impactful while it is happening.
I started working for NASCAR in February 1990. Shortly after I began working for the France family, the opportunity arose for me to meet Bill France, Sr., patriarch of the family and the man who created NASCAR.
I was sitting in my office and a co-worker mentioned that he was heading down to another NASCAR building where Bill, Sr. had an office. I knew with Bill, Sr.'s ailing health I wouldn't have many opportunities to meet the biggest man to live in this sport that we all love, so I offered to ride along.
Sitting in the car for that ride seemed to take hours even though it was just a short trip from Daytona International Speedway to his office. I was filled with excitement. All I could think about was the fact that I was about to walk into a moment. I was going to meet and shake hands with a man who was larger than life. Compare it to a baseball fan who had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Babe Ruth. Bill France, Sr. was and still is NASCAR. Who he was, what he had done, knowing that I was about to meet the largest figure in the history of this sport -- THIS was my moment.
As I walked toward the door to this legend's office, I was filled with emotions. I knocked on his door, was invited in and introduced myself. I could hardly believe I was standing in the presence of a legend. The conversation didn't last long, but Bill, Sr. did say one thing that stood out to me. It's something that NASCAR still lives by, and as a track promoter, I live by. He told me to never forget that "NASCAR is all about family."
When Big Bill mentioned family, he was talking about the race fans, our extended family.
That statement sank in as I walked out of his office. I knew I had just experienced a moment in my life I would never forget. When I think back on it today, I am grateful for the short time I was able to spend with Bill, Sr., because that ended up being the one and only opportunity I had to meet and speak with him.
Bill, Sr. prided himself on being family-oriented and he built his business on that premise. Remembering that NASCAR is about family reminds me of conversations that I have had with Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy about their grandfather. He taught them that our race fans are family, and we should always remember that and treat them the way we treat our own family.
As president of Richmond International Raceway, I try to live by Big Bill's words, making sure that our fans are treated like family. We pride ourselves on being family-friendly and realize that our youngest family members will grow up and one day become our biggest fans.
As I walk around on race weekends, I see fathers with their sons and mothers with their daughters, so excited about a chance to see their favorite driver. It takes me back to my first trip to a NASCAR race with my father. A huge race fan who spoke highly of his visits to Darlington Raceway, Dad invited me to join him at Dover International Speedway for the day. At the time it didn't have a real impact on my life, but many, many years later I had the proud opportunity to take my son, Scott, to Daytona International Speedway for his first-ever NASCAR race. It was not until that day that I realized the impact that the first race with my dad had on me.
My father died long before I started working in NASCAR, but I know he'd be proud and excited about what I do for a living and the fact that his grandson loves NASCAR as much as he did.
That brief meeting with Bill France, Sr. is a moment in my life that I often think back on. Because of the statement he made to an up-and-coming young adult with dreams of being successful in the NASCAR business, I do everything I can to make sure our race fans feel just like family.
I'd like to hope he knows I heard his words and strive to make sure that my contribution to this sport continues to be all about treating our extended family of NASCAR fans just the way he would have wanted me to.