In December, 1947, Bill France had meetings at the Streamline. Thursday, the Streamline hosted a party to celebrate.
DAYTONA BEACH — It lacked the historical significance of what happened 70 years earlier, but it was heavy on tribute. The local NASCAR community celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding Thursday at the place where its organizational path was first put to paper.
“It’s really a great honor that we were able to do this,” said Eddie Hennessy, who bought the Streamline Hotel three years ago, renovated it and opened this past summer, and Thursday was host to festivities marking the meetings that resulted in the formation of NASCAR in mid-December, 1947.
The crowd gathered for the invitation-only event was as diverse — more so, actually — than the group of 30-plus men who took part in the three-day gathering in 1947 pulled together by Bill France Sr. (“Big Bill”), who would cobble together an organization that took root, grew, blossomed, and today is among the small world of multi-billion-dollar sports-entertainment ventures.
“The intersection of today’s date and this facility getting restored to the shape it’s in now, and being the site of the NASCAR organizational meetings, this was too good of a date to miss,” said the evening’s host, Mike Helton, NASCAR vice chairman and a part of the NASCAR scene since 1980. “For our employees, this is a good place to see where our roots are from.”
“It’s great that we got to do this here, where it started,” said Lesa France Kennedy, granddaughter of Bill Sr. and CEO of the International Speedway Corp. “I’m so glad this place has been renovated. It’s such a big piece of our history.”
Before reaching the Streamline’s front door, guests walked past a 1950 Nash that had the names of Bill France and Curtis Turner on the sheet metal. It’s believed to be the car France and Turner drove in the adventurous (as in “dangerous”) Carrera Panamericana street race through Mexico.
Jim France, youngest of Big Bill’s two sons, recently purchased the car and drove it from his Daytona Beach office across the bridge, down Main Street, and to the Streamline parking lot Thursday.
“We’re not 100-percent sure it’s the original, but is looks cool,” he said.
The Thursday celebration, much like the 1947 meetings that led to NASCAR’s formation, had a Who’s Who feel to it. Among the racers attending were a pair of NASCAR champs — Mike Skinner (Truck Series) and Rusty Wallace (Cup Series) — and former Indy 500 winner Eddie Cheever.
Three Daytona International Speedway presidents were there: Current president Chip Wile and former presidents Joie Chitwood III and Robin Braig. Former Speedway operations director Jim Bockoven was in attendance, along with former NASCAR security manager Earl Vickers and the longest-serving employee in Daytona racing history, Juanita “Lightning” Epton, who still reports to work daily in the ticket office at age 96.
The crowd also included Betty Faulk, who was the longtime assistant to Bill France Sr. and a 50-year employee. She talked of the years spent working for the man who, 70 years ago, gathered cohorts for meetings here and eventually called those meetings to a close with a plan.
“No matter what anybody might tell you,” Faulk said Thursday night, “the reason NASCAR became as big as it became, was him."