That would be just fine with William Henry Getty France. By Sunday night, rich in attendance and hamburger and beer money, Bill France was the one superwinner at Daytona. He is the man who started the engine dispute, who got it going splendidly and then stepped aside to hold the coats of the major participants. This strategy works as neatly for France in America as it does for Charles de Gaulle in France. The parallel is not unreasonable: France is a tall (6 feet 4), shambling, imperious bear of a man. He is the originator and boss of the speedway, the originator and absolute ruler of NASCAR, and he rises up calmly out of the storms he creates. Once a service station operator, once a racer (he drove in the 1950 Mexican Road Race and wound up in a ditch in San Cristobal Las Casas), France knows his sport well and his kind of people better. His track is a $6.5 million monument to speed, and his annual race is clearly the best. Serene in that knowledge, France now spends his off-racing days rubbing automobile manufacturers together.
"Stock car racing," France said one afternoon last week, plopping huge, rubber-tired shoes on his desk, "has in recent years been in danger of being taken over completely by the big, wealthy companies. Cost of engines crept up from $1,000 to beyond $2,200. Manufacturers were constantly changing them—and on short notice—and turning out special engines to dominate racing. Well, all this interest is fine, but racing is for everyone. The little independent stock car racers were being forced out of the picture."
For 1965 racing, France wrote a set of rules last October specifying that engines had to be in volume production—not limited, one-or-two-of-a-kind specimens. It was, to his way of thinking, the way to return a piece of the sport to the back-country racing mechanics who still come roaring out of the garages in every small town south of the Mason-Dixon line.
"My espionage tells me that these rules are popular within the industry," he said. "And I think that in 1966 you will see more makes of cars back on the track."
France's network of secret agents may have been listening at the wrong factory keyholes.
"Ridiculous. This is ridiculous." snapped Ronnie Householder, who heads up racing activities for Chrysler. "I don't think we are ever going to get together again. Now, look here. The idea of racing is to go fast. Right? It is elementary."
(Householder cars have done that well enough. In the 1964 race his Plymouth cars and drivers finished in one-two-three order. And then came a Ford in fourth place. Paul Goldsmith's Plymouth King Kong had qualified at 174.91 mph, a track record, and Petty had won the race at an average speed of 154.3 mph, another record.)
"Engine restrictions, my foot," Householder growled. "I can't see where people will come out to watch cars run 150 miles an hour when they know there are cars that can go 175. Go fast. That's the idea.
"Another thing. France's rule about engines in volume production. I would like to point out that the Chrysler Corporation would like to decide for itself how many engines it is going to build and docs not need any instructions from NASCAR."
But if the 1965 regulations upset Chrysler's man in racing, the new 1966 edition turned him purple. Among other things, France wants a spot check of engine production lines. Engine assemblies, he decided sweepingly, should cost no more than $1,000 or so—a sum France considers quite large enough for any independent to put under the hood. The hooker comes in a new France idea to keep the big companies honest. All Grand National races next year will, in effect, be claiming races, he has decreed. For a $2,000 deposit, posted with France before the race, one competitor can claim another competitor's engine. And Householder, known in every racing garage in the country as a man who puts something special into each engine, made it clear he does not like the idea. "I am not in the habit," he barked, "of building engines and then passing them around."