A Day at the Races with Big Bill France.

Things were different at Daytona International Speedway thirty-two years ago, on Thursday, February 17, 1983. I was 34 – not 70 plus, as I am today. And, Bill France, Sr., then aged 73, was still very much a presence at the Speedway.

Bill France, Sr. – William Henry Getty France – was usually referred to as either Bill, Sr. or “Big Bill.” Big Bill was a good fit, because Bill France, Sr. was an imposing tower of a man. The stories are well documented of how Bill France, Sr. led NASCAR in its early years and built its showplace racetrack – Daytona International Speedway.

Bill France Sr.
From the Andy Towler Collection (Racer Reunion)

I was called just plain Dave and on that Thursday afternoon I was handling various duties beginning my third full season as Manager of Wrangler NASCAR Special Events. I oversaw motorsports programs for the Greensboro, North Carolina-based jeans manufacturer, including our sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt in the blue and yellow Wrangler festooned Bud Moore #15 Ford Thunderbird.

Thursday of Speedweeks was always a busy day for me. Not only did Dale have to compete in the first of the UNO TWIN 125 Qualifying Races to secure his starting position in Sunday’s Daytona 500, I had to prepare and supervise our annual Wrangler Daytona Speedweeks party that night at the brand new Pelican Bay Club. That party, put together by and featuring the entertainment of the Fabulous Rhodes Brothers Revue, was the “must do” party of Speedweeks. Bill France, Sr. had already reminded me the previous week when I checked in for my credentials, to be sure to give him an ample supply of invitations so he could include the mayor and Daytona Beach City Council.

For the 1983 racing season, Ford had come out with an all new Thunderbird. Earnhardt hated it. He called the new design, which would become one of the biggest selling Ford designs ever, “The Football.” He did not like the way the car handled in traffic. A soon to be dominant Bill Elliott actually refused to run the car at Daytona, opting for the old shoebox 1982 model.

The Fords had been a tad slow in pole qualifying runs, so it was very important to gain a good finish in the Twin Qualifier to gain a good starting position for the Sunday Daytona 500.

Unlike recent Daytona 500s, with barely enough cars on hand to fill the field, the 1983 edition had seen 72 NASCAR Winston Cup stock cars check into the Speedway. The 36-car fields in each qualifier would be just a few cars less than the total at Daytona the past several Februarys.

My plans were to split from the Speedway as soon as the first qualifier was over and Dale had secured his starting position for Sunday. I wanted to get cleaned up and head over to Pelican Bay to be sure all food, drink and entertainment preparations were on schedule. I especially wanted to be sure that the bevy of young ladies we were attiring in French maid costumes to serve as hostesses were all dressed and ready. It would be their job to be certain all partiers had full drinks and no Winston cigarette ever made it to a guest’s lips before they had a lighter out with the flame lit.

Dale Earnhardt’s performance in the first UNO Twin 125-Mile Qualifying Race caused me to hang around the Speedway longer than I had planned. The new Thunderbird proved to be excellent in the draft and a better handling car in traffic than Earnhardt expected. He raced to the front in Bud Moore’s blue and yellow Wrangler Thunderbird and hung just behind the venerable A.J. Foyt in his red #14 Valvoline Chevy. Lap after lap, Dale stayed glued to the cagey veteran, Foyt’s rear bumper.

 A. J. Foyt driving his Valvoline-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Earnhardt took the white flag still glued to Foyt’s bumper. Coming out of turn two, Earnhardt was tucked in behind the Foyt Chevy, followed by Buddy Baker’s Wood Brothers Valvoline Ford #21 and the #7 Kyle Petty 7-Eleven Pontiac.

Halfway down the back straight, Earnhardt ducked to the inside lane with Baker pushing him. They passed A.J. in a classic Daytona slingshot move going into turn three of the final lap. At the line it was Earnhardt the winner, followed by Baker and Petty, who edged Foyt in a bumping battle for third.

I had run to Victory Lane carrying all the boxes of Wrangler hats I could muster. Mind you, proper voodoo etiquette dictates you don’t get the Victory Lane hats together until after the checkers, unless you want to jinx your driver.

Photo from Pinterest

While up to my elbows in blue and yellow in the Daytona International Speedway Victory Lane, I began to hear my name paged over the Speedway public address system. “Attention, Dave Fulton. Dave Fulton with Wrangler. Dave Fulton with Wrangler dial Speedway Extension #6682 immediately please.”

I was familiar with many Speedway telephone extensions. I made numerous calls all the time to the Winston Cup Garage extension, Daytona Public Relations extension, the NASCAR Marketing extension and the MRN Radio extension. I had no idea what Extension #6682 was.

The always prepared Daytona Speedway had a telephone extension in Victory Lane. So while the cars were being lined up on pit road for the second Twin Qualifying Race and while UNOCAL’s Bill Broderick performed the Victory Lane “hat dance,” I dialed Extension #6682.

One ring, two rings… then…, “TOWER CONTROL, Bocky speaking.” Tower Control was a tiny booth at the very top of the old blue Daytona International Speedway tower overlooking the start/finish line. “Bocky” was Jim Bockoven, close friend and high school pal of Bill France, Jr. He had a title something akin to Operations Director for the Speedway. He made sure things happened and he was usually beside Bill France, Jr.

I identified myself and after a brief pause, Bill France, Jr. came on the line. “Dad wanted me to call you and congratulate you on Dale’s win. Dad also wanted to know if you might come up to the control tower and watch the second race with him. We’ll bring you over from Victory Lane in a patrol car,” Bill, Jr. concluded.

The implication was that I would immediately be on my way in a patrol car with a motorcycle escort to watch the second 1983 UNO Twin 125-Mile Qualifier seated next to Big Bill France, Sr. There was never a real question mark placed by Bill, Jr. at the end of his question. I understood I was being given an order. It would be a command performance.

Getting from Victory Lane to the Tower in race traffic was no easy feat, even with escorts. I was not so naïve as to think I was being invited to share a seat next to the most powerful man in auto racing because he thought he’d enjoy my company. As we went through the infield tunnel my brain was going a hundred miles an hour.

I had spent a lot of money with International Speedway Corporation in my position at Wrangler. At that very moment there were two individuals working in the Daytona Credentials office on my expense account.

We had hospitality tents at Daytona and a suite at Talladega. I bought thousands of grandstand tickets to the races at both venues. We had an extensive Wrangler ad campaign boosting NASCAR racing and I ran special ticket promotions at both Daytona and Talladega that I had negotiated with Bill France Senior’s wife, Anne France – “Annie B,” “Miss Annie” or “Mom” as Bill, Jr. had first introduced her to me in 1981, when she signed off on my proposed ticket promotions at her tracks.

Miss Annie would not be in the tiny booth atop the Daytona Control Tower when I arrived. She was always in the ticket office or at the money drops. Wherever the money was to be found was where Bill France, Senior’s wife would be found. It had always been that way. I recalled my good friend, Richmond promoter Paul Sawyer, telling me of going to the France house with Joe Weatherly after a beach race and finding Miss Annie on her knees on the kitchen floor, surrounded by stacks of currency.

No, there were only four people inside the Tower Control Booth when we got past the door security. Father and son France – Sr. and Jr. – were in the booth with the aforementioned Bocky and Bill Senior’s personal assistant, Bob Mauk.

These were the days before David Hoots gave up his day job at UPS to become NASCAR Race Director. Bill France, Jr. was Race Director in those days at both Daytona and Talladega (just as Humpy Wheeler was Race Director at Charlotte) and he had his headset on, ready to begin the second Qualifier. Neither Bob Mauk nor Jim Bockoven engaged in conversation. That left just me and Big Bill. I was overwhelmed and overmatched.

Bill France, Sr. didn’t spend too much time stroking my feathers. He was a pretty direct individual. He allowed as to how International Speedway Corporation was uncertain of the sponsorship for the two qualifying races the following season and it seemed to him that an exciting program like the Wrangler Racing program would be a perfect fit for sponsoring his two qualifying races. All the while we were munching on snacks and the second race was unfolding below me from a perch I could only have imagined in my wildest racing dream.

Bill, Sr. praised our Wrangler program and driver, Earnhardt while Bill, Jr. called cautions and dispatched wreckers and called for “move over” flags from Harold Kinder. All the while, far below me, Neil Bonnett in the Warner Hodgdon-sponsored Rahmoc Chevy was holding off Richard Petty in the STP Pontiac. Little did we know that a year later Richard would be driving for Mike Curb and not Petty Enterprises. Such is racing.

Third place Cale Yarborough in the #28 Hardee’s Ranier Racing Pontiac would go on to win the Sunday Daytona 500. I watched that Sunday race splitting my time between pit road and the infield Goodyear Tower in the Winston Cup garage.

I explained to Bill France, Sr. that our Wrangler budget operated on a fiscal year that began October 1 and ended on September 30. My new budget would be put together no later than June 30. Things were complicated splitting a calendar year racing series between two different budget years.

Ultimately, I declined to sponsor the two Daytona Qualifying races with Wrangler money. It proved to be an excellent decision. As fate would have it, I had to find funds to field two teams for the 1984 Winston Cup NASCAR season – Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing and Ricky Rudd with Bud Moore Engineering.

1984 Rudd – Earnhardt Wrangler Cars
Courtesy of J.C. Hayes

By the time the 1984 season began and I returned to Speedweeks, I had left Wrangler. After 13 years wearing blue and yellow, I moved to Dallas, Texas to become Motorsports Coordinator for The Southland Corporation’s sponsorship in NASCAR, at the time centered on Kyle Petty under the 7-Eleven banner. Uno continued with a one year renewal of the Twin Qualifying races for 1984.

However, if you search the records, you’ll see that my new employer had its name on the 1985, 1986 and 1987 versions of the Twin Qualifiers. The record book lists them as 7-Eleven Twin 125-Mile Qualifying Races each of those three years.

In retrospect, I guess Big Bill France got what he wanted from my 1983 visit to the Tower. He was an excellent salesman.

# # #

Dave Fulton

More of Dave Fulton’s articles ( Here )

(Editor’s note: This story is published with the permission from the author! It may have appeared previously at RacersReunion.com, GhostTracks.com)


  1. I’m kind of guessing that things don’t happen the same way in today’s corporate NASCAR. It’s good for people to know how it once was. Thanks for a history lesson only you could provide.

    1. I guess the stakeholders, charter recipients, networks & attorneys would gather first to contact the appropriate agent… oh wait, the 2nd qualifying race (which really is hardly one anymore) would be over by the time a concensus was reached to extend an invite.

  2. Dave, what wonderful reading! I am so glad you did this one. Thank you.
    The memories you shared with us just took me back and along.
    Take care, My Friend…

    1. Thank you, Vivian. As someone who was around Daytona much earlier than me I appreciate your knowledge and comments.

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