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'First Lady of NASCAR,' Betty Jane France, dies

Betty Jane France, widow of former NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. and the mother of current NASCAR Chairman Brian France and Vice Chairwoman Lesa France Kennedy, died Monday.

Serving as a NASCAR executive vice president and chairwoman of the NASCAR Foundation up until her death, Betty Jane France was an advocate for children's health care and served on the boards of numerous Daytona Beach area community service organizations. The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, presented by the NASCAR Foundation to charities started by NASCAR fans that help children's causes in their community, is named in her honor.

"She played a significant role in NASCAR's history, leading the charge to elevate the experience of our sport for the fans who love it, and her philanthropic efforts will forever remain a part of our sport," France Kennedy said in a statement.

Lesa's son, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Ben Kennedy tweeted about his grandmother's death Monday night:

"My mother taught us incredible values, that of love, patience, compassion and joy," Brian France said in a statement. "She embraced life every day, and nothing fueled her passion more than children.

"Her unmatched efforts in building The NASCAR Foundation improved the lives of millions of children throughout this country. And because of that, her legacy will live forever. My father leaned on my mother throughout his life, relying on her wisdom and calming demeanor to help grow the sport of NASCAR. She was there, every step of the way." Reaction to her death included tributes from some of the most high-profile people in the industry.

"They say behind every strong man is a very strong woman," said NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty. "In this case, Betty Jane stood just as tall as Bill Jr.

"She did just as much as anyone to build the sport and help it grow. The Petty family sends our thoughts to Brian, Lesa and the entire France family at this time."

As part of the France family's control of publicly traded track-operating company International Speedway Corp., Betty Jane France owned 25 percent of the voting stock, according to ISC's most recent proxy statement.

NASCAR, a private race-sanctioning organization owned by the France family, does not release details of its ownership although public records indicate Lesa France Kennedy and her uncle, Jim France, have the majority of ownership.

"Beyond her greatest community service, her starring role was that of mother to my brother Brian and me," France Kennedy said. "She was an incredible role model, cherished friend, and someone who demonstrated limitless possibilities that helped so many people pursue their dreams."

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