Ten years ago, Betty France, executive vice president and assistant treasurer of NASCAR, formed the NASCAR Foundation, the charitable arm of the popular auto racing organization.
Under her guidance, the foundation supported emerging children’s charities both financially and by shining the national spotlight on them. France passed away this last August, but at Tuesday night’s NASCAR Foundation’s Honors Gala 2017 — held for the first time in New York at Times Square’s Marriot Marquis — her son Brian France, the CEO and Chairman of NASCAR, told Variety that he was determined to continue his mother’s work. “We’ve got to be in touch with our industry and fanbase, it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “This is for our children.”
The Gala was hosted by “NASCAR on NBC” host Krista Voda and opened with remarks by “Today Show” host Hoda Kotb, who noted that she got to speak the iconic “drivers, start your engines” line at a NASCAR event last year.
Each year, the Foundation picks a number of charities to highlight and encourages fans to vote for the winner of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Winner. This year, the four finalists were Tuesday’s Children, a foundation dedicated to helping families who lost a loved one on September 11 or other terrorist attacks, the pediatric brain cancer research and awareness charity Team Jack Foundation, Mikayla’s Voice, a charity started by Logan Houptley when he was nine to promote inclusion and awareness of the differently abled, and Backpack Beginnings, an organization started by Parker While to combat food insecurity in her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. The $100,000 award went to Team Jack, while the other three finalists received $25,000.
Additionally, the gala featured a two-song set from Sara Bareilles, and a charity auction hosted by rapid-fire interlocutor Colonel Michael R. Powers, who auctioned off tickets to the 2017 Super Bowl and a Daytona 500 VIP experience, as well as an original painting from 2015 Betty France Humanitarian Award Winner Jeff Hanson, who started making brightly colored paintings to raise money for charity when he learned he was going blind.
“This is what her sole purpose was, what she saw for NASCAR, helping other families, and I’m honored to be a small part of it, says NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of the evening and France’s legacy. “This was her one thing that she wanted to succeed in NASCAR, and I think everyone in our sport has embraced it to make sure it keeps going and keeps doing the the great things that it does.”
Other drivers in attendance included Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace and more.