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Lesa France Kennedy: I want to be more out front

When Lesa France Kennedy entered the drivers meeting at last April's Sprint Cup race in Phoenix, it marked a personal reunion with the sport.

Wishes of "congratulations" and "welcome back" came from team owners Richard Childress and Jack Roush. Handshakes and hugs came from drivers Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon.

The week before, Kennedy had been promoted to CEO at the France family-run International Speedway Corp., the world's largest and most influential racetrack operator. But what the promotion really signified was Kennedy's re-engagement with the sport that her father and grandfather created and shaped for the past 61 years.

There was a sense throughout the garage at Phoenix that "she's back" and ready for a more public role as one of NASCAR's most powerful figures. It was two years ago that the deaths of her father, Bill France Jr., and her husband, Dr. Bruce Kennedy, both within a month's time, sent Lesa into seclusion from the sport. She called it a type of shock that took her months to shake, and she admitted the grieving process took longer than she expected.

"It's not something you put a timetable on," she said. "You can't just set a date that you're going to be back."

Bryan Sperber, the track president at Phoenix, was with Kennedy that April day, escorting her to some of the speedway's new features, the Bud Roll Bar and the Speed Cantina. The inquisitive and focused Kennedy, 48, asked lots of questions, as she always does.

"There was a real excitement that she was re-entering the sport in a more active way," Sperber said. "The loss of her father and husband were very public tragedies, and there's got to be a healing period from that. With Lesa back as CEO now, I think it helps turn the page."

It was 2005 when SportsBusiness Journal named Kennedy the most influential woman executive in sports. As president of ISC at the time, her fingerprints were all over a number of significant projects, including the acquisition of Chicagoland Speedway and the construction of Kansas Speedway.

In the mid-1990s, Kennedy took the lead on building Daytona USA, the showplace next to the speedway that has since become the Daytona 500 Experience.

"Lesa can be a bulldog," said Cliff Pennell, the former R.J. Reynolds marketing chief during the Winston title sponsorship in the 1990s and an ISC consultant for eight years. "She decides that 'We're going to do this, and it's not going to fail.' She has a tenacity that is very much like her father."




Related Pictures

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ISC President Lesa France Kennedy celebrates the official commencement of construction of Daytona Live!, an upscale retail, office entertainment center for Daytona Beach last May (Photo Credit: Motorsports Images and Archives)
Ben Kennedy, driver of the #31 Heater.com Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Fred`s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 17, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ben Kennedy in the #31 Turner Scott Motorsport NASCAR Camping World Truck Series entry. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
The #31 Turner Scott Motorport NASCAR Camping World Truck Series entry driven by Ben Kennedy. (Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brian France, CEO and chairman of NASCAR, speaks with the media during the NASCAR series partnership announcement at NASCAR Hall of Fame on September 3, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NASCAR and Xfinity announced a deal that will span ten years. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway on May 30, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Toyota, celebrates with a bow after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway on May 30, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway on May 30, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brian France, chairman & CEO of NASCAR, Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, and Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President, hold a press conference following a meeting with drivers for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2013 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo Credit: by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brian France, chairman & CEO of NASCAR, and Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, speak during a press conference following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2013 in Joliet, Illinois. NASCAR announced that Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, would be added as a 13th driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Alex Kennedy`s #87 car skids to a stop after a heavy crash during the NASCAR Nationwide Series` Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson, Getty Images for NASCAR)
Bill France Sr
NASCAR CEO Brian France [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
NASCAR CEO Brian France [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
NASCAR CEO Brian France [Pic credit: Jarrett/Getty Images]
Team owner Rick Hendrick, NASCAR president Mike Helton and NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France at the confirmation that Charlotte will be home to the series` Hall of Fame   [Pic credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]
Toyota Motor Sales USA`s Dave Illingworth with NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France at the unveiling of the Toyota Camry that will contest Nextel Cup and Busch Series from 2007
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France speaks. [Credit Gavin Lawrence/Getty Images]

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