By Ann Miller Baker
Growing up in Daytona with the last name “France,” Lesa France Kennedy always had racing in her blood. Her grandfather, Bill France Sr., founded NASCAR and built Daytona’s World Center of Racing. Her father, Bill France Jr., created an audience for the sport on television and grew it internationally. Kennedy now manages Daytona International Speedway and 12 other premier motorsports entertainment venues nationwide as CEO of the International Speedway Corporation.
But currently, a different kind of speed is on the mind of this CEO whom Forbes once named “The Most Powerful Woman in Sports.” Kennedy and fiancé Bill Christy are focused on the race for a cure for cancer.
“We can’t move quickly enough in this space,” says Kennedy. “Cancer affects nearly 65,000* courageous patients at Moffitt alone and I can’t imagine how many others worldwide. There’s no better time than now and no better place than Moffitt Cancer Center to fast forward how we are battling this disease.”
To accelerate those efforts, Kennedy and Christy are chairing the 2019 Magnolia Ball, Moffitt’s signature fundraising event. “It will be an uplifting and touching evening,” says Kennedy, “but one that is also lots of fun.” Kool & The Gang will headline the April event in downtown Tampa, guaranteeing plenty of dancing. “And we have a few surprises in store,” adds Christy.
Kennedy first visited Moffitt Cancer Center in 2011 and recalls being “absolutely blown away by its staff and the groundbreaking work they’re doing. At Moffitt, the research and work in treating and curing cancer is moving so fast. Their logic challenges the current clinical mindset to someday treat cancer as a manageable chronic disease. That is an absolute game changer that allows patients to focus on a real quality of life, which, it goes without saying, is extremely important.”
For Christy, a health care entrepreneur who holds over 25 patents on various medical devices, the connection to Moffitt’s mission is personal. “When my father was diagnosed with cancer years ago, the best specialists were in New York or Los Angeles,” he recalls. “Such a huge part of a patient’s journey is having their family and home close by. Having this leading facility here in the Sunshine State is unbelievable.” In fact, he adds, the couple has referred several friends to Moffitt for care in just the past few months alone.
Since Kennedy became a member of Moffitt’s national Board of Advisors in 2012, the couple hasn’t missed a Magnolia Ball. Christy says they look forward to it every year. And while they’ve been known to bid on auction items, their support isn’t limited to one night a year.
In 2014, Kennedy hosted an awareness event at her home as part of Moffitt’s Leadership Series. “We had fellow Board of Advisors members in attendance, along with Dr. Alan List and Dr. Doug Letson who spoke of Moffitt’s clinical operation and his specialty in treating sarcoma. Dr. Keiran Smalley also attended and discussed personalized therapies for melanoma,” says Kennedy. “This was an eye-opening evening for many and one that led to further support and advocacy of this great organization.”
There’s no shortage of demands on the couple’s time. The 2019 motorsports season is well underway, and new venues are opening within ONE DAYTONA, the retail/dining/entertainment center located across from Daytona International Speedway that is also owned by International Speedway Corporation.
Close to the couple’s hearts is Gallery500, a collection of local and regional contemporary artwork, as well as works by race artists from across the country — some of them from Kennedy’s and Christy’s personal collection. Yet the pair say they are glad to make time for Moffitt and its mission to advance the prevention and cure of cancer.
“I think we all want to see a cancer-free world,” says Christy. “If cancer could be treated as a manageable disease where longevity and quality of life were all the patient needed to focus on, that would change life as we know it.”
“We believe so strongly in (cancer center founder) Lee Moffitt’s vision,” adds Kennedy, “and any small part we can play, we are very excited about. We’re stronger together, so let’s beat cancer together!”
* Editor’s Note: In fiscal year 2018 Moffitt saw 64,759 patients, of whom 23,199 were new patients. Additionally, the cancer center logged 406,117 outpatient visits during that time frame.