NASCAR 'giant' Jim Hunter dies

Jim Hunter smiles at Darlington Raceway in May. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
It was hard to mistake Jim Hunter in his trademark yellow "NASCAR 1948" cap, but in a career spanning more than 40 years in motorsports, he wore many hats. Hunter knew the ins and outs of the sport, first as a journalist, then a public relations representative and finally as an executive for NASCAR itself. He was a father, friend, mentor, mediator, and fan of the sport and the people in it. His guidance was influential in shaping NASCAR to be what it is today.

The 71-year-old vice president of NASCAR's corporate communications died late Friday after a year-long battle with cancer. As the NASCAR community reacts to his death, it is certain Hunter left an indelible mark on the lives of many in its ranks. Juan Pablo Montoya, one of the drivers Hunter took under his wing, dedicated the Amp Energy 500 pole he claimed Saturday at Talladega to Hunter.

Many drivers, journalists and others in the sport turned to Twitter and Facebook to express their condolences. Hunter embraced social media, so it is only fitting that he was a trending topic in the U.S. and worldwide on Twitter today.

Here is the press release NASCAR issued upon Hunter's death, followed by a compilation of quotes from some of those whose lives he touched. We at Skirts and Scuffs offer our sympathies to the Hunter family and his extended NASCAR family.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 30, 2010) – NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter, whose career in motorsports spanned portions of six decades as both a journalist and public relations professional, died last night in Daytona Beach, Fla. following a 12-month battle with cancer. He was 71.

“Jim Hunter was one of NASCAR’s giants,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “For more than 40 years Jim was part of NASCAR and its history. He loved the sport, but loved the people even more. It seems as if everyone in the sport called him a friend. Jim will forever be missed by the NASCAR community. Our sympathies go out to his entire family.”

Added NASCAR President Mike Helton: “Jim was a uniquely talented man that cannot be replaced. He was a great friend and mentor to so many in the sport. His influence will remain with and be carried on by so many of the people he touched. This is a sad day for Jim’s family and his extended, NASCAR family.”

As a young man growing up in his native South Carolina, Hunter was a football and baseball player at the University of South Carolina. Those years preceded a future of being immersed in the sports world, primarily motorsports. Hunter learned motorsports from “both sides” by working as a newspaper reporter/editor and a public relations representative.

As a member of the media, Hunter was sports editor of the Columbia Record newspaper; he had an award-winning stint at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; he was a columnist for Stock Car Racing magazine; and he authored a number of books, including a widely-read biography on NASCAR great David Pearson, entitled “21 Forever”.

On the public relations side, Hunter broke into that business in the 1960s, with Dodge’s motorsports operation. He handled public relations for a number of top IndyCar drivers before going on to become the public relations director at his beloved Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway.

In 1983, Hunter was named to his first executive position in his first NASCAR stint, becoming NASCAR’s vice president of administration. In 1993 he was named president of Darlington Raceway and corporate vice president of the International Speedway Corporation. He remained at Darlington until 2001 when he accepted an offer from then-NASCAR Chairman and CEO Bill France Jr. to return to Daytona Beach to lead an expanded public relations effort aimed at responding to the needs of burgeoning media coverage.

Hunter won numerous awards during his career, including: the Hugh Deery Memorial Award in 1988; South Carolina Ambassador for Economic Development in 1994; South Carolina Tourism Ambassador of the Year in 1997; the National Motorsports Press Association’s Joe Littlejohn Award in 2005; and the Buddy Shuman Award in 2006.

Hunter is survived by his wife of 48 years, Ann Hunter; his children, Scott Hunter and Amy McKernan and his grandchildren Dakota Hunter, and Hunter and Luke McKernan.

In lieu of flowers the family asked that donations be made to The NASCAR Foundation or Hospice of Volusia/Flagler County. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.


Tony Stewart (official statement): “When it comes to my NASCAR career, one of my biggest influences was Jim Hunter. There’s no playbook or manual when you eventually reach this level, and understanding all the things that come along with being a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series can be overwhelming. At least, it was for me when I first got here. Jim became a great friend to me because he helped me understand why things were the way they were and how I could better handle situations. Knowing that his knowledge and experience will no longer be available to other young drivers as they enter the sport is proof that Jim is irreplaceable.

“I’m proud to have known Jim Hunter, proud to have been his friend and will miss him a lot. Our thoughts are with his wife, Ann, and their family.”

In a SPEED interview during Saturday's qualifying, the two-time Sprint Cup champion credited Hunter with helping him through the "tough times when I was struggling and fighting with NASCAR." To show his respect, Stewart wore a yellow NASCAR cap like Hunter's.

Kevin Harvick: During qualifying on SPEED, the driver and team owner said, "If it wasn't for Jim Hunter, I probably would have run myself out of the sport." Harvick shared the same sentiment earlier on Twitter: "If it wasn't for Jim Hunter there is a good possibility that I might not have ever made it through my first 2 years in NASCAR....."

Kurt Busch ( interview): “He took me under his wing early on in my career and said, ‘Hey kid, you can do things the hard way or do things the right way. He really helped me out and was a good friend of mine. It’s tough to see him go.”

Jim Hunter rides with Richard Petty at Chicagoland in 2008.
(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Juan Pablo Montoya (via Twitter). "Just woke up and find out that Jim Hunter a great friend passed away. All the prayers for his family. ... its great to see how many people really care for jim hunter!!!!!! im really gonna miss him!!!

Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose favorite memory of Hunter was talking with him at the end-of-the-year banquet dinners (Scene Daily interview): "It was people I couldn’t speak their language and he was the only guy (I could talk to). He was one of the good guys. There’s a lot of toughness in this sport and ruthlessness and he was one of the genuine good people that looked out for everybody."

Jeff Gordon (USA Today interview): He was such a quality person and so passionate for this sport. I think it's a sign of a great person and their legacy. It's how many people are going to say great things about Jim and what he meant to the sport and how dearly missed he's going to be. You're going to hear it over and over and over again for a long time. He's one of those individuals that will never be able to be replaced. I love how he approached this sport, this job, his life and his family. I really respected him a lot. He always came into a conversation open minded but yet not afraid to give his honest opinion, and you've got to have respect for someone like that."

Jimmie Johnson's official PR Twitter account: "There are a lot of big and grandiose words, and deservedly so, to describe Jim Hunter but a simple one suffices for me. He was great!"

Denny Hamlin (via Twitter): "Everyone please keep jim hunter's family in your thoughts. He will be missed"

Ron Hornaday Jr. (via Twitter): "Jim was a great Friend to me. He got me along ways in our sport. He will be Truly Missed in the Hornaday Family. RIP my Friend"

Kyle Busch (via Twitter): "Sad news w Jim Hunter. Great friend, awesome ambassador, always great story teller. Going to miss Jim:( Thoughts and prayers go out..."

Kasey Kahne (via Twitter): "jim hunter has always been one of my favorite people in nascar. always a smile and a laugh. a great influence to so many. certainly missed."

Brad Keselowski (via Twitter): "The day is off to a terrible start. RIP Jim Hunter."

Regan Smith (via Twitter): "Very sad to hear of Jim Hunters passing. Thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Brendan Gaughan (via Twitter): "Jim Hunter was the smartest n most genuine person in all of NASCAR. I will truly miss our conversations, I am a better person because of him."

Darrell Waltrip (via Twitter): "I can hear Bill (France) Jr saying "we lost a good one", Hunter loved Nascar and Nascar loved him, he will be missed in so many ways, by so many people"

Michael Waltrip (via Twitter): "God bless the Hunter family. RIP Jim."

Ray Evernham, former crew chief and ESPN analyst (via Twitter): "On way back from Mi, found out Jim Hunter passed. Jim was a great friend to me during the most difficult media times of my life. RIP"

Richard Petty (official statement): "Last night the sport lost an important family member. Jim was a good friend not only to me but to so many in the NASCAR community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Ann and their family."

Jack Roush (official statement): "The entire NASCAR community is mourning the passing of Jim Hunter. As a new team owner from the outside joining NASCAR in 1988, I was welcomed and befriended by Jim and his wife Ann in the early days before I was settled, and as I was getting my feet wet in this sport. Past that, Jim remained a friend of whom I could seek sage advice and badly-needed sympathy on more occasions than I can recall. His departure has diminished us all."

Ramsey Poston, NASCAR managing director of corporate communications (via Twitter): "The @NASCAR family lost a giant last night. Jim Hunter died at 71. He was a friend and leader. Rest in Peace Sir."

Josh Hamilton, NASCAR public relations representative (via Twitter): "RIP Jimbo. You were truly one of a kind. The world misses your infectious smile already. :( ... I really think Hunter holds the record for most people saying 'I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him'... a wide range of folks too."

Steve Byrnes, host of "NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED" ( statement): “Jim Hunter was such a gentleman. He gave so much of his life to the sport, as a journalist and an executive. He always had a smile and a kind word. Jim was so instrumental in growing the sport one person and one relationship at a time. The sport has lost one its champions.”

Dave Despain, host of "Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain" ( statement): “Jim Hunter was a ‘good 'ol boy’ in the best possible connotation of the term. Everybody liked Hunter, which is precisely why the France family so often and for so long made him their front man.”

Tom Jensen, editor-in-chief ( statement): “Jim Hunter was by turns charming, funny, profane, passionate, mischievous, engaging, smart, knowledgeable and old school in the best sense. He knew everyone and damn near everything and was about as universally admired and respected as anyone in the sport. On a professional level, the sport has lost one of its biggest boosters and most important links to the past. On a personal level, all of us in the NASCAR media corps have lost a dear and valued friend. RIP, Jim. We miss you already.”

Larry McReynolds, SPEED analyst and former crew chief ( statement): “The biggest thing with Jim Hunter was you could rest assured that when he spoke publicly about something, whether stuff running out of the intake of Michael Waltrip’s car a couple of years ago, a driver being penalized for rough driving, or something internally with NASCAR, he was going to say the right thing and help you understand what had transpired. He always had the right thing to say. Jim Hunter was one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable in the NASCAR world. I think he’s one of the reasons NASCAR has enjoyed the growth it has because he had the Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. way of thinking, even in his final months.

“Jim was a tremendous listener – not only to those of us who have been in the garage for years but also to the newcomers. If you had something bugging you about the sport, you could chat with him. He wasn’t going to blow you off or give you some ‘cockamamie’ reason NASCAR was doing things. He would intently listen to you. Jim had a really rough last 12 to 14 months, but if there is one positive in his passing, it’s the assurance he won’t have to suffer anymore.”

Randy Pemberton, SPEED analyst and reporter ( statement): “This is a terrible loss for NASCAR. Jim Hunter was a cornerstone in the continuing growth of the sport. But even more importantly, he had that rare quality that, when you met him, you instantly felt that he was your friend.”

Krista Voda, host of "Trackside" and "NCWTS Setup" ( statement): “Hunter was a character with a larger-than-life spirit. He taught me to never take myself too seriously and always had a story or a joke at the ready. He represented ‘old school’ but embraced the new guard. I will miss seeing his golf pullover and golf shoes and I will miss hearing his laugh in the media center.”

Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway (official statement): "The past few weeks have been some of the saddest I can remember. Quite honestly, I don't know what to say about Jim Hunter that would even begin to describe him. He was just a larger than life figure in our sport. It wasn’t because he sought the spotlight either, but because he was genuine and real. He was someone that people wanted to gravitate to, even if for only a moment. He was a great friend to Talladega dating back to before his time as our Public Relations Director. Our thoughts are with our friends at Darlington Raceway where Jim spent much of his career strengthening the bond between track and community. It's because of those experiences I know he'd want us to put our best foot forward and provide a great experience for our fans this weekend. It's going to be with incredibly heavy hearts that we move forward with our race preparations, but I know it's what Jim would want and expect. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife Ann, his son Scott, daughter Amy and the entire NASCAR community as we all cope with the loss of a great man."

Chris Browning, president of Darlington Raceway (official statement): “Jim Hunter was one of the most charismatic people in NASCAR. I always enjoyed seeing Hunter at the track and particularly enjoyed his participation in our 2009 historic racing festival. It was great seeing Jim joke and swap old stories with some of the true pioneers of NASCAR. Everyone at Darlington Raceway will certainly miss Jim’s smile, stories and laugh. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.”

David Beasley, former South Carolina governor who worked with Hunter during his time as Darlington Raceway president (official statement): “Jim Hunter is going to be missed. I don’t know of anyone who loved God, his family, NASCAR, his hometown Darlington, his state and country more. He taught me you only go around the track of life once, so give it your best.”
NASCAR 'giant' Jim Hunter dies NASCAR 'giant' Jim Hunter dies Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Saturday, October 30, 2010 Rating: 5