Jim Hunter (AP Photo)
Jim Hunter, a NASCAR executive who spent portions of six decades in the industry, first as a newspaper reporter and later a public relations official with the sanctioning body, has died after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 71.
Hunter died Friday night in Daytona Beach, Fla., NASCAR said.
He was at Talladega Superspeedway when he was diagnosed last fall, and a race will be held there on Sunday.
"Jim Hunter was one of NASCAR's giants," said NASCAR chairman 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."
Beloved in the NASCAR garage area for his quick wit and knack for building personal relationships, Hunter played a critical role in helping the sport adjust to additional public scrutiny in the wake of Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001.
"Jim was a uniquely talented man that cannot be replaced," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "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."
Hunter helped shape NASCAR's image during its mid-2000s popularity boom, but his influence went well beyond media relations.
He was a member of late NASCAR chairman and CEO Bill France Jr.'s inner circle and had a hand in most major decisions of the sport. He also served as a buffer — and occasional peacemaker — between NASCAR's leaders and drivers, team owners and track promoters.
"The past few weeks have been some of the saddest I can remember," Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch said. "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."
Hunter played football at South Carolina and would spend the rest of his life in sports.
His early career stops included a stint as sports editor of the Columbia (S.C.) Record and as a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He wrote several books, including a biography on driver David Pearson.
Hunter also worked as the public relations director at Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway before joining NASCAR in 1983 as vice president of administration. Clad always in golf shoes — the game was his passion — and a yellow 48 hat that signified NASCAR's start, he was known throughout the industry as "Hunter" and to his three grandchildren as "Jimbo."
In 1993 he became president of Darlington Raceway and a vice president of the International Speedway Corporation. He remained at Darlington until 2001 when he accepted an offer from France to return to the NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., to lead the expanded public relations effort.
Hunter is survived by his wife of 48 years, Ann Hunter; his children, Scott Hunter and Amy McKernan and his three grandchildren.
"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," Lynch said.
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