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Jim Hunter

Born: 1939   -   Died: October 29, 2010

OBITUARY

Jim Hunter of Darlington, SC and Daytona Beach, Fla., passed away on Friday, October 29, 2010 following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 71 years old. His career in motorsports spanned portions of six decades as both a journalist and public relations professional and currently Vice President of Corporate Communications. 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."

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;

The Buddy Shuman Award in 2006.

Known for his love of golf, he played the courses of his dreams and was even known for wearing his golf shoes to the racetrack! The most memorable trip was with his close group of golf buddies and his son, Scott, to St. Andrews in Scotland.

Known affectionately as "Jimbo" to the grandsons, they always looked forward to the trips he planned for them to the Bahamas. He and his wife, Ann, of 48 years, enjoyed a life of adventure and travel though his career and otherwise. "Jimbo", "Jimmy", or "Hunter" as he was affectionately known, will be dearly missed by his friends and family. He is survived by his wife, Ann; son, Scott; daughter-in-law, Shelly; grandson, Dakota (Charlotte); daughter; Amy; son-in-law; Matt; and grandsons; Hunter and Luke (Atlanta); sister, Nita Woods; brother-in-law, Robert Woods (Moncks Corner, SC,); brother, Ralph Hunter; sister-in-law, Charlotte Hunter (Hilton Head); and numerous nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the NASCAR Foundation at NASCAR Plaza, 550 South Caldwell Street, Suite 2000, Charlotte, NC 28202 or Halifax Health - Hospice of Volusia/Flagler, 3800 Wood-briar Trail Port Orange, FL 32129.

Visitation will be held Tuesday, November 2, 5-7 pm at Darlington Raceway. A celebration of Jim's life will be held at Darlington Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, November 3 at 11 am to be followed by a reception at the Darlington Raceway. Arrangements are under the careful direction of Lohman Funeral Home in Daytona Beach. Condolences can be shared with the family at www.lohmanfuneralhomes.com Arrangements for South Carolina are being handled by Belk Funeral Home, 229 West Broad Street, Darlington, SC 29532.

NASCAR loses 1 of its 'giants' in VP

By GODWIN KELLY, Motorsports Editor

DAYTONA BEACH -- NASCAR's beloved backdoor ambassador, Jim Hunter, 71, died here Friday night after a year-long battle with lung cancer.

Officially known as NASCAR vice president of corporate communications, Hunter's people skills and relationship-building was the mortar that helped hold the NASCAR community together through good and bad times.

"Quite honestly, I don't know what to say about Jim Hunter that would even begin to describe him," Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch said. "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, who had an easy-going manner and always dressed as if he was headed to a golf course, started his professional life as a journalist before accepting Talladega's public relations position in 1975. From that point forward, he quickly gained the confidence of longtime NASCAR president Bill France Jr., who promoted Hunter to NASCAR's PR director in 1981.

As NASCAR's popularity soared in the 1980s and '90s, Hunter's role changed on a regular basis. He not only vacillated between NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. -- both companies controlled by the France family -- but had the ear of car owners, sponsors, drivers and the media.

Hunter, who authored two books about Darlington Raceway (NASCAR's oldest superspeedway), was president of that track when seven-time national champion Dale Earnhardt lost his life on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. France summoned Hunter here to handle the national media firestorm from the Earnhardt tragedy. When that storm passed, Hunter stayed here to build NASCAR's public relations division.

As a trusted lieutenant in NASCAR's inner circle of decision-makers, Hunter was given nearly free rein to discuss hot topics with the media. "Jim Hunter was one of NASCAR's giants," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement. "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."

Lesa France Kennedy, Brian France's sister and the CEO of ISC, was also distraught to learn of Hunter's death. "We are incredibly saddened by the loss of our very dear friend and legendary NASCAR executive Jim Hunter," Kennedy said. "Throughout his storied career, he not only helped bring the sport of NASCAR to a national level, he also had a profound influence on the lives of everyone he met."

Making thousands of friends wasn't in Hunter's job description. It just came naturally for the man who loved golf, poker and, of course, the University of South Carolina, where he played football and baseball. Hunter was constantly on the move, building relationships within the industry, which sometimes meant going beyond the call of duty. For instance, Hunter helped guide new drivers through the rigors and challenges offered by the Sprint Cup Series.

"If it wasn't for Jim Hunter, there is a good possibility that I might not have ever made it through my first two years in NASCAR," driver Kevin Harvick posted on his Twitter page. It was Harvick who replaced Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing after the seven-time champion's death. Harvick has since blossomed into his own starring role at NASCAR.

Driver Tony Stewart also expressed his gratitude for Hunter's guidance. "When it comes to my NASCAR career, one of my biggest influences was Jim Hunter," Stewart said of his poker buddy. "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 Cup series can be overwhelming."

Hunter was diagnosed with cancer 12 months ago while working the race at Talladega, which hosts a Cup today. Despite near-crippling chemotherapy treatments, Hunter continued to work the garage area, keep office hours and stay in touch with his base. Hunter was one of the last links to the "old NASCAR" and Bill France Jr.'s roster of executives. France died in 2007.

Hunter's relationship-building skills helped NASCAR on numerous levels as the sport grew to national status.  "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 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.

                    

The Industry Remembers Jim Hunter           By NASCAR.COM     October 30, 2010
 

Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of corporate communications, whose career in motorsports spanned portions of six decades as both a journalist and public relations professional, passed away Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla., following a 12-month battle with cancer. He was 71.

Those who had the pleasure of knowing Hunter remember his dedication, work ethic and friendship.

"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." -- Mike Helton, NASCAR president.

"We have lost a great friend and champion of the sport of NASCAR racing with the passing of Jim Hunter. Jim was passionately dedicated to the growth of the sport along with its drivers, teams and partners. His leadership and vision were complimented by his extensive experience and quick wit. On behalf of everyone at Chevrolet and General Motors, we extend our deepest sympathy to the Hunter family." -- Jim Campbell, GM U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports.

"Everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame is deeply saddened by the loss of Jim Hunter. His impact on the sport is truly immeasurable. Jim had as deep a knowledge, understanding and appreciation for the history of NASCAR as that of anyone I know. He is clearly one who cannot be replaced. Jim Hunter has touched, guided and mentored so many people, including me and others on the NASCAR Hall of Fame staff, but especially many of drivers as they entered the sport needing help navigating the challenges of stardom while remaining true to NASCAR's tradition of being fan and media accessible." -- Winston Kelley, NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director.

"Jim Hunter had a passion for NASCAR that was nearly unmatched and as strong as its founder, Bill France. Every day, he shared that passion with anyone who would listen and along the way he educated, mentored, and groomed many of us who share his passion. I learned much from him and will miss his counsel greatly. On behalf of all of the MRN team, my prayers are with his wife Ann, son Scott, and daughter Amy. Our sport was blessed because of him." -- David Hyatt, MRN Radio president.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jim Hunter. Jim was a great ambassador for the sport of NASCAR and a real friend to everyone in the NASCAR community. When Toyota made the decision to enter NASCAR, Jim proved to be a valuable resource -- answering our many questions and never tiring of our search for information about the sport. No matter the circumstance, Jim was always available to talk and was more than happy to listen -- even if the opinion presented wasn't a popular one. You could always count on Jim to give you an honest and fair view of any situation. He was passionate about life and passionate about the sport of NASCAR. Jim will be missed. Our deepest sympathies go out to Jim's family and the entire NASCAR community." -- Lee White, Toyota Racing Development president and general manager.

"Jim Hunter was a legend in the sport and a bridge to the earlier days of NASCAR. Having entered the sport in the early '60s, Hunter knew the history and inner workings of the sport better than anyone. He worked every position imaginable within the sport and added immediate credibility to anything he was involved in. He was thrilled that NASCAR finally was getting its own hall of fame, and he gladly added his expertise to the project. He was a great sounding board during the development of the Hall. He was definitely a one-of-a-kind guy but also a great friend and mentor. There is a huge Jim Hunter-shaped hole in NASCAR today." -- Buz McKim, NASCAR Hall of Fame historian.

"Jim was a super guy. He meant a lot to this sport and he did a lot for this sport, and he'll certainly be missed by us and everybody else. I loved his family. My wife knew his son real well. He's the kind of guy that would come up and ask you to do something and you'd just have to go do it. Jim came around this sport and he understood it as well as anybody in here and I think that will definitely be missed." -- Bill Elliott, Cup Series driver.

"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." -- Jack Roush, Roush Fenway Racing owner.

"Jim Hunter embodied NASCAR. As a sportswriter, as track president at Darlington and as the leader of NASCAR public relations, he left his mark on our sport. A wonderful story-teller and an even better man, Hunter shared his passion for NASCAR with generations of race fans from all across the country and his voice will be missed. Our condolences go out to his wife Ann, son Scott and daughter Amy." -- Bryan R. Sperber, Phoenix International Raceway president.

"I am saddened by the news of the passing of Jim Hunter. He was an icon in the sport of NASCAR starting with his days as a sportswriter and most recently heading up NASCAR's public relations efforts. Hunter was always quick to share his sharp wit and genuine smile along with his perceptive advice. He helped bring the history of NASCAR to life and his presence will be missed. On behalf of the entire staff of Kansas Speedway, I extend our deepest condolences to the Hunter family and to Jim Hunter's extended NASCAR family." -- Jeff Boerger, Kansas Speedway development corporation president.
 

"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 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." -- Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing owner and driver.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of Jim Hunter. His family and friends, the entire NASCAR community and all of those he touched are at a great loss. There are so many words that can describe Jim Hunter ... great leader, visionary and pioneer, just to name a few. Jim personified the definition of 'legend.' To me, he was my mentor, as he was for many others in this sport. I was truly blessed to know Jim Hunter, and was proud to call him my friend. Losing a personal friend and mentor is never easy, but we must recognize the accomplishments and leadership of such a great man. The sport of NASCAR is better today because of Jim Hunter. From the very first day I met Jim, more than 20 years ago, he was always there for me any time I needed advice or a second opinion on any subject. He deservedly received the utmost respect of drivers, owners and industry leaders. Today we have lost a great man. Our condolences go out to his wife, Ann, son, Scott and daughter, Amy." -- Doug Fritz, Richmond International Raceway president.

"Jim Hunter was the epitome of all that is meaningful about NASCAR. He set a standard for professionalism in the garage and in life. We will miss him as an ambassador of our sport, but more importantly, I personally, will miss him as a friend, a role model and my go to guy on how to deal with the really hard problems. No one knew the drivers, the fans or the sport like Jim. To say he will be missed does not even begin to describe our loss."-- Gillian Zucker, Auto Club Speedway president.

"Although I'm relatively new in the NASCAR community, I'm well aware of Jim Hunter's impact on our sport and the many contributions he's made over six decades. He had a remarkable career, one that impacted every segment of our sport. The footprint he leaves will serve as a guide for us for years to come. The Dodge community extends our sympathy to the entire Hunter family." -- Ralph Gilles, Dodge president and CEO.

"Jim Hunter personified NASCAR to a greater extent than anyone I have met in the sport. Going to work for Jim at Darlington was almost like pursuing a college degree in NASCAR -- there was everything to learn from him as a promoter. He was a pillar of the industry who achieved his great success through a passion for racing and a genuinely inviting style that set the bar for anyone who ever has walked the garages. We're so fortunate to have had the opportunity to know Jim and to learn from him, and we'll miss him dearly. From the entire staff at Homestead-Miami Speedway, our most sincere condolences to Ann and the Hunter family." -- Matt Becherer, Homestead-Miami Speedway president.

"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 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." -- Larry McReynolds, SPEED.

"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." -- Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.

"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." -- Steve Byrnes, SPEED.

"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." -- Richard Petty, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver.

"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." -- Randy Pemberton, SPEED.

"I am saddened by the news of the passing of Jim Hunter. Jim was a pioneer and a builder of the sport of NASCAR. From his days as a sportswriter to most recently serving as track president at Darlington Raceway and heading up the NASCAR public relations team, Jim poured his heart and soul into the sport he loved so dearly. His presence in media centers across the country will be sorely missed. The staff of Daytona International Speedway extends its deepest condolences to the Hunter family." -- Joie Chitwood III, Daytona International Speedway president.

"Nobody personified the love, passion and heart of NASCAR more than Jim Hunter. He was the old school fabric of the sport but you never got the sense he realized the magnitude of his impact on NASCAR. He was as gregarious and approachable as they come and made everyone feel like they were a part of the sport no matter what their role." -- Hunter Nickell, SPEED president.

"We are incredibly saddened by the loss of our very dear friend and legendary NASCAR executive Jim Hunter. Throughout his storied career, he not only helped bring the sport of NASCAR to a national level, he also had a profound influence on the lives of everyone he met. From his days as a PR director at Talladega Superspeedway to his tenure as president of Darlington Raceway, Hunter was a driving force behind the sport's growth in popularity. His charm, sharp wit and incredible sense of humor will be remembered by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him. We'll also greatly miss his warm smile and sage advice. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Hunter family and his extended NASCAR family." -- Lesa France Kennedy, International Speedway Corporation chief executive officer.

"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." -- Chris Browning, Darlington Raceway president.

"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." -- Grant Lynch, Talladega Superspeedway chairman.

"I will miss Jim Hunter. He was instrumental in helping me with my career when he was president of Darlington Raceway. But more than that, he was a true friend and tremendous ambassador for the sport of NASCAR. He had a great deal of passion for NASCAR, for the media and for the fans, and was instrumental in bringing the sport to the forefront as one of the country's most popular spectator events. He was a walking history book, wonderful promoter, marketer, journalist and PR man, and a true pioneer. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He will be missed." -- Roger Curtis, Michigan International Speedway president.

Hunter's gift was NASCAR love, knowledge Terry Blount - ESPN

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Most NASCAR fans didn't know Jim Hunter. That's a shame. For those who did, consider yourself lucky. No, consider yourself privileged. I certainly do.

NASCAR wanted to present its side of the story, Jim Hunter was the man to do it. When people have asked me about Hunter over the years, this is how I've described him:

If you know someone who hates NASCAR, put him in a room with Hunter for 30 minutes and that person will walk out loving NASCAR. I kid you not. In fact, I watched him do it, more than once.

NASCAR lost a giant Friday night, a man who was a dedicated historian of its cherished past and an unapologetic believer in its future. His official title of vice president of corporate communications doesn't come close to explaining who he was and what he meant to the sport. For most of his 71 years, NASCAR was his mission in life.

As a newspaper reporter, a speedway chief (I say chief because Hunter would hate being called an executive), an author and, finally, as NASCAR's voice, Hunter was the first person anyone went to when they wanted to know something about stock-car racing. "Quite honestly, I don't know what to say about Jim Hunter that would even begin to describe him," said Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway. "He was just a larger than life figure in our sport."

Hunter -- by the way, no one called him Jim -- was one of those rare individuals who made you feel like you were his best friend 10 minutes after he met you. And my goodness, could that man spin a tale. Talking to Jim about NASCAR was like entering a time machine and being transported back to that moment. He could describe an incident in 1965 as easily as he could dinner two days ago.

Jim Hunter, 1939-2010

Ed Hinton: Jim Hunter's death marks the true end of an era in NASCAR. When you remember the men who built the sport from the inside, he was a giant. Column

Terry Blount: There are going to be so many reasons to miss Jim Hunter, but one of his greatest gifts was he loved NASCAR and he could make you love it, too. Blog

David Newton: Jim Hunter's passing marks the loss of a true NASCAR great. It's also a loss for anyone who follows or covers the sport. Blog

Marty Smith: Jim Hunter was a friend, mentor and a true professional. He was also a lover of great NASCAR tales, and knew more than a few firsthand. Blog

Jim was a tremendous help to me in research for my book, especially the chapter on drivers from yesteryear. When he told me tales of Curtis Turner or Fireball Roberts, it was like those two men were sitting in the room with us. And Hunter never feared giving you his honest opinion: "Turner was the best driver I ever saw," he once told me. "He could do things in a race car that just weren't human. And sometimes he did things off the track that weren't quite human."

No one knew more about NASCAR than Hunter. And no one was better at expressing it with feeling than he was. Hunter also was a talented writer. His book on David Pearson, "21 Forever," is a must read for any NASCAR fan. Like Pearson, Hunter was a proud South Carolina native. He played baseball and football for the University of South Carolina, an undersized running back who plunged forward without fear. It's the same way he approached his job as an ambassador for NASCAR. He did it as NASCAR's director of administration, a public relations director here at Talladega and later back home as the president for his beloved Darlington Raceway.

But when things got rough and NASCAR officials needed a voice of reason to calm the storm, it was Hunter they called. After Dale Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR brought Hunter back to its Daytona Beach headquarters to be its top spokesman.

Everyone respected Hunter and Bill France Jr. knew it. Hunter had other joys in his life: his beloved Gamecocks, his passion for golf, his wife Ann (a marriage of 48 years) and his children and grandchildren.

But he will be remembered as the man who championed this sport like no one else.

Jim loved NASCAR, but his true gift was his ability to make you love it, too.

 

 


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