NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter died October 29 in Daytona Beach, Florida, following a 12-month battle with cancer. He was 71. His career in motorsports spanned portions of six decades as both a journalist and public relations professional and ultimately a NASCAR Executive.
"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."
"Hunter," as everybody on the inside of the NASCAR garage area called him, grew up in South Carolina and as a student at the University of South Carolina played both football and baseball. 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 (Circle Track's sister publication); 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 the 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.
Jim Hunter, seen here in 2006 behind his desk full of Jim Hunter bobbleheads (that's how popular he was), was one of those men who could make you feel immediately at ease regardless of the situation. He was very approachable and in this writer's experience always helpful to the highest level. His passing leaves a massive void in the NASCAR front office as he was the last executive of a bygone era when Bill France Jr. ruled the sanctioning body.