NASCAR announced Saturday morning that long-time Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter died last night in Daytona Beach, FL. 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.”
Hunter first made a name for himself in South Carolina by playing football for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, where he played alongside former Charlotte Motor Speedway President H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler. Their relationship would continue from the gridiron to the track.
"He was best in a crisis always giving sage advice behind the scene," Wheeler recalled. "He also knew when to interject humor when everyone else was ready to crack. There is no doubt that he stands as one of the best PR practitioners not only in racing but in sport. I will miss calling upon him for advice for it was always the best and most practical."
He began his motorsports career in NASCAR from the media side of the business. He worked as a newspaper editor for the Columbia Record and then as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He also was an accomplished author. He penned books about Darlington Raceway, David Pearson and the history of his beloved South Carolina Gamecocks.
Hunter came to the business side of racing as a Public Relations representative for Dodge, and then moved to track management. He worked as Public Relations Director at Darlington and at Talladega, site of this weekend’s Amp Energy Juice 500.
He became an executive for NASCAR in the early 1980’s, and then became President of Darlington and Vice President for International Speedway Corporation, the track management and ownership arm of the France family stock car empire.
Back in 2001, Hunter returned to NASCAR to help steward the growing interest in the sport and the media coverage it spawned.
"If it wasn't for Jim Hunter, there's a good possibility that I might not have made it through my first two years in NASCAR," said championship contender Kevin Harvick via Twitter this morning.
"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" said Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III early Saturday in a statement.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the NASCAR Foundation or Hospice of Volusia and Flagler Counties.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Jim Hunter is survived by his wife of 48 years, two children and two grandchildren.