October 31, 2010

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko                            Photo By Robert Laberge Getty Images for NASCAR

When I heard the news that Jim Hunter, a vice president for NASCAR’s corporate communications died, I was quite saddened.

I knew that Jim had been quite ill battling cancer and finally, like many, he too lost the fight. Besides his family and many thousands of friends, he will be missed by all in motorsports. He will certainly be missed on the NASCAR modified tour.

While Jim was a major player in NASCAR, he related to the plight of the short tracks and the touring series. He understood the dedication of the teams that participate in the Whelen All American weekly series as well as those who follow a touring series.

I got to meet and then know Jim during the mid 80’s and unlike many at NASCAR who think they know all the answers to the problems of the promoters and race teams, Jim would often seek out those who followed a series to pick their brains.

I was quite honored when Jim would search me out at a track and ask what I thought could be done to help the modified tour. You see, Jim was quite passionate about the modified tour too.

At a race in Martinsville, Va., we sat for over an hour and hashed back ideas of ways to improve the modified tour, its car owners and drivers.

Jim knew of my passion for the modified tour and he never made me feel like any of my suggestions were ridicules or outrageous.

When Jim heard that I was going to stop covering the modified tour because of lack of funds, Jim went out and found me a sponsor to help cover my racing related costs.

At New Hampshire Speedway, when NASCAR unveiled NASCAR’s top ten modified drivers of all time, he came over to me at the end of the announcement and asked what I thought. He said many times privately, “that NASCAR had always under delivered and over promised to the modified tour.” And while this was something small, it was what he hoped would continue to show that the modifieds and its people WERE important to NASCAR.

It takes quite a man to acknowledge that even though he personally couldn’t do anything to change the perception of NASCAR not caring about the modified tour, that he felt concerned about the feelings of the modified people.

Jim was just as easy addressing the drivers on the modified tour or talking with the stars of the Sprint Cup series because to him they were all just race car drivers.

Jim Hunter was an accomplished baseball and football player at the University of South Carolina. He was a sports writer and then went to work at Darlington Speedway and Talladega Speedway working in the public relations departments.

Jim then was summoned to Daytona to work and accepted a position as NASCAR vice president of administration and later became the man that NASCAR turned to when there were ‘fires’ that needed to be put out and Jim, in his slow southern drawl could ease the anger in whatever the situation was that needed to be cooled down. Something that current NASCAR employees don’t seem how to do or care to do.

Jim was a friend to many and always had the time AND took the time to listen to your complaints, suggestions or remarks.

Even when I would write a column criticizing NASCAR for something, which I many times did, never once did he pull rank or ask what gave me the right. He knew the passion I had to only improve and help the modified tour grow.

When I told him that following the 2007 season that I wasn’t going to be following the modified tour anymore and just planned on attending a couple of races per year in the future, he put his arm on my shoulder and thanked me for my dedication to the modified tour and my 30 years of covering not only the modified tour but weekly racing.

That is what made Jim Hunter a special person. And although we never saw eye to eye on everything NASCAR did or was going to do with the modified tour, he respected your thoughts and concerns for the series.

NASCAR lost a giant. Sadly, it too bad that many who work in NASCAR today doesn’t have his passion for the sport or his way to deal with people.

I will always remember Jim as someone I could talk to and ask advice of and for that I owe him a debt of gratitude and respect. Rest in peace, Jim.