SBD/Issue 36/Sports Industrialists

Influential NASCAR Exec Jim Hunter Passes Away At Age Of 71

Jim Hunter Seen As A Link
To NASCAR's Past, Future

NASCAR Chair & CEO BRIAN FRANCE Saturday described late NASCAR VP/Corporate Communications JIM HUNTER as "one of NASCAR's giants." Hunter passed away Friday in Daytona Beach at the age of 71 after a 12-month battle with lung cancer. France said, "For more than 40 years Jim was part of NASCAR and its history. He loved the sport, but loved the people even more." NASCAR President MIKE HELTON: "He was a great friend and mentor to so many in the sport." Hunter previously worked as a sports editor for the Columbia Record, and as a columnist for Stock Car Racing magazine. He broke into PR in the '60s, and he was named to his first executive position with NASCAR in '83 (NASCAR). In Charlotte, Jim Utter noted Hunter was "often the NASCAR spokesman assigned to explain the sanctioning body's rule changes and penalties in news conferences." Team owner RICK HENDRICK said Hunter "always handled things with class." Utter noted Hunter was a "close friend and confidant" to former NASCAR Chair BILL FRANCE JR., and he "played a large -- if sometimes hidden -- role in many of NASCAR's biggest moments." His "influence will probably be felt for years." Former SMI President & CEO HUMPY WHEELER: "Jim Hunter will be sorely missed because he knew more about pure media relations and particularly how it relates to the fan than anyone in motor racing." Donations in Hunter's honor may be made to the NASCAR Foundation (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/31).

MAN OF THE PEOPLE: In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly wrote Hunter's "people skills and relationship-building was the mortar that helped hold the NASCAR community together through good and bad times." 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 ISC, but "had the ear of car owners, sponsors, drivers and the media." Despite "near-crippling chemotherapy treatments, Hunter continued to work the garage area, keep office hours and stay in touch with his base." He was "one of the last links to the 'old NASCAR' and Bill France Jr.'s roster of executives" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 10/31). In Jacksonville, Don Coble noted Hunter "not only served as the sanctioning body's spokesman, he helped bridge the generations that make up NASCAR's 62-year history." Driver and team co-Owner TONY STEWART: "I lost a good friend but the whole sport lost a great mentor" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 10/31). Driver DALE EARNHARDT JR. said Hunter was "one of the good guys." Earnhardt: "There's a lot of toughness in this sport and ruthlessness and he was one of the genuine good people that looked out for everybody" (SCENEDAILY.com, 10/30). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan wrote Hunter "helped guide the careers of many drivers and steer NASCAR through controversies." Mixing "sage advice, spin that often seemed like straight talk and deft but disarming storytelling, Hunter became a favorite among NASCAR drivers, teams and media" (USATODAY.com, 10/30).

Teams Ran Decals On Their Cars
Yesterday To Honor Hunter

CHANGING HOW NASCAR COMMUNICATES: ESPN.com's Marty Smith wrote Hunter "changed the way NASCAR communicates," as today's execs are "far more accessible than they were before he moved in at NASCAR HQ in Daytona." Hunter was the "lynchpin between good ol' boy coverage and what we have today" (ESPN.com, 10/30). ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote the "last bastion of the real NASCAR is gone." Hunter was France Jr.'s "chief troubleshooter." Hinton: "First. Foremost. Always. When the going got tough, really tough, the second czar of NASCAR always sent for Hunter" (ESPN.com, 10/30). Talladega Superspeedway Chair GRANT LYNCH: “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” (ESPN.com, 10/30). ESPN.com’s Terry Blount wrote, “NASCAR lost a giant Friday night, a man who was a dedicated historian of its cherished past and an unapologetic believer in its future” (ESPN.com, 10/30). The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Utter wrote with Hunter “goes an irreplaceable resource of NASCAR history and old-fashioned common sense.” Utter: “NASCAR is a little worse off today” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/31).

FITTING TRIBUTE: Talladega announced yesterday that the track's press box will be named in honor of Hunter (SCENEDAILY.com, 10/31).

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