No one loved NASCAR or the people in it more than Jim Hunter, the longtime NASCAR executive, who on Friday night lost a year-long battle with cancer.
Hunter was a true champion, someone who had an influence that extended far beyond the NASCAR garages and media centers across the country. Following are thoughts of those in the NASCAR community who worked with Hunter over the years.
“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.” — International Speedway Corporation Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy
“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.” — Seven-time NASCAR Champion Richard Petty
“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.” — Talladega Superspeedway Chairman and ISC VP of Special Projects Grant Lynch
“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.” — Kansas Speedway Development Corp. President Jeff Boerger
“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.” — Michigan International Speedway President Roger Curtis
“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.” — Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III
“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.” — Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matt Becherer
“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
“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, host of NASCAR Race Hub on 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 by turns charming, funny, profane, passionate, mischievous, engaging, smart, knowledgeable and old school in the best sense. He knew everyone and damn near everything and was about as universally admired and respected as anyone in the sport. On a professional level, the sport has lost one of its biggest boosters and most important links to the past. On a personal level, all of us in the NASCAR media corps have lost a dear and valued friend. RIP, Jim. We miss you already.” — Tom Jensen, SPEED.com Editor-in-Chief
“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, Sr. 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 analyst and former crew chief
“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 analyst and reporter
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the NASCAR Foundation, NASCAR Plaza, 550 S. Caldwell St., Suite 200, Charlotte, NC 28202; or Hospice of Volusia/Flagler County, 3800 Woodbriar Trail, Port Orange, FL 32129.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.