Jim Hunter, the longtime NASCAR executive who passed away earlier this year, was posthumously honored as the fourth-quarter winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Speedway Motorsports Spirit Award.
The award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports. Each year, four quarterly winners are selected, and an overall winner is determined by a vote of the National Motorsports Press Association membership.
Hunter, who died Oct. 29 after a yearlong battle with cancer, was a favorite of racers and journalists alike.
“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.”
Added NASCAR President Mike Helton: “Jim was a uniquely talented man that cannot be replaced. He was a great friend and mentor to so many in the sport.”
As a young man growing up in his native South Carolina, Hunter was a football and baseball player at the University of South Carolina.
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; and he wrote 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 that 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.
Through his role as NASCAR vice president of corporate communications, Hunter served as a liaison between the sanctioning body and the press, and was considered a close and trusted friend of both.
Also receiving votes for the fourth-quarter NMPA award were: Atlanta Motor Speedway Director of Marketing and Promotion Marcy Scott, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner/driver Jennifer Jo Cobb and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Bobby Hutchens, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, won the award in the first quarter, J.D. Gibbs and his family won the honor in the second quarter and NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Brian Vickers won the third quarter Spirit Award.
The winner of the annual award will be announced next month at the NMPA’s annual convention.
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.