A consummate journalist and public relations specialist and the NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications, Jim Hunter (1939-2010) served motorsports for nearly six decades and he worked with a high standard of excellence that was easily recognized by all of those who worked with him or even just knew about him.
But even more importantly, Hunter was comfortable in all of the surroundings where he had to work as he was a welcomed visitor to any race track, a stirring and informative speaker at any professional gathering and a man who had his hand out in greeting as soon as he met anyone.
A native of Darlington, South Carolina and a talented football and baseball player for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, Hunter worked at the “Columbia (S.C.) Record” as a sports reporter and sports editor and in the late 1960s became the public relations director for his beloved Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He also handled public relations for Dodge and for several top United States Auto Club National Championship Trail drivers before he began working in 1970 as an award-winning sports reporter for the “Atlanta (Ga.) Journal-Constitution.”
Hunter was also a columnist for the old “Stock Car Racing” magazine where his outstanding writing talents were exposed to a larger national audience and in 1975 he went to work at the then-named Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega as that track’s public relations director. Then, in 1983, he began a 10-year stint at NASCAR’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida, as its first Vice President of Administration before he returned to Darlington Raceway to serve as its president from 1993-2001.
Hunter’s work at Darlington saw him resurrect, rebuild and reconfigure “The Lady In Black” to its former glory and prominence. But more than that his infectious personality easily made him a leader in whatever job that he undertook or position that he held and that made those that worked with him that much-more involved and part of any project’s overall success.
In 2001, Hunter was asked to return to Daytona Beach as NASCAR’s Vice President of Corporate Communications and in that position he expanded the public relations efforts of the sanctioning body in response to the increased popularity of NASCAR-sanctioning racing.
Although Hunter became one of NASCAR’s most influential personalities and a confidant to many of the movers and shakers at the highest levels of motorsports, he had a deep interest and affection for those who raced on the grassroots level, as well. He was just as likely to show up at a local short track to see what was going on there as he would be to make sure that everything was running smoothly at such a race as the Daytona 500.
A guy who loved to play golf and the author of several books including the widely-read biography of NASCAR great David Pearson entitled, “21 Forever,” Hunter was also a great supporter of the Eastern Motorsport Press Association. His efforts in that regard were more than just providing NASCAR sponsorship for the EMPA’s annual Hall of Fame Awards Dinner or seeing to it that NASCAR stars would include a visit to the annual EMPA Convention as something that was part of their off-season activities.
Due to his long friendship with former EMPA president and fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Ernie Saxton, Hunter made several well-received speaking appearances to the EMPA membership over the years. And, as was his way, he always dealt with each of the EMPA members that he met on these occasions with the good will of a valued professional colleague.
Jim Hunter died in Daytona Beach on October 29, 2010, at age 71 after a year-long battle with cancer. In his memory from 2011 onward, the EMPA’s highest award for writing excellence and service to motorsports was named in his honor.