Woody: Hunter Is Simply Irreplaceable
I doubt that any individual in the history of NASCAR has exerted a more positive influence on the sport than Jim Hunter.
During his decades in racing, from running Darlington Raceway to his current role as a NASCAR executive, Hunter was always a friend of the media.
As a former Atlanta sports writer he was able to empathize and sympathize with his fellow ink-stained wretches. No matter how high he rose – all the way up the NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications – Jim remained a down-to-earth buddy to everybody who plopped down in a press box.
Now Hunter, 70, is batting lung cancer.
What do you say to an old friend of some 40 years who’s waging such a grim battle? There’s nothing you can say except to tell him to hang in and to know that his legion of buddies are thinking of him and pulling for him.
They say none of us are irreplaceable but in Hunter’s care I’m not sure that’s true. In my four decades of sports writing I’ve never known another PR person, Sports Information Director or Media Coordinator who had Hunter’s knack for dealing with the press.
Jim was who you went to for off-the-record background information. You knew that what Hunter told you was the straight stuff. If he confirmed or denied something, you could take it to the bank. You couldn’t always quote him, but at least he would put you on the right track.
Hunter understood our needs. He had fought deadlines and hard-headed editors and shared the pressures and aggravations of a newspaperman. He had been in the trenches with his typewriter. He was one of us.
Whenever there was a flap or controversy involving NASCAR, a driver or anyone else in the sport, Hunter was always the diplomat, the peace-maker, the calm voice in the storm.
When emotions started to heat up it was Hunter who was able to get everybody on both sides to take a deep breath and calm down.
That’s an ability that not many people have, and that’s what has made him so invaluable in a sport that is so often cantankerous and emotion-charged.
If there’s a record for spreading good will and calm, Hunter surely holds it.
Jim’s passion was golf. It wasn’t unusual to see Hunter go clunking through the garage area or into a media center wearing his golf shoes – either headed to or returning from some area course.
Once after a slash-and-hack afternoon on a course in Talladega with Hunter, my old sportswriter buddy Joe Caldwell and a driver – Jimmy Spencer, I believe it was – Hunter rolled his eyes and groaned: “Woody, you’re the only golfer I’ve ever known who gets WORSE the more he plays!”
Those were good times, fun times, goofing around on a golf course and laughing over oft-told yarns in a press box or hospitality room. When Hunter arrived, the party had officially begun.
Will Rogers once remarked about someone “who never met a man he didn’t like.” I’d like to flip that around: in some 40 years of knowing Jim Hunter I’ve never met a man who didn’t like him.”
Now a good guy is going through a bad time. If good will and the wishes of good friends count for anything, he’s going to make it.
– Larry Woody can be reached at email@example.com Comments