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Harris: Farewell To A Peacemaker

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 2 2010

The Sprint Cup cars at Talladega all carried decals honoring Jim Hunter. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I wasn’t sure if one of my RacinToday.com colleagues would write a column about the late Jim Hunter, one of the most popular and important people in stock car racing.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that each of us has our own view of this man who spent more than 40 years working in various key jobs for NASCAR.

Hunter, who died Friday after a long bout with cancer, was one of those people who you just know you like the minute you meet them. He could be glib and he could be a company man but, somehow, he made it all palatable.

And a lot of people don’t realize that, without Hunter – hardly anybody called him Jim or Mr. Hunter – NASCAR’s always tenuous relationship with the media might well have imploded around the turn of the century.

While the stock car sport was growing in popularity with the masses in the late 1990s, the media that covered NASCAR was getting more and more unhappy with the way information was being given out – or not given out.

Some people at NASCAR appeared to believe that the media needed to be spoon fed only what the organization wanted them to write or talk about on air.

A group of media regulars became so disenchanted with NASCAR’s public relations that the lines of communication were practically closed. NASCAR was the focus of dozens of negative columns and stories from those media insiders.

That’s when somebody in NASCAR’s corridors of power realized it was time to bring in a peacemaker, somebody to regain the confidence of the media and reopen the channels of communication. That somebody was Hunter.

He was brought back to Daytona Beach, NASCAR’s headquarters, from Darlington, where he had been very content working as president of Darlington Raceway in his home state of South Carolina.

Hunter confided in me at the time that moving back to Daytona Beach and taking on another new role was not really what he had been planning as he approached the late stages of his career. But he was a good company man and this is what NASCAR needed.

It’s also what the media needed.

Hunter immediately began mending fences with the media. His humor, honestly and grace were all it took to get things going in the right direction again with the media.

He brought in good, solid people to work with him, but it was Hunter who you went to for confirmation or an official statement. And you knew there would always be a callback or an email reply.

His exploits as a drinker in his early days were legend, but Hunter had quit the bottle many years ago. Still, he was a great companion, whether in a restaurant, on a golf course or simply sitting in a chair outside the NASCAR hauler at the racetrack.

Hunter was a consummate story teller, a wonderful friend and a great PR guy.  He will be missed by all who knew him.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 2 2010
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