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Woody: NASCAR Will Miss Hunter’s Touch

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 3 2010

Jim Hunter got the word out to the media – and, hence, to the fans. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

If every one of Jim Hunter’s friends offered a eulogy we would be – as Hunter used to say, “here all night.”

Just about every sports writer has a personal story about some favor done by Hunter, some request he went out of his way to accommodate, some helping hand he extended.

His official title was NASCAR vice-president of corporate communications, a fancy title that always made Hunter chuckle. To anyone who covered the sport for the past 30 years or so he was just plan old Jim Hunter, a down-to-earth guy who carried a pair of scissors in his hip pocket to snip through red tape.

While other corporate PR types would give you the run-around and explain why they couldn’t possibly do something, Hunter would simply do it.

It’s impossible to over-state the loss – personally and professionally – after Hunter lost a long battle with cancer last Friday.

Hunter had the rare ability to strike a common-sense balance. He could remain loyal to his office while providing you the information you needed to do your job.

In 1984 when NASCAR was about to yank its two Cup races from Nashville – a major story for my newspaper – I got the run-around from Daytona’s front office, the “nothing has been finalized” line.

Finally I called Hunter. I couldn’t quote him, understand, but the decision had been made. The official announcement would be made when details were completed, but it was a done deal. NASCAR was leaving. I had my story.

It didn’t harm NASCAR in any way to break the story, and as for our city “leaders” who squandered the races, I could care less. To this day they’re still clueless about what the city lost and I enjoyed rubbing their noses in the mess they made.

Back to Hunter: The reason why he was so good with the media was because he was one of us. He was a sports writer before he got involved in management (at Darlington) and PR (with NASCAR). He knew what it was like to sweat over a typewriter at deadline with a cranky editor grumbling over your shoulder.

He knew about the pressures of the profession because he’d shared them.

Looking back, NASCAR received generally positive coverage during that era and I think part of it due to Hunter and other PR-savvy types like Humpy Wheeler and Eddie Gossage. They played fair with us and we played fair with them.

How greatly has it changed? Last year Kyle Busch came to Nashville to give some guitars to area school kids to try to atone for breaking his trophy Gibson during a “victory celebration.” Kyle met with the media but before he took the mike a PR flunky informed us that Busch would take no questions about the guitar-smashing.

Naturally my first question was about the guitar-smashing.

Hunter would have understood. He would never have told the media they couldn’t ask a question about a touchy subject. He knew what news was, and he knew it was our job to report it. If we had to ruffle a few feathers, tough. As long as we were fair and accurate that’s all he asked.

Anyone can handle good news; it takes a special knack to deal with not-so-good-news and keep everyone calm and civil. Jim Hunter had that golden touch. It made him one of NASCAR’s greatest assets, and it made him every sports writer’s best buddy.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 3 2010
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