ECONOMAKI: NASCAR’s Jim Hunter Will Be Greatly Missed

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — Despite two fantastic finishes and a large Sunday afternoon crowd, there was a feeling of sadness surrounding NASCAR’s Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway events. This was due to the loss of NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter. Hunter died late Friday evening after a yearlong battle with cancer. Having started in the sport as a journalist and worked as a public relations representative and later president of Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, what you saw in Hunter was pretty much what you got whether you were a fan, a driver, or a member of the media. His modus operandi was unique to NASCAR. Everyone who came to know him appreciated Hunter’s honesty and fairness in a time when people were critical of the organization. He never won a NASCAR race, but what he did behind the scenes, chastising folks at one time and holding their hands at others, helped grow the sport and helped give a lot of its drivers a very human appearance. Anyone who ever watched a NASCAR race benefited from his talents. There’s no question the sanctioning body and its extended family will miss him.

It was interesting that no matter how they were asked, representatives of Hendrick Motorsports and the AARP Drive to End Hunger did not elaborate on financial aspects of AARP’s sponsorship of Jeff Gordon in 22 Sprint Cup races next season. The charity that boasts a nest egg of more than $156 million considers raising awareness more important than using the sponsorship to raise additional funds. “This isn’t really just about the money,” said the Drive To End Hunger’s Jo Anne Jenkins. “Certainly we want to raise the money, and we expect to raise far more money than we are investing in this if we are going to solve this issue of hunger in America. But it is also about raising awareness.” According to Jenkins, 51 million people go hungry every day in the United States.

Geico has extended its involvement in auto racing by signing a five-year contract with International Speedway Corp., which will give the insurance giant signage and naming rights at campgrounds at seven ISC-owned race tracks. Geico also sponsors the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car driven by Casey Mears and the Camping World Truck Series entry of Max Papis. The company has also maintained a relationship with Paul Tracy on the open-wheel side of the sport.

The sixth annual Legends of Ascot luncheon was held recently on the grounds of Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway with 380 attending the buffet luncheon, which saw Evelyn Pratt and Tony Simon inducted into the Legends of Ascot. Posthumously recognized were Vel Miletich and Paul Jones. The group presented a lifetime achievement award to Cary Agajanian and his brothers J.C., Jr. and Chris for carrying on their father J.C.’s devotion to the promotion of auto racing. Among attendees were Parnelli Jones, Page Jones, Chuck Hulse, Andy Granatelli, Don Edmunds, Jimmy Oskie, Steve Chassey and Rip Williams.

If you were one of those who enjoyed the annual Sound & Speed festival held in Nashville the past five Januarys, take note. The 2011 event, which brought together personalities from NASCAR racing and country music, has been canceled. Organizers, which included NASCAR President Mike Helton, cited the economic climate for the show’s demise.

Twenty NASCAR drivers and other celebrities contributed to the $150,000 raised to benefit the Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund during the Oct. 12 Jail and Bail event at the Brickhouse Tavern in Davidson, N.C.

Longtime National Speed Sport News photo contributor Jeff Arns is peddling his annual midget racing calendar. The 2011 full-color version costs $12 and is available from Arns at [email protected]

Fans of World Racing Group’s World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, World of Outlaws Late Model Series and DIRTcar big-block modifieds who are unable to make the trip to North Carolina for this weekend’s World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte should log on to www.nationalspeedsportnews.com for live updates Friday and Saturday evenings from Mike Kerchner and Sheena Baker.

Racing lost three more who played vital roles in its history. Former Indianapolis 500 starter and short-track ace Sonny Ates died Oct. 24 in Phoenix and longtime Gatorade public-relations man Ed Shull, who worked on the company’s NASCAR projects, died the following day. Finally, Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Ass’n supporter Bob “Hoot” Hartman, who saw his first midget race in the late 1940s, died Oct. 27. RIP, gentlemen.

Ken Weeks of the appropriately named Pleasant City, Ohio, won Richmond (Va.) Int’l Raceway’s online sweepstakes, which awarded him a trip for two to attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series banquet in Las Vegas. Weeks and his wife Betty won three days and two nights in Las Vegas, roundtrip airfare, hotel accommodations, seats at the banquet and other perks, including $500 in spending money. Anyone care to guess what car number he’ll bet the money on?

If you’re attending the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte this weekend, stop by the NSSN booth to buy a raffle ticket to benefit injured drivers. Prizes include laminated covers and feature stories of sprint-car drivers.

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