NASCAR, at a time when it needs it most, has lost its Voice of Reason.
Jim Hunter, for years the unseen, unheard power behind the France throne of NASCAR, died Friday in Daytona Beach.
He had been battling small-cell lung cancer for about 10 months, and it had spread to his brain. Once that happens, the chance of survival declines rapidly. Yet he fought on, insisting that he would be at Talladega this weekend.
He won’t be, and the level of the loss is in a way staggering when you remember what his loss represents.
Other than Chris Economaki, John Cooper, MRN’s Barney Hall, Richard Petty, certain execs in ISC and John Middlebrook, formerly of GM, Hunter was the last link to NASCAR’s early years. He was the last man standing that could claim fealty to Big Bill and Bill Jr. from an up-close, favored lieutenant aspect.
Hunter was the go-to consigliere, the man that was called in to smooth the waters and calm ruffled feathers and figure out perfect solutions to impossible problems on improbable deadlines.
He was the guy you called when you knew that someone named France would not react kindly to whatever was plaguing you. He was the guy that moved in the shadows, built coalitions, tamped down revolt and functioned as a conduit to power.
In the times we’re facing now, that experience would have been useful in many ways. Level-headed, smart and experienced, he was always the voice of reason. There wasn’t a situation that he hadn’t seen or a solution he hadn’t tried in service to NASCAR and the France family. From his public relations and newspaper background, he knew EVERYBODY.
No one, except perhaps Jim France, knows how many crises that Hunter averted or solved, simply by being logical and having common sense. With a TV contract negotiation coming up that is not boding well for the sport (at least in my opinion), that kind of horse-trading sense will be sorely missed.
Hunter was many things. A great athlete in his youth, he played a lot of golf. He was good at it, too. One rule of thumb: if Hunter ever mentioned the word Nassau around you, the smart money said to claim an injury or flatly refuse…if you valued what was in your wallet that day.
RIP, Jim Hunter. Hope the fairways are vast, the greens are smooth and the skies are blue. According to sources, Hunter’s ashes will be spread at St. Andrews in England, where he played last year with NASCAR Truck star Mike Skinner.