Daytona 500: James Hylton race report

In February 1966, an unheralded rookie named James Harvey Hylton, from Inman, South Carolina pulled into the infield at Daytona International Speedway in his Ford C-600 car hauler. Loaded on the hauler was a 1965 Dodge Coronet racecar that had been ...

Daytona 500: James Hylton race report

In February 1966, an unheralded rookie named James Harvey Hylton, from Inman, South Carolina pulled into the infield at Daytona International Speedway in his Ford C-600 car hauler. Loaded on the hauler was a 1965 Dodge Coronet racecar that had been purchased during the off-season from legendary car owner/builder Cotton Owens. Hylton had only driven in four NASCAR Grand National races and the racing pundits didn't give him favorable odds in head-to-head competition against hard-chargers like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Fred Lorenzen or David Pearson, however, the fiery driver from the hills of Virginia was about to show the stock car establishment that he was a force to be reckoned with.

While Richard Petty went on to lead 108 laps and win the race, it was the upstart Hylton that captured the attention of the fans with his impressive tenth place finish. In the era of Detroit backed racing teams, an unsponsored driver finishing in the Top Ten at the Daytona 500 was quite a story. Hylton would continue his impressive performance throughout the 1966 season and would be crowned "Rookie of the Year" in NASCAR Grand National competition. The "Good Old Boys" of NASCAR readily accepted this young driver into their midst, thus beginning a relationship that still continues some forty one years later.

In 2007, when most men his age have long since retired to grandkids and hobbies, James Harvey Hylton once again pulled into the infield of Daytona International Speedway poised to do battle with the top race car drivers in the world. Gone are the competitors of 1966, replaced with talented young drivers like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Just as in 1966, Hylton was ready to defy the odds on the historic 2- 1/2 mile superspeedway. However, this time Hylton had the financial backing of long-time friend J.C. Weaver and the technical backing of former NASCAR competitor Richard Childress. Weaver states "Friendship is the cornerstone of our whole deal, the whole driver-owner relationship is based on a handshake".

Weaver is using the team and the NEXTEL Cup Series to promote GrahamFestUSA, a Labor Day music festival taking place at his W W Ranch in Max Meadows, Virginia. "I am proud to be associated with NASCAR, the 58 team and James Harvey Hylton," states Weaver "I am ready to have some fun and rock and roll".

James Hylton also had the sponsorship of Retirement Living Television, a growing cable network founded by John Erickson, CEO of the Erickson Retirement Communities. Hylton is a sports star that millions of senior Americans can identify with and his progress during Speed Weeks 2007 was well documented by the media. Hylton's quest brought competitive satisfaction to a demographic that until now has had to be mostly content with participation in the senior's golf or tennis circuit.

For once in his career, Hylton had secured the financial backing he needed to be competitive. It was only a few months earlier that Hylton raced in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with an old, well-worn Ford Taurus named 'Martina'. Hylton raced 'Martina' at ever type of track, from dirt to superspeedway during the 2006 season. The team transported the car and equipment with an old Chevrolet pick-up and a Featherlite trailer. The sponsorship logo on the quarter panel read 'Pop Kola' in a veiled historical reference to his 1972 sponsor that went bankrupt during the season. Funding was in short supply and Hylton had to run each race conservatively so as to make his limited resources last. Economically barnstorming across America, the small close-knit Hylton team managed to finish 18th in the final ARCA RE/MAX Series points standings.

After the 2006 Iowa ARCA race, James hung up his helmet and retired as a driver. That retirement ended when J. C. and James sat in front of a warn autumn fire at the W W Ranch in 2006. James told J C of his plans to retire and J C said "James, let's go to Daytona and show those young boys what two old country boys from Yellow Mountain Road can do". James replied, "who is gonna send a 72-year-old man Cup racin'?" J C just smiled and said, "I will. Let's rock and roll!

"I can tell you, this was the best race car that I have ever driven" states the 72 year-old legend "it was even better than the 1971 Mercury Montego that I drove to victory at Talladega in 1972". The Talladega 500 winning 1971 Mercury Montego had been purchased from Wood Brothers Racing and had won at Talladega, Ontario and Atlanta during the 1971 season. The Retirement Living TV / GrahamFestUSA.com Monte Carlo had a Richard Childress Racing engine under the hood and Kevin Harvick's RCR NEXTEL Cup team pitting the car. For once, Hylton would be able to do battle with his competitors on equal footing.

When the green flag dropped on the first of the Duel Gatorade 150 Qualifying Races, the clutch in Hylton's car malfunctioned and the resulting shifting problems caused the car to drop considerably off the pace, which is a disaster in restrictor plate racing. To make matters worse, the combination of the faulty clutch and a crowded pit row resulted in a one-lap penalty for a pit stop outside the pit box on lap 11. Hylton states, "I thought there goes my chance, I'm one lap down and running around the track with a faulty clutch and nobody to draft with." However, determination has always been a Hylton trademark and he managed to place the number 58 car back on the lead lap by midway in the race. When a caution fell late in the race for debris on the track, Hylton's team decided to stay on the track and take track position over fresh tires. With 16 laps to go, James Harvey Hylton had managed to race his way to second place in the Gatorade 150. "We knew going into the race that we needed to focus on track position late in the race" said Hylton "we had plenty of fuel and had put four sticker tires on a few laps earlier. The car was ready and we benefited from pitting out of sequence."

Faulty clutch and all, Hylton raced with the field and hung on to eighth place, with drafting help from Johnny Sauter. However, with six laps to go, Sauter dipped his Monte Carlo below Hylton with Jimmy Johnson, Ken Schrader and Casey Mears following nose to tail. "I couldn't speed-shift like I needed to and the restart was a problem" states Hylton "it was like a freight train passing me on the inside and I got totally out of the draft". Falling out of the draft at Daytona late in a race is impossible to overcome and Hylton's dream of making the Daytona 500 field ended. Hylton finished the race on the lead lap in 23rd position.

James Hylton will continue his 2007 NEXTEL Cup season with the April 29th Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway and the July 7th Pepsi 400 at Daytona. "While we didn't accomplish what we came to do, we ran decent and we were in position for a Top Ten finish until the restart" states Hylton. "When we come back in July we will make some chassis adjustments and be ready to go racing. I got the same thrill coming to Daytona in 2007 as I got coming in 1966 as a rookie. I guess I will probably get that same thrill when I come back in 2008".

-credit: jd

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