Introduction

 

During his storied career, James Harvey Hylton stood as the physical embodiment of the term “independent driver”.  The on-track performances recorded during his career are without question the most competitive of any independent driver in NASCAR’s top series.  Hylton spent the overwhelming majority of his career participating with minimal funding but was still able to finish second in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup standings on three different occasions.  During the 12 year period between 1966 and 1977, he finished in the top-ten in driver points standings on 10 occasions. 

Hylton continually stood up for his fellow competitors during the lean years of the sport.  In 1971, he pushed for the inclusion of his fellow independent drivers in NASCAR’s “Winner’s Circle” program. When this program was implemented for the 1972 season, drivers in the top-25 in 1971 points standing received $250 for short track races and $500 for races at tracks a mile or over in length.  This helped the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup recover from the low car counts of the 1971 season and stand strong for the upcoming energy crisis. 

James Hylton was the leader of the independent owner / operators through-out the sixties and seventies. The competitors that composed this group were the backbone of the sport and helped pave the way for the huge growth of NASCAR in the eighties.  His record and accomplishments speak for themselves. Please help honor this man by inducting him into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.

 

Jeffery Moore Droke

jdroke1045@aol.com

 
 

                           Crew Chief and Mechanic

 

On October 18, 1959, James Harvey Hylton began his legendary NASCAR career as a lanky 25 year old mechanic working for fabled car owner Louie Clements.  Hylton was hired to work on a 1959 Chevrolet Impala, driven by Spartanburg, South Carolina’s Rex White (pictured at left with Hylton at North Wilkesboro Speedway’s Wilkes 160.) In 1960, the NASCAR Grand National Series was still primarily composed of former moonshiners and many others simply escaping the boredom of working in the textile mills of the Carolinas. By the end of the 1960 season, the team of White, Clements and Hylton had amassed enough points to win the NASCAR Grand National Championship.  The team continued to win races until White decided to hang up his helmet at the end of the 1963 season.

For the 1964 season, Ford team owner Bondy Long hired popular NASCAR veteran driver Ned Jarrett and secured the services of James Hylton as crew chief for his fleet of Ford Galaxies.  The team meshed well together and won 14 of 55 races, finishing second in the points battle to champion Richard Petty.  The team would dominate the series in 1965 by winning 13 of 52 races and capturing the NASCAR Grand National Championship. At age 33, James Hylton had two NASCAR Grand National Championships under his belt as a mechanic / crew chief.

 

  

                                           Driver

In 1966, James Hylton decided to make the transition to driver and would do so remarkably by winning the 1966 NASCAR Grand National Rookie of the Year award and finishing second in Grand National championship points. Before the 1966 season began, Hylton bought a 1965 Dodge Coronet from legendary race car builder Cotton Owens for $5,500.  Along with crew chief Bud Hartje, Hylton ran a single car team for the entire 1966 Grand National season.  The rookie driver claimed his first NASCAR victory on November 6th, as he captured the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series Cracker 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hylton bested second place finisher Donnie Allison by two laps in a field that included NASCAR legends Bobby Isaac, Bobby Allison and Curtis Turner.  Hylton’s determination and mechanical prowess had beat the odds and the little team from Inman SC was now a major contender.

Hylton contested the 1967 season again with his lone Dodge Coronet, financed with a limited budget.  For the year, Hylton accumulated 26 top-five finishes and 39 top-ten finishes in 46 NASCAR Grand National Races.  Those numbers were good enough to again place Hylton in second place for the year-long point championship. Impressively, Hylton was atop the Grand National point standings from the start of the season until the 25th race of the year at Rockingham, North Carolina.  For two straight years, Hylton and his small operation had shown the big boys that heart and determination can sometimes level an uneven playing field.

Hylton would continue his on-track success during both the 1968 and 1969 NASCAR Grand National seasons with respective seventh and third place driver points finishes.  His seventh place performance in the 1968 season is especially impressive considering the Inman, South Carolina driver missed 8 races during the season.  During the 1969 season, Hylton racked up 27 top-five finishes in 51 races while driving both Dodge Chargers and Daytonas. He would finish only 420 points shy of champion Richard Petty and a mere 53 points behind second place finisher David Pearson.

   

James Hylton would begin the 1970 season by capturing the NASCAR Grand American Series Citrus 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20th.  Less than two weeks later, he would win the Grand National series Richmond 500 by a 15 second margin over Richard Petty.  Hylton drove a newly purchased 1969 Holman-Moody built Ford Torino at the Richmond event.  The win exhibited just how competitive the Inman, South Carolina native could be when provided with the right equipment. The 1970 season would conclude with Hylton third in points behind the factory-backed efforts of Bobby Isaac and Bobby Allison.  He would finish second in the 1971 driver championship by a 364 point margin behind champion Richard Petty.  The 1971 season finish would mark Hylton’s third second place driver championship finish in six years.  

NASCAR fans will best remember James Hylton for his impressive victory in the 1972 Talladega 500.   Goodyear introduced a new tire to the competitors for the race that was supposed to give drivers better traction but unfortunately tended to wear out quicker.  Hylton believed that the 1971 model tires superior wear would allow it to beat the newer tire.  His decision proved to be correct as Hylton scored a major upset by winning the Talladega 500 over many better funded competitors.  He collected $24,865 for winning the race and would go on to finish third in the 1972 Winston Cup point total. 

With 11 top-five finishes under his belt, Hylton would wind up fourth in the 1973 Winston Cup points championship. He finished 11th in the 1974 Winston Cup standings and returned to top form with an impressive 3rd place finish in the 1975 season. His last top-ten Winston Cup points championship season would be in 1977, as he amassed 11 top-ten race finishes in route to a 7h place driver championship finish. Hylton’s historic consistency will be remembered by his eight top-five and ten top-ten point championship finishes during the twelve years stretching from 1966 to 1977.

Hylton would soldier in Winston Cup until the 1993 season, impressively collecting 9 top-ten race finishes in the process.  Hylton’s last race would be the 1993 Trans-South 500 at Darlington, driving a Pontiac Grand Prix sponsored by family-owned Rumple Furniture of Elkin, North Carolina.  Hylton’s small sponsorship package contrasted to the others that were present at Darlington on that day.  The race was won by Dale Earnhardt in the Goodwrench Chevrolet and included cars sponsored by corporate giants such as Valvoline, Miller Brewing, STP, McDonalds and Tide as well as a young rookie named Jeff Gordon driving the DuPont Chevrolet.

In February 2007, when most men his age had 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 were 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 2-½ mile superspeedway. With just 16 laps to go in the Gatorade 150, James Harvey Hylton had managed to race his way to second place. However, a faulty clutch during a late-race restart caused him to fall out of the draft and Hylton’s dream of making the Daytona 500 field ended.  

Hylton was also a full-time participant in the ARCA racing season for a number of years and finished 11th in driver points in both 2011 and 2013. His last career start came at the ARCA Series Kansas Lottery 150 on October 4, 2013, at the age of 79. This race would mark Hylton’s 799th major sanctioning body start. “You’ve got to be tough and perhaps even a little crazy to do this for all these years” states Hylton “I’ve probably driven a couple of million miles across the Unites States going to all these races. I’ve seen the cars progress from basically modified showroom cars to the present day NASCAR GEN-6.  I have watched the sport grow in ways I could have never imagined back in October 1959 at North Wilkesboro.

Tragically, Hylton was killed in a crash along with his son, James Jr., on April 28. 2018.  The two were returning from a race which had taken place at the scene of Hylton's greatest triump, Talladega Superspeedway.

 

                                  Career Highlights

  

Statistics Compiled at the Complition of the 2018 NASCAR Monster Energry Cup Season

 

Four NASCAR Victories: Two in Monster Energy Cup, One in Grand Touring and One in a National Late Model Sportsman event (forerunner to today’s Xfinity Series).

  

Finished second in Monster Energy Cup Championship points for three seasons. (1966, 1967 & 1971)

  

Finished third in Monster Energy Cup Championship points for four seasons. (1969, 1970, 1972 & 1975)

  

Mechanic on team that captured 1960 Monster Energy Cup Championship.

  

Crew Chief on team that captured 1965 Monster Energy Cup Championship.

  

Ranks 20th in Monster Energy Cup Series Career Top Tens with 301.

  

Ranks 27th in Monster Energy Cup Series Career laps ran with 161,105.

 

Ranks 27th in Monster Energy Cup Series Career Top Fives with 140.

  

Ranks 27th in Monster Energy Cup Series Career races running at finish with 472.

  

Ranks 30th in Monster Energy Cup Series Career average finish with 13.525.

 

Ranks 33rdd in Monster Energy Cup Series Career Top-Ten finish percentage at .500

 

 

                                        Driver Statistics

 

 

Series

Races

Wins

Top 5

Top 10

Poles

Earnings

Sprint Cup

602

2

140

301

4

$ 1,478,096

Grand National East

6

0

3

4

0

1,875

Nationwide

7

1

2

2

0

57,436

Camping World

1

0

0

0

0

7,300

Grand American

3

1

2

2

0

n/a

ARCA Racing Series

176

0

0

1

0

n/a

USAC

3

0

0

0

1

2,945

IMSA

1

0

0

0

0

n/a

Total Career:

799

4

147

310

6

n/a