Race Weekend Central

Tragedy Leaving Talladega: James Harvey Hylton Dead at 83

James Harvey Hylton, the ageless ARCA team owner, was killed along with his son early Saturday morning north of Atlanta, after the team hauler they were riding in crashed into an embankment on I-85. Hylton, the 1966 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year, was 83. Presumably the Hyltons and their driver were returning home from ARCA’s race in Talladega the day prior; the driver of the truck was seriously injured in the accident.

His untimely passing comes after a horrible showing for his stalwart No. 48 operation Friday afternoon in Talladega, where the team failed to start the General Tire 200 after completing a handful of pace laps. 

This is not the finish Hylton deserved. Though Hylton’s team has been a back marker for years, the No. 48 car has been an almost iconic presence on the ARCA tour, be it visiting victory lane in 2003 with Kirk Shelmerdine at Charlotte or painted in “Pop Kola” colors when Hylton completed his final full-time season as a driver in 2013.

For those that have spent time over the last decade following ARCA competition, Hylton has been a living piece of history, an old-school owner that was always seen in the garage turning wrenches on his race cars, whether he was driving or fielding cars for some of ARCA’s most notable journeymen, including Shelmerdine and most recently for Brad Smith, one of the hardest-working men the ARCA garage has seen. As a team owner, Hylton fielded over 1,000 entries between the Cup Series and the ARCA Series in his time as an owner. Racing owes him a tremendous gratitude for that alone.

As untimely a death as this is, it’s perhaps fitting that Hylton’s final race weekend came at Talladega. It was here on the high banks that he scored his last career win, in a Cup race in 1972. And it was here this weekend that the announcement came that NASCAR was acquiring the ARCA Racing Series. Instant reaction to that announcement was hesitant from many fans, as the ARCA Racing Series has long provided stock car racing that was special because it wasn’t NASCAR racing, avoiding many controversial changes such as stage racing, playoff chases and overly intrusive officiating with yellow flags. 

Only history will tell whether Friday’s announcement proves a rejuvenation or a requiem for the ARCA Racing Series we know as love. What’s for certain is James Harvey Hylton won’t be there to take part in it. And whether one falls on the ARCA or NASCAR side of the garage, that’s nothing short of a tragedy.

Farewell and Godspeed Mr. Hylton. You will be missed.

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