A journeyman racer is defined as one that is around the sport for many years, never really doing that much running up front or winning. It seems stock car railbirds always called former NASCAR runner James Hylton a journeyman racer, but he really didn't have the required characteristics, and not in the way you might think. His mostly forgotten accomplishments put him far above that label. In fact, for a time during his career, he was about as good as you could get. And he's still racing, in the 21st century, with 50 years behind the wheel, and the amazing record of having raced during five decades.
So CloseGranted, he never won a NASCAR title, but he came so very close a number of times. Try this statistic: In 1966, 1967, and 1971, Hylton finished second in the points behind David Pearson, and twice to Richard Petty. Then, in 1969, 1970, and 1972, there were third-place efforts. In all, he placed in the Top 10 in points an amazing 10 times.
But when mention is made of NASCAR's greatest racers, the name of independent racer James Hylton oftentimes isn't considered. But with his accomplishments, he certainly deserves to be on that list. And considering his status as an "independent," it makes everything he did even more significant. James laughs when he explains that he's also in the Top 10 in the number of miles he has competed with NASCAR. "I ran over 10,000 miles each at Charlotte, Atlanta, Rockingham, and Dover." Amazing.
The Hylton 1966 runner-up effort deserves special mention because he did it in his rookie NASCAR year, and needless to say, he won the Rookie of the Year award that year. How could he not? He had bought a car from Cotton Owens and ran the full 50-race schedule for that rookie accomplishment.
"Would you believe that I paid $18,000 for the car and a tow truck? I am not kidding! It was actually the only factory-built car that I ever drove. You better believe that it was a low-budget operation that year," Hylton recalls.
But although he wasn't behind the wheel for a NASCAR title, another forgotten fact was that James was also in the pits as a crewchief for a title. A mechanical genius, he actually served as crewchief for Ned Jarrett for his 1964 title. "I had started the 1963 season as a mechanic for Rex White and ended the season as his crewchief. Then, in 1965, I worked for Dick Hutcherson as both mechanic and crewchief," he explained. Guess it goes without saying that he could certainly have continued his racing career in that direction had he chosen to do it.
His was a long career at the top level of stock car racing, with his last NASCAR race coming in 1995, some 13 years after he last competed a full schedule, totalling over 600 races in all. He just couldn't stay away from the competition on the track he loved, and if anybody ever needed a driver to fill a seat for a race or two, that owner knew that James would get the most possible out of his car.
But even with a NASCAR career that stretched almost three decades, it isn't over yet. At age 69, James Hylton is still competing, running an ARCA schedule in 2003. James has to wonder, and be a little sad, about his accomplishments and what they would have meant if he had done them in modern times. For example, for that second place finish in 1966, his total winnings were $38,722-for the entire season.