YORK, PA - By Ellen Siska
When Kim Hunter started following NASCAR racing more than ten years ago, she never dreamed that someday she would be introduced at a pre-race drivers' meeting. Or that she would wave the green flag to start a race. Or attend the black-tie banquet where millions of dollars are awarded to the best in the sport. But in 1997, Kim Hunter has done all of these things. And she loved every second of it.
"I really couldn't single out anything as the best, because it was all just awesome," said the York county native. "It was the chance of a lifetime. I owe a big 'thank you' to Sears and MRN for sponsoring the contest."
"It was an excellent prize, because those things I got to do are things that the average fan never gets the chance to," she continued. "This year has been awesome."
Hunter, 34, is Special Events Coordinator and Confidential Secretary to York City Mayor Charlie Robertson. Her work in bringing the annual "NASCAR Invasion" to downtown York was key to her winning the first national "MRN/Sears Diehard Fan of the Year" designation. In addition to being flown to Talladega, Alabama, in October to wave the starting flag for the Sears Diehard 500, she won a Unocal 76 checkered flag autographed by all of the NASCAR Winston Cup drivers and a custom-made leather jacket with the Sears Diehard Racing logo. And then there was that awards banquet, held on Friday, December 5.
"They flew us to New York, with a limo to take us to the Waldorf-Astoria, where we had two nights' lodging," she said. "It was my first time in New York, so that was something. But the banquet itself . . . it was really great," she said, adding that her good friend, Vicki Glatfelter, also of York, accompanied her to both Talladega and to Manhattan.
Once inside the ballroom of the elegant Waldorf, Hunter says that the first driver she saw was her favorite - Dale Earnhardt, driver of the black #3, who was standing near the stage with his wife, Teresa. She approached them, and they chatted a bit. Hunter says that "The "Intimidator" remembered her from their encounter last year, when he was the special guest at York's NASCAR Invasion. He had shown his recognition of her in Talladega as well, shooting her a special smile and a nod when she was introduced in the drivers' meeting.
After the dinner, Hunter attended several parties, including the big one in honor of Jeff Gordon, the 1997 Winston Cup Champion. Musical entertainment was provided by Donna Summer. Yes, that Donna Summer - the disco queen.
"If Dale had won, we'd have been listening to Brooks and Dunn. I could get into that," she said. "But it was really funny seeing Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham up on stage, doing the letters to YMCA." Indeed.
At the party, Hunter talked with Steve Park, a top contender for the 1998 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, who will drive the new #1 Pennzoil car for owner Dale Earnhardt Inc. "I told him, 'Just think, someday they'll be having this party for you,'" Hunter said. "He said, 'I'm gonna have Guns N' Roses play.'"
Later, Hunter attended another party, hosted by Budweiser, until she finally called it a night at 3:30 a.m. Does she have any suggestions about next year's banquet for Bill France, Jr., President of NASCAR? "I'd suggest to him that they alternate the banquet location each year, to cities where the racetracks are located," she said.
Whether France will take that advice remains to be seen. But wherever the banquet is held in the future, Kim Hunter will always remember the 1997 one with fond memories. "Just being able to be there - going to different parties and seeing those people in that setting, relaxed and enjoying themselves - it was awesome."