Dodge Then & Now 2001-07-25

James Hylton Set Rookie Record With Dodge LONG POND, Pa., July 25, 2001 - Here's a great NASCAR trivia question: What is the highest finish in the championship point standings by a Rookie-of-the-Year award winner and who was that driver? ...

James Hylton Set Rookie Record With Dodge

LONG POND, Pa., July 25, 2001 - Here's a great NASCAR trivia question: What is the highest finish in the championship point standings by a Rookie-of-the-Year award winner and who was that driver? Answer: Second place and James Hylton.

Hylton was Rookie of the Year in 1966. He had a spectacular season, driving his No. 48 1965 Dodge Coronet to 20 top-five finishes and 32 top-10s in 41 starts. Can you imagine 32 top-10s by a rookie? Unfortunately, someone named David Pearson - also driving a Dodge - had 33 top-10s and 15 wins that year, taking the championship by a 1,950-point margin, his first of three.

Bouyed by his rookie-year success, Hylton came back the next season with the same car and did even better with 39 top-10s in 46 starts. Unfortunately, someone named Richard Petty had 40 top-10s and 27 wins. This time the margin was 6,028 points.

After finishing third in the standings for the next two consecutive years, Hylton had another strong run in 1971, ending the season with 37 top-10 finishes in 46 starts. Unfortunately, Richard Petty won another championship that year with 21 wins and 41 top-10 finishes. The margin was relatively small at 364 points.

Hylton's third runner-up finish came in what is now called the Modern Era of NASCAR - from 1971 to the present - so he holds at least three Grand National Division records: highest points finish by a Rookie of the Year winner, first runner-up of the modern era, and best points-finish average for a driver's first five years on the circuit - 2.4. It all started with a second-hand Dodge from legendary driver and car owner Cotton Owens.

"Dodge was the only way to go as far as I was concerned," said Hylton. "That first year in my rookie year, I think we finished every race we started. I raced every race in 1966 with one car and one engine and never had an engine failure. It was a Hemi. I believe it was 187 races that we ran without even having a fender bender. We were independent, we were on a strict budget. I had to take care of it, which I did. I had one car and one engine, so you can figure it out from there."

Hylton caught the racing bug at an early age in his hometown of Roanoke, Va. He raced around Roanoke and then later moved to Tampa, Fla., where he met Rex White. "Rex White was racing NASCAR and offered me a job in 1960, which I jumped on in order to get into big time racing. I moved to South Carolina and worked for Rex White through 1963. I started as a mechanic; I ended up as crew chief.

"Then I went to work in 1964 for Ned Jarrett. I was crew chief for him through 1965. Then I worked a little bit for Dick Hutcherson the middle of 1965 until the end of that year. So I worked for three real good drivers, and then I started driving in 1966.

"I bought a used race car, a year-old race car, from Cotton Owens, which was a David Pearson car. And then I almost beat David for the championship. I understand, too, that I'm the only Dodge driver who has ever finished second in points."

Hylton stayed with Dodge until 1970, then went with Ford. "I bought a car from Holman-Moody, which was also an ex-David Pearson car. First race out I won at Richmond, Va. Petty ran second to me in that race, so I had the competition."

While Hylton had a great start in NASCAR, he certainly picked the wrong years to have his best seasons, what with Pearson and Petty also having extraordinary seasons in those years. Hylton picked the wrong years from a money standpoint, too, as he won a total of only $29,575 in his rookie year. Last season's Rookie of the Year Matt Kenseth won a total of $2,408,139. Tony Stewart did even better the year before, winning $3,190,149.

Timing is everything. Hylton is still active in stock car racing, but instead of competing in NASCAR's top series, he fields a car in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. And instead of flying from race to race in his private jet, he often drives the team truck. But he's not complaining. Hylton is happy to make a living in the sport he loves - stock car racing.

"I'm glad I was able to live through it, you know. I ran 633 Winston Cup races and everything still works, so I've been a very fortunate and lucky man. I was the first independent racer - that was a guy that owned the car, drove the car, worked on the car, and most of the time with no sponsorship - to earn a million dollars in prize money. So we got that record, too. Not that it means anything. What's a million dollars now? You know, they make that in one race, but back then it was a pretty good deal.

"When I went to work for Rex White, my salary was $50 a week and I had a family. I had a wife and a baby, and so we had hard times, and still do. It hasn't been easy; it hasn't been a cakewalk. We've worked from day one, but we've been able to stay in racing and the only way we have been able to stay in it is with hard work."

Hylton is now owner of the No. 48 car in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. The main sponsor is Rock Country Music, St. Petersburg, Fla. His son James Jr., is crew chief, and Danny Morelock of St. Petersburg is the driver.

Hylton has a second crew chief - Terry Strange - who has been with Hylton since his Winston Cup days. "He came to work for me when he was 12 years old as he rode up on his bicycle," said Hylton. "That's when we were running dirt with NASCAR. He'd come in after school and wash all the mud off the car. That was a job, just cleaning a car up after coming off a dirt track. He'd come up and clean the car and I'd give him a quarter and let him sit in the car. He stayed with me all these years. He's like my son and he crew chiefed for me all those years."

How would he compare today's race car with the ones he bought from Owens and Holman-Moody? "Well, it's just like riding in a propeller airplane and then here comes the jet," said Hylton. "Back in the 1960's, we were runnin' cars that were sure enough basically stock. We were running stock chassis, stock fenders and stock bodies. You weren't allowed to cut on 'em or do anything to 'em.

"Now, they're all hand built. You can't hardly call them a stock car - they're built from the ground up. They're a race car. They're built as good as an Indy car or CART car, it's just that we've got fenders and they don't. You've gotta have engineers working on cars now." While acknowledging progress, Hylton doesn't mean to imply that the cars of the 1960s and 1970s were dinosaurs. "Those cars ran over 200 mph back then," he added.

Hylton was excited when he heard about the Dodge return to NASCAR Winston Cup racing. "When Chrysler goes racing, they go racing," explained Hylton. "They're gonna win some races. To put a team together as quick as Ray Evernham has, and to do it as good as he has already, is outstanding. And he's the kinda guy that ain't gonna quit. Dodge is going to win some races.

"I need to figure out a way so I can get back in a Dodge," he continued. "I had good years with Dodge. I have no regrets at all with Dodge; they were good to me. Like I say, they were just running that first year - one car, one engine. I don't know anybody who has ever done that." Sounds like another record with Dodge.

This week in Dodge history:
* 7/27/56 - Speedy Thompson and his No. 500 Carl Kiekaefer Dodge notched their seventh win of the season by taking the checkered flag on the half-mile dirt track at Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Shelby, N.C. Buck Baker finished fifth in the No. 500B Carl Kiekaefer Dodge. The race was scheduled for 200 laps but actually ran 201 because the scorers were not sure which lap they were on mid-way through the race. They ran an extra lap just to be sure.
* 7/25/70 - Bobby Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge took it easy, stayed out of trouble and won the first Grand National race on the new Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tenn. Blown tires triggered several crashes on the new half-mile oval. James Hylton lost the points lead when he had one of his rare crashes early in the race. "This is the lousiest track in the country," said Hylton.
* 7/28/74 - Richard Petty battled back from a lap down to win the Dixie 500 at Atlanta International Raceway in Georgia. Petty fell a lap down after his Dodge cut a tire on a restart after 171 laps. He got back in contention on lap 238 after Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. blew an engine. Petty led all but four of the last 89 laps. David Pearson finished second.
* 8/4/74 - NASCAR visited triangular Pocono International Raceway for the first time and 39,000 race fans got to see the season's seventh win by Richard Petty and his No. 43 blue and red STP Dodge. The Purolator 500 was ended eight laps short of its scheduled distance due to rain.
* 8/1/76 - Richard Petty came out on top again at Pocono but this time it was only his second win of the season. David Pearson led the race 14 times for 121 laps and seemed set to win his eighth race of the season when he cut a tire and dropped to fourth. Buddy Baker was second, followed by Bennie Parsons.

Here's another Dodge trivia question: When and where was the last Dodge in a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race before the brand returned at Daytona in 2001? Answer: June 9, 1985 at Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.

-Dodge Motorsports

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About this article
Series Vintage , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ned Jarrett , Dick Hutcherson , Richard Petty , James Hylton , Tony Bettenhausen , Buddy Baker , David Pearson , Rex White