James Hylton retired from stock car racing on Friday after 50 years in the sport. Hylton, who was the Cup rookie of the year in 1966, is the oldest driver to race in each of NASCAR's three highest divisions.
His final race was at Kansas Speedway on Friday night in the ARCA series. While he felt it was time to retire, Hylton was still reluctant to do so. He explained, "I'm retiring at the end of the day, but my heart is wanting to keep going. But it's a done deal. I won't be back as a driver."
Hylton shared a long career in NASCAR, beginning as a mechanic for Rex White, then becoming a crew chief for Ned Jarrett in the sport's early days. Then, he got behind the wheel of his own stock car and placed second in the Cup standings his rookie year.
The Virginia driver then finished second in points to Richard Petty in 1967 and 1971. He made more than 600 Cup starts and won two races, one at Richmond in 1970 and the other at Talladega in 1972. Hylton also racked up 140 top-five finishes and 321 top-10s in the Cup series.
Hylton's number in the Cup series was 48, and Jimmie Johnson, a driver for Hendrick Motorsports, is proud his car bears that number now. He explained, "He got that number off to a good start. He's truly passionate and loves our sport, and it's nice to see him out there one last time."
Johnson and several other current Cup drivers can't imagine racing past their 50s and 60s, let alone at the age of 79. When asked what he hopes to be doing at 79, Johnson replied, "Breathing." Petty, who retired as a driver long ago, joked he would come out of retirement. He joked, "What I need to do is wait and see who is the oldest one running and then wait until I get a little bit older and then I'll be the last one, the oldest one to drive."
But for now, that title belongs to James Hylton, who climbed carefully from his car on Friday. While he was excited to race one last time, he admitted the race would take it out on his body. The racer told reporters, "I know it's going to be very painful, especially the way this car drives." But he was excited to run with the best on Friday night. There's no word on what Hylton plans to do after retirement.