KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — James Hylton gingerly climbed out of his No. 48 car after an ARCA test at Kansas Speedway on Friday, and nobody could blame him for moving a little bit slower than his competitors.
He's 79 years old, after all.
The oldest driver to race in each of NASCAR's three highest divisions, Hylton was calling it a career after Friday night's race. The Cup rookie of the year in 1966, Hylton has spent the last several years of his career racing in the ARCA series.
"I know it's going to be very painful, especially the way this car drives. To be out there running with some of the top guys — before I'd see them disappear, now I can keep them in sight," Hylton told The Associated Press. "It's a tremendous feeling. To know at the end of the day it'll all be kind of like a dream. It'll be gone but I'm going to make the best of it."
Hylton's friends put together a car they believe can compete at Kansas, and it even sports a gold paint scheme that honors the early years of his racing career.
"I'm retiring at the end of the day, but my heart is wanting to keep going," he said. "But it's a done deal. I won't be back as a driver."
Born on his family's farm in Virginia in 1934, Hylton's family had to work hard to make ends meet during the Depression. Hylton remembers toiling in the fields all day to help out.
He started driving in his father's Ford Model T — his brother taught him how to work the pedals. And from that humble beginning, Hylton embarked on a winding career in motorsports. He served as a mechanic for Rex White and then a crew chief for Ned Jarrett in the early days of NASCAR, then got back behind the wheel and placed second in the Cup standings in 1966.
Hylton also finished second in points to Richard Petty in 1967 and '71, and won twice in more than 600 Cup starts: at Richmond in 1970 and Talladega in 1972. In all, the good-natured Hylton racked up 140 top-five finishes and 321 top-10s in the Cup series.