As one of 13 poor children growing up on a farm, James Hylton was obsessed with racing. With no plans, no funds, and his only experience being on farm equipment he mastered preparing cars. This would prove to be a valuable skill for his career as an independent driver. He prepared chassis for Rex White from 1959 to 1963, helping to lead White to the 1960 Grand National Title. Hylton moved on to serve as Head Crew Chief for Ned Jarrett from 1964-1965. Jarrett won the title in 1965.
In 1964 Hylton got his chance behind the wheel of Ned Jarrett’s back up car making three starts. In 1966, with one car, one engine and 30 years old he nabbed 20 top five finishes in 41 starts. That placed him second in points only to David Pearson and he finished the season with the Rookie of the Year award. He raced the whole season with no crashes and no blown engines.
Between 1966 and 1975 Hylton’s consistency was surpassed only by that of Richard Petty. While Petty’s average finish was 2.2, Hylton’s average was 4.0 still placing him easily above racing giants like Yarborough, Davey Allison, and David Pearson. One would think that James Hylton would be as well known as Petty, Pearson, Allison, and the rest. Although more consistent than his counter parts, Hylton had only two wins in his 601 career starts with a 1970 win in Richmond and a win in Talladega in 1972.
As an independent driver Hylton is still bitter about not being supported more by NASCAR. “I know it wasn’t NASCAR’s responsibility to see that everybody got the best of the best. But I know there were opportunities there, that with a little bit of coaching from NASCAR, they could have shoved a little bit of sponsorship our way, but they never did.”
Although Hylton couldn’t change the fact that as an independent driver he was facing teams with better equipment and more money he managed to finish third in the 1975 points race. His career went into a steady decline after that season. “If I’d gotten some help, I feel like I could have run with anybody.” He finished his career with 601 starts putting him 11th on the all time list.
In 1981 James Hylton ran his last full NASCAR season. In the years following he ran a limited number of races making a qualifying attempted in 1995 for the Brickyard 400. He was almost 60 years old at the time.