James Hylton was one of thirteen children who grew up on a farm and from a poor family. Hylton became obsessed with racing and he had no plans, no funds and no backing in racing. All of his experience was on farm equipment.
Hylton became a master at preparing cars, which would prove an invaluable skill during his driving career. From 1959-63, he prepared chassis for Rex White, helping White to the 1960 Grand National title. In 1964-65, Hylton served as crew chief for Ned Jarrett, and Jarrett won the series title in '65.
Hylton's heart was set on racing and he got his chance in 1964, making three starts in Ned Jarrett's back-up car. The 30 year old driver burst on the scene in 1966, grabbing 20 top-'5s in 41 starts. He finished second in points behind David Pearson and was the hands-down choice as Rookie of the Year. That was a remarkable season considering he ran the whole season with one car and one engine, he never crashed or blew an engine during that whole season.
Hylton's consistency in the point standing between 1966 and 1975 was surprised by only Petty, during "The Kings" prime. Petty had an average finish of 2.2 during the same period, which included five of his seven Winston Cup titles. Hylton averaged 4.0 easily topping such superstars as David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.
So why isn't James Hylton's name know more these days? Simple, he didn't get enough wins. In 601 starts during his career he could manage only two wins, Richmond in 1970 and Talladega in 1972.
"If I'd gotten some help, I feel like I could have run with anybody," he says. "If I'd had some financial backing-a sponsor-where we could have hired people to let me concentrate on racing, I feel I could have driven with anybody. I'm not too happy with NASCAR for not supporting the (independent drivers). Not only me, there were a dozen independent drivers who could have been winners if they'd had some financial help.
"I know it wasn't NASCAR's responsibility to see that everybody's 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 sponsorship our way, but they never did," Hylton said. Hylton is still bitter about the decades old events. " I have a little resentment there, because I feel like I was left out, not because of a lack of ability or a lack of working myself to death," Hylton said. " It was all a financial deal."
Hylton couldn't change the fact that he was going up against teams with better funding and equipment. After finishing third in the 1975 points race, his career went into a steady decline. Yet he hung around long enough to make 601 starts, 11th on the all-time list.
Hylton's last full season as a driver was 1981. He ran a limited schedule in the years after that, and just weeks short of his 60th birthday he attempted to qualify for the 1995 Brickyard 400.