All across the country, there are scores of drivers who struggle and sacrifice every week to participate in short track racing. These men and woman might not ever win a Snowball Derby or a Modified Tour championship, but their dedication is the backbone of the sport that we enjoy.
Today, those ranks are thinner by one.
New Hampshire's Jay Hull has passed away. Hull had raced through the years in several different divisions including Late Models, Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Mini Trucks and Roadrunners at tracks that included Lee USA Speedway (NH), Star Speedway (NH), Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) and Oxford Plains Speedway (ME). He also crewed for teams on the American-Canadian Tour, in the old NASCAR Sportsman Series and elsewhere.
Most recently, Jay was building a Late Model for Modified driver Andy Seuss to drive on the ACT Late Model Tour and in the 2011 Oxford 250.
But far more importantly to me was the fact that through those same years, Jay was at times my business partner, driver, teammate, crew member and most of all a true friend.
I first met Jay around 15 years ago at a go-kart track in North Carolina when we both lived in the Charlotte area. I had some kind of shirt on at the time with a driver from New England on it, I can't even remember who it was now, and that led to a conversation between us. It turned out that he knew of my name and I knew of his since we both came out of the same short track circles in Northern New England. Around that same time, the short track team that I was involved with was falling apart, so Jay invited me to crew for him at Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday nights, I accepted and that was the beginning of a long friendship.
Some people are a little hard to read sometimes and that definitely applied to Jay. He could be flashy and he could be loud. His idol was the late Tim Richmond and they both had a few things in common. He liked making a splash whatever he went. He could be hard to get along with at times, but all of those came traits were rooted in passion and not arrogance. Jay never once thought that he was better than anyone else (although he might have thought that he was a better driver than everyone else - just like a true racer does). He got pissed if you beat him in a race, but he'd buy you a beer right afterwards and discuss how he'd beat you the next time. The same thing applied to going out on a snowmobile or a boat - he always wanted to beat you to wherever you were going.
Jay ran a small garage in New Hampshire and he made sure that all of his customers knew how to reach him if they broke down. Working all nighters and getting out of bed in the wee hours of the night to help someone stranded on the side of the road was his standard operating procedure. When we were involved in the car business together, we both made sure that everyone was treated more than fairly. We both paid out of pockets to settle warranty claims for our customers that a trailer manufacturer denied. We drove several states away to pick up cars that broke down after being sold with six digits on the odometer and an “as-is” warranty because it was the right thing to do. Jay wasn't rich and he could have been a lot more comfortable if he just said “that's business” once in a while. But instead, he was the good guy who took care of his customers in a Wal-Mart world where that sort of thing just didn't happen anymore.
Jay lived life wide-open. I remember him living in a place nicknamed “The Chicken Coop” which got that moniker from its layout. The old wood framed garage had once been the home to Modifieds driven by Geoff Bodine and Pro Stocks driven by so many great drivers that I couldn't even name them all. Since Jay couldn't afford a race shop, racecar and a house at that time, he combined everything into one place. In a loft looking over the shop floor, Jay built a bedroom complete with full bar and a full bath. Every morning, he could wake up and look over the railing at his racecar. More importantly to him though, he didn't have far to stumble into bed after working through the night on his race machines. The shop was a place where much bench racing was done and plenty of freelance projects were taken on too. I remember everything from Acura NSXs to Corvettes to Supercharged Small Block S-10 Blazers being in there. In short, it was a man's dream come true - the perfect home and the perfect shop all in one.
Jay's wide-open attitude goes back a long way. When he was a youngster racing karts, he once took one for a high-speed spin up Route 125 in Kingston, New Hampshire and passed several cars. When word got back to his father about what he did, Jay had the perfect excuse to justify it.
“I remembered to put a dealer plate on the kart before going on the road,” he said, trying to make it sound like he was just taking a test drive.
Jay's latest project was to turn a pontoon boat into a floating ice cream gallery. On weekends, he would hit the lakes of New England to sell cool treats to hot boaters. Hiring a few bikini-clad servers helped too and for an young business, things were going very well.
Many people didn't know another side of who my little girl called “Uncle Jay” either. It was his soft spot for children. Jay supported the Make-a-Wish Foundation, usually anonymously, and even flew the colors of the Girl Scouts on one of his racecars when he realized that cheering for a racecar could make those young fans happy. He once befriended a terminally ill child and took him to the races all the time. Jay tried to prepare himself for the inevitable day when that child passed away, but even for a tough guy it was hard. It was the same story with animals, Jay befriended a rescued Bullmastiff dog named Richie and you'd never see them far apart until Richie passed on. The dog was well over 150 pounds and the true definition of a gentle giant. He wasn't a pet to Jay, but a friend. I think that he earned the shop a few customers too as he sat in the lounge area while Jay spent the day working on cars.
I don't even know what it is going to be like next week when there is an Oxford 250 and I won't be talking to Jay the next week about every little detail of the race. I was at his home track of Lee USA Speedway last night and I could swear that I thought I saw him walking through the pits on several occasions. So for me, this is personal.
But beyond that, the sport is a little worse off today. Because someone who would give anything to better short track racing is no longer with us. With Jay it wasn't about money or driver development deals. It was about the racing and nothing more. That's something that too many of us have forgotten, or maybe never even knew, these days.