Former NASCAR star James Hylton and his son, James “Tweety” Hylton Jr., were killed in a highway accident early Saturday morning while returning home from an Automobile Racing Club of America event.
Franklin County Deputy Coroner Clayton Bryant confirmed to PEOPLE that the crash occurred on Interstate 85 in Georgia while the father and son, along with a driver, were returning from a Friday race at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway. Their GMC truck and trailer “left the road and made impact with a creek bank in the median,” NASCAR said.
Both Hylton Sr., 83, and Hylton Jr., 61, were pronounced dead on the scene, Bryant said. The truck’s driver survived the crash and was transported to a hospital in Greenville, South Carolina. The driver was identified as crew chief Terry Strange. He suffered broken bones from the wreck.
Speaking with The Roanoke Times, Hylton Sr.’s ex-wife, Evelyn Hylton, discussed the former couple’s only son.
“He was very pure. He didn’t smoke or drink or anything else,” she told the outlet. “He was a very good person. Everybody loved him.”
She added: “He was a schoolteacher, and James talked him into quitting and going racing with him.”
Evelyn told The Roanoke Times that she had spoken to her son on the phone around midnight, when he said they were hitting the road after eating at a restaurant in Alabama.
A police officer arrived at her home on Saturday morning to inform her of the accident.
“[The officer] said Terry … told them that he thought James was having a heart attack and he looked over at him and lost control of the truck and went across the median and then across the other lane of traffic and hit an embankment,” Evelyn told the newspaper. “The truck, towing a big trailer with a race car on it, thousands of pounds, you have to be really careful.”
“Racing competitively in parts of six decades, James Hylton’s dedication, passion and longevity in motorsports is virtually unmatched. Hylton won the rookie of the year at NASCAR’s highest level, the 1972 race at Talladega Superspeedway and regularly contended for championships during the early years of his career,” NASCAR, which also owns ARCA, said in a statement. “His racing influence continued into the ARCA series, where he competed as a driver and, most recently, a car owner. We have lost a truly special member of the racing family and a beloved figure among generations of competitors and race fans alike. We extend our deepest condolences to the Hylton family on the tragic loss of James Hylton and his son James Jr.”
Many NASCAR stars and fans took to social media to share their condolences.
“Thoughts and prayers out to Hylton family and friends,” wrote Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Twitter. “James was a legend. He enjoyed his time in stock car racing and saw the sport evolve and grow over the many decades that he was involved.”
Driver Jimmie Johnson said, “I’m thinking of the friends and family of James Hylton. James was a true racer and loved this sport so much. It was an honor to meet him a few times over the years, he will be missed.”