The death of half-mile dirt race car driver “Smiling Hub” Hunter

The stories about Smiling Hub Hunter in Stubby's album

‘Smiling Hub’ Hunter – Half-Mile Dirt Track Champion of the South. Click on photo to zoom.

Race car driving was a big interest for Stubby. His personal papers included lots of photos of cars zooming on race tracks, plumes of smoke billowing up. So the death of “Smiling Hub” Hunter, a Bluefield race car driver who died in 1924, must have personally affected him, since he put the press clippings in his personal photo album.

Below is the full text of two articles, including Hub’s obituary. Stubby (as Virgil Currence) is listed as one of the many “flower bearers” at the end of the second article.

What I don’t know: Not sure these articles appeared in the Daily Telegraph or the Sunset News or who wrote them, since there are no bylines. It is possible Stubby wrote them—he was reporting by 1924 and it does have his typical writing flair.

Sometimes it’s easy to detach yourself when reading about past tragedies, but loss is evident even reading this today. The writing helps set the scene, but it is much more graphic than what gets printed now.

Below are my favorite excerpts based on the writing. I’m making it my mission to bring back the word “machine” for “car”. That’s just classic, don’t you think?

Excerpts:

  • “Smiling Hub” Hunter, as his followers on the tracks of the south affectionately called him, went smiling to his death. The last mental picture the thousands have of the race driver is the broad smile as he ate the dust of his brother George’s machine and endeavored to circle him on the corner.
  • There were hopes he might not be dead. Upon arriving at St. Luke’s Hospital one glance at the victim by the doctors ended the hopes—and the ambulance proceeded on to Hawkin’s morgue.
  • It is probable Hunter had lost to he Grim Reaper before the car stopped.
  • It was the first time in the history of the rack a race driver has paid the extreme penalty to the gods of the speed.
  • There was a deep touch of sorrow in the hearts of those who had known the young man personally as they stood and witnessed his friends of the fire department and race tracks place the heaving casket in the bed of the old Seagrave and start with him on his last drive. It was a call that had to be answered, but the absence of “Hub” Hunter at the wheel was felt. The truck-bed was lined with deep mourning; two American flags hung from the ladders and on the radiator cap was tied a piece of crape. Hub had always been conspicuous as the pilot of this machine. During the winter months when the old Seagrave would come dashing thought the ice-covered streets in response to a midnight alarm, Hub Hunter was often seen wearing nothing more than his pants and boots and a thin summer undershirt and smiling at the zero weather.
  • As the cortege reached the cemetery the remains were carried to the grave, which was at a point which overlooks the beautiful surrounding territory and from which place the cemetery “Monte Vista,” took its name.
  • Then the post bugler played taps and the World War veteran entered upon this peaceful sleep. Many of his friends, who had held up well during the service, broke down as the notes of the bugle floated off across the valley and resounded in the echo.
~Melissa

Click “More” to read the full text.

H.R. Hunter, Jr. "Smiling Hub"

A close-up of the cartoon of Hub Hunter. Click on photo to zoom.

First article:

Smiling Hub Hunter goes to His Death Wearing a Smile
Instantly Killed WHEN RACING CAR WEN THRU FENCE
Parents Were in Grandstand Watching Two Sons Battle for Speed Honors.
WAS HALF-MILE DIRT TRACK CHAMPION OF THE SOUTH
Always Raced Clean, Taking His Losses as He Took His Many Wins—Funeral Arrangements Not Completed. Probably be Held Monday.

Herbert R Hunter Jr., a member of the Bluefield fire department and son of Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Hunter, of Bluefield avenue, was instantly killed yesterday afternoon in the fourth event of the automobile race program in connection with last day of the Greater Bluefield Fair, when the spindle arm of the right front wheel racked on the east curve of the dirt track at the local fair grounds, turning the car over and out of the track.

“Smiling Hub” Hunter, as his followers on the tracks of the south affectionately called him, went smiling to his death. The last mental picture the thousands have of the race driver is the broad smile as he ate the dust of his brother George’s machine and endeavored to circle him on the corner.

It was the fourth lap of the fourthly event of the afternoon. Swifty Campbell, driving a Frontier special, was in the lead, with George Hunter, a brother of Hub, following close (…text missing…) start, and was (..text missing….) fourth lap, Hub (..text missing…) ride and gained. (…missing…).  Coming to the east (..word missing..) he attempted to take it wide but his car became unmanageable and the momentum carried it towards the fence. It plunged and the spectators in the grandstand could only see the rear end go up in the air as it turned down the little embankment, end over end—then clouds of smoke.

The accident was so quick in its destruction the very few who were close by could remember just what the car did. It is believed it turned over two and a half times, and rested with its wheels to the sun. The car was so constructed it would have been impossible to throw its driver free.

At once the cry went up, growing in momentum as it reached the other end of the track, “Hunter went through the fence!” The thousands shrunk in horror, and the curious started on the run for the scene of the accident. Those on the hill swarmed down, those inside the track ran into the speedway and then the racers were flagged. It is a miracle someone else was not hurt in the excitement of the moment.

The wrecked car was turned on its side and Hub Hunter was lifted out bloody and mangled. He was immediately loaded into the waiting ambulance and started to the hospital. There were hopes he might not be dead. Upon arriving at St. Luke’s Hospital one glance at the victim by the doctors ended the hopes—and the ambulance proceeded on to Hawkin’s morgue.

In the grandstand Mr. and Mrs. H. R. Hunter watched their two sons in action; were excited when the time trials were done; were pleased as Hub led the field in the second event of the he afternoon, and then showed keen interested in the fatal race while Herbert was trying to overtake the younger brother. When the accident occurred they left the grandstand, walked to the scene of the accident and followed the ambulance to the hospital in another machine.

The Dodge racing car, which was a new job this season was not badly damaged. A few dents in the body, a broken wheel and the steering apparatus was all that could be found wrong with the ill-fated car. In going through the fence some eight or nine poles were broken off at the ground and dangled to the wire. It is thought by some one of these poles hit Hunter in the head, causing his death.

Hunter was killed instantly, according to the belief of Dr. C. M. Scott, who pronounced him dead at St. Luke’s Hospital. His neck was broken, his skull crushed on the left side, his right shoulder shattered and his right chest crushed. It is probable Hunter had lost to he Grim Reaper before the car stopped.

Those standing close to the accident rushed in and turned the car over. The driver was lifted out, leaving the left side of the car literally painted with blood streaming from his mouth and ears. The steering wheel become scarlet also in the few moments Hunter rested under the car.

Hub Hunter, in the three years he has raced on dirt tracks, has enjoyed unusual success. He was the half-mile dirt track champion of the south, having won the title in Norfolk labor day, 1923, on the Dixie track, among a field of drivers from every part of Dixieland. Jack Cottrell, of Norfolk, former champion, stated that in Norfolk Hunter has as big a following as he (Cottrell) enjoyed. It is Cottrell’s home town. In Norfolk Hunter participated in several races during the last two years. Every meet has seen Hunter finishing ahead of the field of drivers at the Norfolk track.

Professional drivers who have raced Hunter are in accord he was among the most promising drivers they had ever raced. And he always raced clean, taking his losses as he took his many wins.

The tragedy of yesterday was enacted before the largest crowd that had ever been assembled on the local fairgrounds, according to the records of the fair association. It was the first time in the history of the rack a race driver has paid the extreme penalty to the gods of the speed. Two years ago Bob Beckett, of this city, was painfully injured and marked for life when, acting as mechanic for Bill Johnson, the car went up the bank on the west curve and turned turtle. Last year in the fair race events, Jack Cottrell, of Norfolk, suffered a broken jaw bone and other injuries on the same curve when his car went through the fence and landed on its side in the creek.

In this connection it will also be remembered on Armistice day, 1921, a racing automobile exploded its fly wheel, killing Dr. Roy Pulliam, of this city, and wounding several others seriously. This accident did not occur at the race track, however. It was on Princeton Avenue.

Herbert Hunter was a Bluefield boy, having been born and reared in this city, and for this reason Bluefield people had manifested great interested in the success he had attained on the rack track. His ability as a pilot of racing cars was far superior to the average driver. Most of his success in the racing game had come during the past two years and his records on the local track and victories over all comers on the Dixie Speedway, at Norfolk, Va. had won for him the backing and support of race fans in this section. Truly he was favorite of the local race course.

He had been associated with the city fire department for several years and his work in that department had proved very efficient. He had attended the city schools when a boy and was always popular and enjoyed a large circle of friends. Herbert Hunter was also a World War veteran. At the time the United States become in involved in the European conflict, he was a member of old Company L, West Virginia National Guard, of Bluefield. When this company entrained for camp he left Bluefield and when it was mustered into federal service he was transferred to the signal corps and was sent to Kelly Field, Texas. Later he was transferred to the spruce time division of the army and sent to Vancouver, British Columbus, where he remained for about fifteen months, returning home after the armistice in 1919.

He was the second child of Mrs. And Mrs. H.R. Hunter was born May 18, 1900, being twenty-four years old at the time of this death. Besides his parents he is survived by one sister, Mrs. H. G. Shelton (…word missing…) and two brothers, George and Alvin Hunter, both of Bluefield.

Funeral arrangements had not been made last night. Members of Mr. Hunter’s family thought the services would probably be held on Monday, although this had not be definitely determined late last night.

Second Article:

H.R. HUNTER JR. IS LAID TO SLEEP IN MONTE VITA PARK
Was Given a Military Escort, Event Though Not Member of American Legion
HOME AND YEARD COULD NOT NEARLY HOLD FRIENDS
One Hundred and Eighteen Automobiles, by Actual Count, in Funeral Cortege—Service Impressive Both at the Home and at the Cemetery.

Herbert R. Hunter, Jr., city firemen and half-mile dirt race track champion of the southland, sleeps in Monte Vista Park cemetery. Following an impressive service a the home of the parents on Bluefield Avenue yesterday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock, the cortege moved slowing through the more congested thoroughfares of the city to the east corporate limits, and thence to Monte Vista Park, on this Bluefield-Princeton road.

The service at the home was conducted by Rev. Frank Y. Jackson, pastor of Grace Methodist Church, and was concluded at the grave by Post No. 9 of the American Legion. Although not a member of the American Legion, yet, having been a comrade-in-arms of many of the young men of this city, he was given a military escort, which added to the impressiveness of the occasion.

The home and yard would not begin to hold the numerous friends of the deceased and members of his family. Several police were detached from regular duties and assigned to the regulation of the traffic on Bluefield avenue. During the hour of the service traffice was broken and detoured off Bluefield Avenue between Thomas and Walnut streets and at the head of the cortege Child of Police Dillow rode in his machine and directed the procession through the down town section of the city.

By actual count there were 118 automobiles in the cortege, said by police to be the longest funeral procession ever to pass of the city thoroughfares. When the head of the cortege reached Lee street the last car was just leaving the Hunter Home on Bluefield Avenue, at the intersection of Chestnut street. Following the police chief car another machine carried Rev. Mr. Jackson and M. E. Johnson, commander of Bluefield post No. 9. The American Legion color guard and firing squad followed in two other machines, then pall bearers, flower bearers, the remains, then the relatives and in rear the many friends which occupied numerous automobiles.

Members of the city fire department and auto race drivers who had participated in the event in which Herbert Hunter was killed, served as pallbearers and other close friends of the deceased officiated as flower bearers.

The remains on a heavy bronze casket draped with a large American flag, were carried on a Seagrave fire track. It was the oldest truck now in services of the city fire department, the one on which Herbert Hunter was the regular driver and the one which he had piloted time and again through all kinds of weath(er) and responding to calls.

There was a deep touch of sorrow in the hearts of those who had known the young man personally as they stood and witnessed his friends of the fire department and race tracks place the heaving casket in the bed of the old Seagrave and start with him on his last drive. It was a call that had to be answered, but the absence of “Hub” Hunter at the wheel was felt. The truck-bed was lined with deep mourning; two American flags hung from the ladders and on the radiator cap was tied a piece of crape. Hub had always been conspicuous as the pilot of this machine. During the winter months when the old Seagrave would come dashing thought the ice-covered streets in response to a midnight alarm, Hub Hunter was often seen wearing nothing more than his pants and boots and a thin summer undershirt and smiling at the zero weather.

There were many beautiful floral tributes, which were carried by two trucks. On one large truck a miniature racing car, designed of flowers, and a huge loving cup, which portrayed his favorite race and the trophy which he won when he smashed the record of the Dixie Speedway and was proclaimed champion of the Southland. There were numerous other designs which were contributed by the city firemen, the American Legion, the automobile racers, W.R. Keesee and others.

As the cortege reached the cemetery the remains were carried to the grave, which was at a point which overlooks the beautiful surrounding territory and from which place the cemetery “Monte Vista,” took its name. The Rev. Frank Y. Jackson offered a short prayer, and, as the remains were lowered into their final resting place, a salute was fired by the rifle squad of the American Legion. Then the post bugler played taps and the World War veteran entered upon this peaceful sleep. Many of his friends, who had held up well during the service, broke down as the notes of the bugle floated off across the valley and resounded in the echo.

The active pallbearers were: Messers. Cottrell, Campbell, McClure, Seifert, Lindemood and Law, auto racers; E.L. McClure, J.P. Donahue, T.A. Carter, E.T. Daugherty, J. R. Counts, H.T. Humphreys, members of the fire department. The firemen, in unform dress, accompanied by Chief W.G. Harris, rode on the fire-truck.

Flower bears: E.R. Beamer, Jim Patton, Oscar Hanson, Bob Beckett, Dennis Cole, Ernest Fizer, Ernest Francisco, Earl Lilly, Scott Lilly, Claude Steele, Hobert Armentrout, Guy Ferguson, Buck Ferguson, Strother Poterfield, Wm. Hume, Chester Crowell, Ralph Stafford, Clarence Sproles, Monk Crowell, Pat Warrick, Virgil Currence, Masil Chambers.

Herbert Cooper had charge of the funeral arrangements.

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