First off, this will be the last auto racing season in which we see Linda Vaughn. That is, Linda as Linda. I mean the lady all racing has come to know and love—Miss Hurst Golden Shifter and Miss Let's Go Race and Miss Trophy Queen. The queen, in fact, of Everything on Wheels. The Linda we've seen a thousand times standing there atop a parade float in one of her shimmering and really clingy little costumes, blowing kisses to the whole world. The Linda of silky soft Southern accent and awesome cantilevered figure and bright blonde mop of hair, of the absolutely brilliant teeth and the air of ingenuousness that may never again be seen in the sport. Well, all of that will be gone from motor sports next year, and this is something of an old-fashioned scoop. See, what's happening to Linda is....
No. No, wait a moment. Maybe the best way to make what's happening plain is to go back a couple of weeks to the goings-on in California and Georgia and put it all down in proper order. Sort of a Week in the Life of. And then we'll all come to understand why Linda's leaving is important.
The car is loping along the Pacific Coast Highway toward Newport Beach, T roof open to the California night sky, with Willie Nelson singing Amazing Grace on the tape deck. The car is eating up absolutely everything in its path: Porsches, topless Corvettes, metal-flake Trans Ams and what-all, and the engine is trailing behind it a comforting roar, like black bubbles.
"Amazing grace, how sweeeeeet the sound," Linda sings along, "that saved a wretch lak meeeeee...." It's not easy to sing along with Willie Nelson; one always has the unsettling feeling that he's a man whose entire career will be destroyed if he ever blows his nose. "I was blind, but now ah seeeee...."
This is no ordinary car flickering through the darkness. It's a black 1983 Hurst-Olds, the 15th-anniversary number, with a fully massaged 307 cu. in., 5-liter V-8 engine linked to Hurst's new Lightning Rod four-speed overdrive transmission with lockup torque converter. Not one, but three chromed gearshift levers rise up from the center console, creating seemingly endless possibilities for popping the car up and down through the gears at various speeds. You could drive this dude from here to Minot, N. Dak. and never touch the brakes. It also has the so-called handling package, of course, plus superstock wheels and Goodyear Eagles and a nosejob and a go-to-hell spoiler on the rear deck. Just 3,000 of them were put out by Cars & Concepts, Hurst's parent company, at $15,000 a copy, and all of them sold immediately. This one is Linda's own, a drive-it-around-and-show-it-off perquisite of her job. 'imagine it," she says, swinging easily around yet another Porsche, "I grew up in the era of muscle cars and now muscle cars are back."
Performance cars are one of the grand passions in Linda's life, summoning up the same sort of visceral satisfaction that diamonds provide for Elizabeth Taylor. Hidden away in a rented garage near her home in Laguna Beach, she has two more Hurst-Oldsmobiles. There's a white and gold 1974 Indy pace car model with its 455 cu. in. engine—"you sure can't burn no unleaded in that sucker," she says—and a black and gold 1979 model. And then there's "Mah Baby." Hoo boy. Mah Baby is a brilliant red Ferrari Dino 246 GTS equipped with what's lovingly called the Daytona package. That means, among other things, gently flared fenders, special bucket seats and instruments that, "you know, say ever'thang in Italian," according to Linda. It's the last of its breed, built in 1974, and reckoned to be worth $36,000 now. Which figures: Earlier this very day Linda got it out of the shop where it had undergone a routine tweaking, and the bill came to $1,800.
All of this represents a long, long leap from Dalton, Ga. for a painfully skinny, towheaded girl who used to wear hand-me-down dresses and collect Coke bottles beside the road to get the deposit money. But Linda grew up with a sort of vengeance. And now, over dinner at a seaside restaurant in Newport Beach, one can see the results. Images leap to mind: If Linda were an automobile, she'd be a classic supercharged Bentley, 4½ liter. Turn to page 104 for a picture of one. If she were a mountain range, she'd be the Grand Tetons. Or if she were a musical comedy, to borrow from Neil Simon, people would be humming her face. But that's all metaphorical wordplay; the only honest way to describe Linda is to get right on with it.
The word Junoesque doesn't apply—Linda is only 5'6½" and 125 pounds or so. And references to Rubens' or Botticelli's languid women or Lillian Russell or Mae West simply won't make it—they were all fatties. And if anyone thinks that what follows here is intended to be cute or chauvinistic, they're just not paying attention. Linda herself is far more earthy and forthright than any of us has ever been in assessing her stunning figure. She's particularly fond of quoting Dolly Parton who, right up there on a national television interview, stoically faced the slightly curled lip of haughty Barbara Walters and said, "Honey, I don't sing with mah boobs."
Well, that's the way Linda feels. And talks. She uses all the same words as Dolly, and many more, a lot of them more pungent, and with absolute candor. "Listen, sweetie," Linda says, "when you've got big boobs like mine, you're guilty until proven innocent." In racing, she has spent about as much time living down her chest as promoting it, but now—at last, after more than 20 years—she has proved to everybody that she's genuine, softly molded curves and all, and not the bubblehead her appearance suggests. "I think the good Lord put me here to do what I'm doing," she says.
That body. It was once described by a Midwest sportswriter as 40-24-37, but what did he know? Linda doesn't go around reciting such stats and never has; indeed, she allows as how a woman's age and income, measurements and whether she fools around are strictly her own business. Linda is married, but has been legally separated for some time from her husband, a former drag racer. And as for being put here to do what she's doing, well, that seems fair enough.
Linda is the final refinement of that giddy American institution, the race-trophy queen. Oh, the breed still goes on, all right; there are trophy queens, racetrack princesses and Miss High Octanes all over the place, particularly in the Deep South. But it's unlikely that any of them will ever reach Linda's stature. She has become a symbol the by-God First Lady of auto racing in America, and now her image is nicely etched into our sporting subconsciousness. Not too long ago it was pointed out that because auto racing draws a ton of spectators—more than 51 million in 1981, according to one survey—and because Linda attends some 150 events a year, traveling more than 150,000 miles, she probably has been seen in person more than any other woman in the world. That's a whacko statistic, but you get the idea. And harken unto Harlan Thompson of the Faberge Racing Team, a funny-car driver who saw Linda on a European tour last July: "Some places we raced, none of the fans could speak English, but they could all say, 'Leeeenda Vaughn.' "
Fifteen minutes or so from now, Mario Andretti will crash. He'll lose control of his spanking-new Lola T-700 while practicing at 180 mph, and it will slam into the wall at the No. 2 turn here at Atlanta's International Raceway. It will hit the wall twice, in fact, grinding and chewing up its front so it can't be repaired in time for Sunday's race. But Andretti will walk away from this mishap, not blaming spilled oil on the track or faulty suspension or steering or brakes; "I just...almost lost it," he'll say. Andretti is always honest about such things.
Now, in the springtime Georgia sun, one foot up on the pit wall, he's talking about Linda. She has just stopped by to deliver hugs to everybody in the crew, and at the moment she's doing the same farther down pit lane. "Y'know, I get all the European automobile racing magazines," Andretti says, "and Linda's pictured in them more than the damn Ferraris. The thing is, she fits in everywhere in racing: Formula I, Indy cars, stocks and drag racers, you name it. But what's important is that she's more than a pretty object. I mean it: I've known Linda since 1963—my whole family knows her and loves her. And listen: Some guys in racing like to claim this and that about Linda, or say that Linda does this and that. It's all macho crap. What do you call it? Posturing."
Farther down the line, Frank (Rebel) Mundy peers out from under the rim of his cowboy hat. Mundy is a familiar figure at Atlanta Raceway, his home stamping ground. He was a brilliant driver once. Now he strolls about looking both grizzled and dapper, his neck draped with heavy chains carrying what appear to be solid gold nuggets, and he's wearing a fat gold watchband that weighs 10 pounds if it weighs an ounce. This is an obscure claim to fame, but Mundy was one of the judges who named Linda Vaughn Miss Atlanta International Raceway of 1961. And that started it all.
"See, we had 21 girls come out for the contest," he says, "and let me tell you, she flat won it fair and square. I mean, she was barefoot then, but she was sure the plain winner. Well. She wudn't really barefooted, but you know. See, auto racin' is a little like a circus to a degree: The people love all the hoopla and the balloons and the fancy parades. And the men, well, they like to see a little cheesecake now and again. Ain't no harm in that. But what made Linda different than all them others was that she grew into the job of racing ambassador and has been a credit to the sport ever since."
Winning the Miss A.I.R. title may have been easy, but getting there had been hard. On Thursday's flight to Atlanta from Los Angeles, Linda had filled in the early days. The Vaughns spring from Dalton, a small town some 90 miles north of Atlanta, where just about everybody works in the carpet mills. "Mama and Daddy got divorced when I was little," Linda says, "and she was left to raise three children, my brother, C.B. [now 48], my sister, Betty Louise [now 45], and me [now, and forevermore, won't tell]. Mama worked mostly as a seamstress; we were awful poor, but we got by. I mean, I wore patched, faded little old dresses—but they were always clean and starched. And we all worked. I collected Coke bottles and brought home the deposit money and did odd jobs for 50 cents here and there, and I worked as a helper to two dentists who filled all my cavities for free. Lord, I was the scrawniest little old white-haired thing you ever saw."
The family grew and spread on a grand, sort of Faulknerian scale: Mama married twice again and had twin girls, Shirley Jan and Sheila Ann, now 29, and Daddy remarried four more times, producing a half-sister, Cheryl, and a half-brother, Gregory, who died at two. In a profile on Linda four years ago, the Detroit Free Press reported that there were 14 brothers and sisters. That's not true. But there are dozens of aunts, uncles, half and full cousins, nieces and nephews—all of them comfortably neighborly and all on speaking terms, including Mama and Daddy, great huggers and kissers in the oldtime Southern style.
"But through it all," says Linda, "I always dreamed that I'd be something special when I grew up. I always pictured myself in long satin gowns with long sleeves like real ladies wore and with mirrors all over the place and owning a pure white, fluffy cat. There I was, a skinny kid tap-dancing on our back porch with my best friend. Patsy Brazell, just tippy-tapping away, not knowing what we were doing, and next thing I knew I was in the Miss Junior America contest. I didn't win it—but I got Miss Congeniality."
As it turned out, that's about the time puberty struck. "I mean, in one summer, about when I was 14," says Linda, "I was all arms and legs and ears, and then, suddenly, my chest just, uhh, just blossomed. Lord, I mean, I didn't go to an A cup—I went from flat zero to a C cup just like that. And next year in school, suddenly all the boys wanted to carry my books. Wudn't that funny?"
Linda went on to graduate from Dalton High, and the only sad touch was that, while she had all the requisite physical attributes, she couldn't become a cheerleader. "That stuff was just for the rich girls," she says. "I mean, they had to buy their own cheerleading uniforms. Heck, the letter sweaters cost $40, and we just flat couldn't afford it."
Schooling stopped right there, but then came more contests, "each one of them a college education on its own," says Linda. She was crowned Miss Poultry Princess (nobody in the family remembers just whose Miss Poultry or much else about the contest: "Oh, you, know, just, umm. Miss Poultry"). And then came Miss Atlanta International Raceway in 1961 and Miss Pontiac in '62 and Miss Firebird in '63, '64 and '65, not to forget a Queen of Speed in there somewhere. There was a life of glamour on the racing circuit. There was a lot of parading, shaking it for the world, presenting trophies and striking artful poses standing beside cars at auto shows. And, finally, there was also the ugly scene that was probably inevitable. It had to do indirectly with Linda's bosom and directly with her public appearances—and it was to establish her guilty-until-proven-innocent theory.
As one might imagine, stock-car-racing wives tend to be mostly good ol' country girls. "They're pretty cliquish," Linda says, "and they're not keen on seeing anybody kissing their man, even if it's just to give him a trophy." And. sure enough, at one race in the early '60s, several of them advanced in a growling, angry group, finally bunching up on the outside of the chain-link fence at Victory Lane and muttering about big-breasted home-wreckers and threatening to tear Linda to bits for messin' with their men, as they put it. And suddenly, along came Glenn (Fireball) Roberts, who marched right up to the fence and chewed everybody out. "Y'all let Linda alone," he growled. "She's just doin' her job, and she ain't messing with nobody's husband. Let her do her job and you do yours."
And that pretty much ended it. After that, the wives gradually accepted Linda, and nowadays she's one of the crew, sitting in the stands worrying right along with everybody else, with racing kiddies climbing in her lap or tugging at her pants legs. Indeed, Roberts was to become one of her best alltime pals—right up until 1964 at the Charlotte Speedway. After the terrible smashup that was to kill him. Fireball was carried past Linda on a stretcher. "He was all broken and burned and all," she says, crying now at the memory. "And the last thing he said to me was, 'Linda, please go and get Judy [his girl friend] for me.' "
It's a rare occasion when you get all the Indy-car drivers assembled in the same room—they're not the most fraternal bunch in the world—but here they are at a Hilton in Atlanta, with a Dixieland band blaring, booze flowing freely and everybody all gussied up and mingling around several lavish buffets. This is the cocktail party of PPG Industries, the sponsor of this racing series, which will start Sunday with the CART Dixie 200 at Atlanta International Raceway. It will be the first race of the year because the official opener at Phoenix was rained out.
Linda is out there, playing ambassador for Hurst. She's wearing a $400 lavender silk party dress that's cut up to here on both sides—a design that permits more than occasional flashes of thigh. It's easily the least conservative outfit at this party—heck, maybe in all of Atlanta—and already a couple of race drivers have approached her and allowed as how "Ah swear, Linda, yore dress is tore plumb up to yore whoozis."
Linda's association with Hurst has been her longest and most successful, going back to 1965, when Union Oil swallowed up Pure Oil, leaving Linda temporarily out of a queendom. But along about that time, transmission mogul George Hurst was advertising in the auto-buff magazines for a new Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, which was then, and still is, one of the alltime great dumb titles. The ads specified that the entrants must have sound teeth. "So I called George Hurst," Linda says, "and I asked him, 'Listen, are you lookin' for a lady or a racehorse?' " Well, Linda says the story going around at the time was that Hurst's earlier girl had been a stunner, shapely and all, but that her false teeth kept falling out. "Anyway," says Linda, "I took my mama with me to the meeting so's there wouldn't be any hanky-panky. But as it turned out, it was all business, and in 1966 I signed a contract for $8,000 a year plus expenses and a car."
The growth after that was phenomenal for both parties, and Hurst sales aside, perhaps the most vivid memory of those heady times was the Hurst gearshift parade car, an unbelievable creation that could give phallic symbolism a bad name. There would be Linda, standing beside the oversized shift lever and waving and blowing kisses to the crowds. But to Linda the Hurst car was preferable to the conventional parade floats she had ridden on in her earlier roles. "At last I could stand on a real platform and they could see all of me, legs and all," she says. "It got to be a regular, expected part of so many prerace shows everywhere. I mean, I was like the national anthem."
And the racing fans weren't the only ones yelling hoo-eee. Over the years both Play boy and Penthouse magazines have offered handsome checks to Linda to pose for picture layouts. But she has turned them down. She has a gut instinct—correct, as it turns out—that these magazines don't quite understand what it is she's doing up there. This is true of some fans as well, but there's really nothing complicated about it: The idea is to look but not leer. Come on. It's sexy but not sexual. "All this prancing and posing is done in a sort of high fun, and the fans know that," she says. "Posing naked would spoil it all; it just wouldn't be fair to them and to me."
This straightaway attitude extends also unto boyfriends and gentleman callers: Everybody in racing knows there have been plenty through the years, from an army general to a famous quarterback to movie idols to "a millionaire who wanted to buy me my own private jet with my initials on the side." But Linda wouldn't discuss her love life any more than she would dream of telling auto racing secrets: "I've been in and out of garages, and I overhear or they tell me the most inside things about racing," she says. "But they could break all my arms and legs and I'd never tell."
But, you know, the parading and the whoopee costumes and the parties and all probably create the impression that Linda's job is all play and no work. And we might as well settle that number right here. There was a time when a trophy queen was pretty much just that: The winning driver would whip his car into Victory Lane and tug off his leather helmet. His face would be all oil-stained—with those marvelous white circles around his eyes where his goggles had been—and the trophy queen, wearing a sash banner reading MISS WHATEVER RACEWAY, would hand him the trophy and give him a nice big smooch. And then do it over and over again as photographers recorded it with their 4 X 5 Speed Graphics. And that was about it for the queen.
But Hurst and a few other automotive entrepreneurs changed all that in the '60s. To Hurst, whose goal was to sell more competition transmissions than anybody on this planet, his new Miss Golden Shifter had to represent his product: He wanted instant recognition, and he understood his market. He established Linda as his trademark the way Campbell's Soup did those dumpling-cheeked kids and Morton Salt did its girl carrying the umbrella. He exhibited gear shifters at sport and trade shows throughout the U.S. and overseas; it seems like there's a show somewhere every week. And his queen was always there, banner, blonde curls and all, talking to the customers. But knowledgeably. Maybe the big surprise here is that Linda really understands transmissions and high-performance stuff. She even attended the Jim Russell driving school for racers so she could do her job better. Good student, too; she says she's absolute murder in a chicane.
Not long after Linda joined Hurst's team, he used her as the centerpiece of a big move on NASCAR, a campaign involving trade shows and speaking engagements, plus the parades and posturing. That first year, 1965, just two NASCAR stockers raced with Hurst gear shifters; a year and a half later, the entire field was equipped with them. And Linda began to appear as a speaker at civic-and service-club luncheons around the circuit—sometimes introducing race drivers, bin always plugging the product. She also started promoting the Hurst Rescue Tool, a device that can quickly rip open smashed cars to free trapped drivers, and began to raise money for burned and injured race victims. And finally, with Hurst's blessing, she served as liaison between some sponsors and drivers, to bring some of them together. It all ultimately grew into a kind of ambassadorship—precisely the role Hurst had envisioned years before—that resulted in Linda and the Hurst company being completely identified with each other. And she works hard at her role: Last year, she traveled 180,000 miles to attend 134 different events, from races to speeches to parades to whatever.
There are some 20,000 racing fans on hand for the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway—and they all seem a bit feverish. They don't care much for any other sport, including Georgia football and its famous dropout. Several pickup trucks out in the nearby meadows carry bumper stickers that say HERSCHEL LIED LIKE A DAWG. But, ah, drag racing brings color to their cheeks—and eventually, because of the fumes, to their eyes; by sundown at one of these events it's like the Night of the Living Dead. On this particular morning, there's a restless, changing wind. For long moments the air is awash' with the delicate scents of spring flowers amid the pink and white flowering dogwood—and then, suddenly, along comes the thick, biting smell of fuels and hot exhaust and burning rubber, as well as the crashing sheets of sound that seize and rattle the entire body. The American Medical Association ought to do a study on the physiological effects of funny-car burnouts: "You got to get right down there beside them and let the whole blast engulf you," says Linda. "It's like nothing else you've ever felt in your life."
Today's Miss Hurst costume consists of a white semitransparent jump suit, made of the silk used in drag racing's brake-parachutes. The suit is worn over a flesh-toned body stocking, creating vague nude effects that seem to change with the light. On all sides men and boys stumble into each other and walk into ditches, staring at her. But Linda knows her racing psychology, "I think this outfit is probably too sophisticated for this crowd." she says. "I ought to be wearing a T shirt and shorts."
But Mama likes it. Indeed. Mama Mae drove over from Dalton. along with a clutch of cousins and a niece and nephew or two, all of them solid Linda fans. "I used to make all of her costumes," Mama Mae says, "and in the old days, if there was any doubt about a miniskirt, well, we'd just make it a bit shorter. No. Come on, we're all just kidding."
It's easy to see now that Linda came by her figure honestly: Mama Mae is a stout little woman with an absolutely formidable chest and carefully coiffed white hair and a disarming smile. "You see my mama's figure?" Linda says. "Well, when we both sit down at a table to eat—and if we happen to spill something—well, nothing ever falls in our laps." Mama shakes her head at this teasing, but she positively glows with maternal pride. "We're all just so proud of Linda," she says. "As for what she's doing, these skimpy little outfits and all, we all recognize that it's part of this racing business. Why, one of the twins, Shirley, is married to a man who's just got himself a new ministry in the Assembly of God Church. But they both understand and respect that Linda is just doing her job. You know, it wasn't easy, raising three children by myself, but we managed. Looking back on it all now, it seems as how Linda just grew up overnight. And she was never ugly, like she says she was, though I can remember her saying to me, 'Mama. I ain't got no more figure than an ol' mop handle.' "
The rest of Mama Mae's chatter is lost in a rolling, percussive clap of sound, an explosive shock that makes kidneys and kneecaps bounce. It comes from the pit of Shirley Muldowney, the three-time world top fuel champion. Her son and her crewmen are vigorously zapping the engine on her long, pink rail dragster before sending it off into combat. Standing off to one side in her bulky fireproof pants and boots, Muldowney waits until the engine is shut down and then says, "Never mind Linda's costume; it's part of the scene. The point is that Linda really belongs here. She plays several roles, and the fans expect all this and love it. You know, the ones who don't belong here are some of these pit dollies who hang around, looking for a free ride to the bigs. If I see them hanging around my place, ogling my crew, I tell them flatly. 'Look, why don't you try the next pit?' "
The jet truck made it all worthwhile. As one of the fans said just a few moments ago, "Who-eeee, I'm probably sterile for life now, but, Lordy, how about when he put a match to that big sucker? I mean, he lit off that truck and there was a ramblin' trail of fire clear back to Savannah."
Was there ever. The act was used to close the show—Bob Motz and his big Kenworth truck, with 17,500 pounds of thrust, out of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It looks pretty ordinary, as these tractors go, with no trailer behind it, but when Motz cranks it up, bright shafts of fire flash upward out of the vertical exhaust pipes, and rolling, thunderous whomps of flame and concussion shoot out the open jet tube at the back end. On Saturday, at the first session of the Southern Nationals, this blew out a big window in the Winston Tower, and it pasted a few people right up against the chain-link fence. Today nobody had gotten any smarter about taking cover, and when Motz fired it off, the air was full of Styrofoam picnic hampers and beer cans. Then when he let her roll, the truck exploded out of its own smoke cloud, trailing this long tail of fire. Have you ever seen anything lurch fast? Well, he made it through the quarter-mile in 8.28, which converts to 146.57 mph, while the crowd was going absolutely bananas, their clothes all whipping every which way and their teeth getting blackened in the smoke. Now that's gross.
But that's really the idea: Somehow the entire madcap scene serves to italicize auto racing and Linda and their roles in sports. For the record, earlier in the day Muldowney had been beaten. The winner of the event was Gary Beck of El Toro, Calif., who had rolled away to a 5.534 elapsed time (249.30 mph). The victory kept him ahead of Muldowney in Winston Series points. Over at Atlanta International Raceway, Gordon John-cock had won the Indy Car Dixie 200, in spite of making one goofy, sliding-side-ways pit stop. And now, at a typical Southern drag strip, Linda is dutifully saying goodby to her fans.
This is more of a goodby than they realize. What's coming is a real wrench. Back at Brighton, Mich., the home of Cars & Concepts, the chairman of the board, Dick Chrysler, has decided the time has come to promote Linda Vaughn. After this season, there'll be no more parading and posturing for Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, the former Miss Poultry Princess. No more of those skimpy costumes with fringes and cowboy hats and cleavage, no more garters snapped off into the eager crowds. The new Linda will be entirely different.
"We want to bring her into more of a corporate position," says Chrysler. "Really, where Linda excels is in her wealth of contacts; she knows everybody and is well-liked and trusted by everybody. It's our goal to make Hurst the principal supplier of shifters to the entire U.S. automobile industry. And we need Linda to help us." With that in mind, Chrysler plans to make Linda vice-president of public relations and promotion, responsible for directing overall activities in those fields.
Imagine it! A vice-president. Linda Vaughn, executive. There'll be other Hurst queens, of course—some successor is probably out there right now, tippy-tapping away on her mama's back porch—but there will never be another Miss Golden Shifter. That act and title will be officially retired. Maybe they'll have Linda's bra bronzed and put in a Hurst trophy case somewhere for unbelieving future generations to goggle at. But, who cares? What counts is that the company has been smart enough to recognize a national treasure and to act to preserve it.
Linda has been thinking about this new departure. She asks: "How do you think I'll look in a gray pinstriped suit, very severe, with a nice blouse that'll play down my boobs and with my hair all pulled back in a bun? And carrying a leather briefcase? I can do it, you know. It's what I've been working for."
Certainly she can do it. She also knows that a race queen can carry on only so long; it's an exhausting job. Indeed, the biggest recent boost to her morale came with the April 11 issue of PEOPLE with its cover billing, SEXY FOREVER, and story about all those artfully maturing glamour girls. Cover-girl Linda Evans of TV's Dynasty is 40. And Jane Fonda, Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Joan Collins and others—they're all 40 and older. Linda admires them and knows some of them personally. And, while she doesn't usually talk about it, she will now admit to an old friend that she, too, is about that age. But does her precise age really matter to anyone? Could it possibly change anything with her racing fans? Earlier in the week, Johncock had looked at her for a long moment, squinting. "I swear," he said, "I keep getting older and you keep getting younger." And one could tell that he found that to be a comforting verity, something a guy could count on.
And now, watching Linda at work at the Atlanta Dragway, one can see that she is, sure enough, all the things these various people have been saying. She works diligently for her sport, promoting rookie and superstar driver alike, and caring for racing's wounded by raising money and visiting hospitals. Once during the week, in a pensive, reflective moment, she had murmured, "Mah heart's as big as mah breasts," and that's probably true. Fittingly, just as she dreamed so many years ago, Linda now lives in a nice house that has mirrors all around, wears pretty satin gowns and has a fluffy white cat.
Becoming a big automotive executive will take a lot of getting used to—she'll miss those wild-eyed crowds and the festive whoop-de-do just as much as they'll all miss her. But Linda is sure it's time to move on; the important thing is that it's still something involving motor sports, her first and only love. "I guess I'm sort of like a race driver," she says. "No matter what happens, no matter how mean life gets or no matter how bad they treat me, or how many times I crash, I just keep putting my helmet back on and jumping back into that car."
This is the sort of thing the fans will miss: Linda cruisin' the strip, at the Southern Nationals.
At Atlanta Dragway, Linda, if no one else, wondered how she might look in gray pinstripes.
Linda's chemistry is strong but not all that complicated, as NASCAR driver Tim Richmond observes.
Workouts at Laguna Beach keep Linda in shape.
Like mother, like daughter: Mama Mae and Linda visit racing's next most noted woman, Muldowney.
By 1968, her third year as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Linda's appearance was a prerace highlight.
Cale Yarborough not the winner's kiss at the '68 Daytona 500.
What Linda brings to mind: a 4½-liter supercharged Bentley.