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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.