In the 1970s, Linda Vaughn, aka “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter,” among her many other titles, captured the imagination of race car fans both young and old. She became a legend in the auto racing scene from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Often turning heads at every race she attended, the trophy queen was a notable ambassador for just about every type of motorsport including SCCA, NASCAR, Indy, Formula One and more.
Despite criticism from the Women’s Liberation Movement suggesting her voluptuous displays undermined their progression, Linda Vaughn actually played a major role in advancing women’s racing. Even earning her SCCA competition license and racing herself.
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When Was Linda Vaughn Born?
Linda Vaughn was born on August 11th, 1943 in Dalton, Georgia, United States. Linda Vaughn was the youngest of three children. At barely one-year-old her father split with her mother when he traveled north to Detroit to work in an automotive factory. Linda and her siblings were raised by their single mother.
Whilst in high school, she began a part-time job working as a dental technician. After graduating high school she began working at the dentistry full time but soon grew tired of it.
Here’s what Linda Vaughn had to say about it, “I thought at the time that my career would be in dentistry, but I was also really enjoying going to the races at Paradise Drag Strip in Calhoun, Georgia, with Jimmy and Huggie Hudgins, who had a top fuel dragster.”
Introduction to Motorsport
Linda Vaughn’s first boyfriend, Jimmy Newberry, drove a turquoise and white ’56 Chevrolet. After dating for a while, he taught her how to drive it, which ignited her interest in racing. It was through her boyfriend she was introduced to the car scene. He even started a local race at the local Dalton airport.
Reminiscing about their local racing event they put on at the airport, Linda Vaughn remembers, “We did well for a couple of summers. It was so much fun because guys from each town would hear about us and come over to try to beat us. But they had a hell of a time because we were that good. We whipped the hell out of Fords back then.”
Prior to earning the titles of Miss Georgia, Miss Georgia Poultry, Miss Atlanta Speedway, Queen of Speed, Miss Pontiac, Miss Pure Firebird and lastly, Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Linda Vaughn’s passion for racing was already deeply ingrained.
She described the sound of an engine roaring as “The greatest sound in the world … from a rough idle to full power — any kind, from a boat to a fuel dragster.”
Miss Queen of Speed at Atlanta International Raceway
Fed up of working as a dental technician, Vaughn entered a beauty contest, where much to her surprise, she won. Shortly after this in 1961, she entered another contest held by the Atlanta Raceway. Her boyfriend’s sister bought her an evening dress which she wore to the beauty contest. Linda Vaughn won again and was crowned “Miss Queen of Speed at Atlanta International Raceway” at the age of 18.
On top of the usual racing beauty queen jobs such as kissing the winning driver and handing out trophies, she was required to visit other race tracks in the south including Daytona, Charlotte, and Darlington. Her role was to represent Atlanta Raceway by displaying her sensuous charm in the pace car.
Miss Pure Firebird
After her years as Miss Atlanta Raceway came to an end, Linda Vaughn entered a beauty contest sponsored by Pure Oil Company. She again won and earned the title of “Miss Pure Firebird.” Linda managed to retain the title for 3.5 years. However, when Pure Oil merged with the Union Oil Company, she lost her job.
Miss Hurst Golden Shifter
Thinking that her career in the automotive industry was over, Linda Vaughn was reading an issue of Hot Rod Magazine when she discovered an advertisement from Hurst Performance. The article was advertising for a new attractive and knowledgeable Miss Hurst Golden Shifter.
Apparently, one of George Hurst’s prior models struggled to keep her false teeth from falling out, and so Hurst valued good teeth. Of course, Linda Vaughn being a formed dental hygienist had pearly whites.
Having read the advertisement, Linda decided to enter and beat 200 other entries to her long-standing title as “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter.” Apparently, it wasn’t just the pearly whites that persuaded George Hurst, but also her business acumen.
In an interview with Gary Witzenburg of Motor Trend Magazine, Linda Vaughn talked about her business sense:
“That’s why George Hurst loved me so, because I really sold the shifters. I am a marketing fanatic and very good at it, and I think that’s what has kept me there. The looks will open the door and get you in, but what keeps you there is how smart you are and what you bring to the pie. And I brought in a lot of racers and a lot of business. I sold millions of dollars’ worth of Hurst shifters all over the world.”
This was even reaffirmed by the marketing manager of General Motors, Fred Simmonds:
“Linda has a very keen business and promotional sense, probably more so than anyone I know. She never forgets anyone’s name and more often than not, can tell you where she first met you. She always takes care of racing fans, posing for photos at just the hint of a request. Being who she is, any American manufacturer would be proud to utilize her promotional talents, and many did just that. Having Linda as part of a company’s display at racing events or car shows automatically draws a large crowd.”
By the mid-1960s, her looks were not the only thing that caught the attention of many. Her personality was just as sweet as her smile. She willingly visited military bases and hospitals in Vietnam on different tours, providing the troops with a distraction from the horrors of the war and moral support. After her military tours, Linda Vaughn was being sent over 1,000 fan letters each week.
Introducing the Hurstettes
Due to her increasing demand, Hurst began hiring other blonde stunners to fill in at races which Linda couldn’t attend. These additional beauties became known as “Hurstettes.” At the more renowned racing events across the USA, Linda Vaughn was often joined with two or three Hurstettes, creating an image remembered by many.
Linda Vaughn on TV
On top of her role as Miss Hurst, Linda Vaughn was also a spokesmodel for Gratiot Auto Supply. She often appeared in their advertisements displayed in the various car magazines of the 1970s. Vaughn also had her first introduction to TV, where she featured in Gatriot’s commercials aired across Detroit.
Hollywood also took notice of Linda Vaughn’s ever-growing assets, where she was cast in the film Gumball Rally (1976) and Stroker Ace (1983) starring Burt Reynolds.
Linda Vaughn Racing
Linda Vaughn didn’t only experience racing as a trophy queen. She earned her SCAA competition license at the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving and momentarily competed. By the early 1980s, Linda took a step away from the automotive scene.
It wasn’t until 1987 when she re-entered the auto world as Vice President of Public Relations for Mr. Gasket Performance Group. Most notably, she was named in the Drag Racing Hall of Fame and was titled the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s (SEMA) Person of the Year.
Linda Vaughn Today
Today, Linda Vaughn is still highly involved and loved within the racing world. Often making appearances at auto shows and races across the USA. Only this time not as a race queen, but as a much-loved icon.