Thank goodness she had her own teeth.
Linda Vaughn’s career soared as the iconic and shapely Miss Hurst Golden Shifter and few probably admired her teeth. Or, as Corky Coker, past president of SEMA and president of Coker Tire, told Vaughn during the 2012 roast honoring her in Indianapolis, “I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that is a male that knows what color your eyes are.”
But back in 1966, teeth were important to George Hurst. One of his prior models, Vaughn told The Shop’s Jim Maxwell, struggled to keep her false teeth from slipping out. And Vaughn also happened to be a registered dental hygienist. Hurst might not have known that, but he suspected she could be the right one for the job when he advertised in Hot Rod Magazine for an attractive, outgoing, knowledgeable representative — with impressive teeth.
Hurst encouraged her to reply to the ad and she did. But what he discovered — besides the fact she brought her mother, “Mama Mae” Vaughn Jeffcoat, as a chaperone — is that Vaughn had an incredibly strong business sense. She traveledfrom Georgia to California for the interview armed with a truly pleasant surprise — a well-thought-out business proposal.
“That’s why George Hurst loved me so, because I really sold the shifters,” Vaughn said in an interview with Gary Witzenburg in Motor Trend magazine. “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.”
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Fred Simmonds, for years the marketing manager at General Motors, said, “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.”
Along the way, Vaugn became a star across motorsports divides — in NASCAR, Indy car racing and in drag racing, where her love of quick and fast race cars first smoldered. And for her decades of dedication, Vaughn, 75, will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame March 11-12.
Hot Rods, Ravenettes & Beating Those Fords
Blame it all on (or credit) Jimmy Newberry. He had the most seductive turquoise-and-white ’56 Chevrolet. It was the living end. Then the ’57 Chevys rolled out and they were definite chariots. He was the cat to hang out with at Bobby’s Drive-In down in Dalton, Ga., the carpet-making capital of the free world. And Linda Vaughn was smitten.
She said she “fell madly in love with his new ’57 Chevy — and with him.”
When she reminisces about her teenage years, Vaughn can picture the town’s main street choc-a-block with mid-50s Chevys, then the parking lot at Bobby’s Drive-In, where the car crowd congregated on Friday nights. That’s where she said she “learned how to hang out with the guys,” rustling up some fried chicken for them as they tinkered with their hot rods and hatching a plan to form an all-girls car club.
The Dalton gang adopted the name Road Ravens, so the gals called themselves The Ravenettes. And they were whipping up a dynamic scene in the Southeast like fellows such as Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Larry Dixon, Ed Pink, Tim Beebe and John Mulligan were doing on the West Coast.
The Ravenettes and the Road Ravens, naturally, wanted to compete, so Newberry started a venture that rented a local airport in Dalton and had his sister working the books and Vaughn selling tickets.
“We did well for a couple summers. It was so much fun, because guys from each town would hear about us and come over to try to beat us,” she told Witzenburg. “But they had a hell of a time, because we were that good. We whipped the hell out of Fords back then.”
Before she was Miss Georgia, Miss Georgia Poultry, Miss Atlanta Speedway, Queen of Speed, Miss Pontiac, Miss Pure Firebird and, finally, Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Vaughn’s heart sped to the beat of a race-car engine.
She called it “the greatest sound in the world … from a rough idle to full power — any kind, from a boat to a fuel dragster.