Lady Linda Vaughn during her...
Lady Linda Vaughn during her reign as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter.
The contrast couldn't be more pronounced. Here he is, just off the track, winner of a heated, dirty, dust-choking, and dangerous dash to victory-his life momentarily focused solely on the chase, the split-second management of motor and momentum.
His once-white racing suit is pasted with grease and grime and his helmet-a Cromwell job-probably sports chunks of clay. About his eyes, he bears the raccoon-like outline of his goggles, his cheeks and brow blasted with track grit.
Composed, gracious, radiant, statuesque-often attired in swimwear revealing long, slender, and smooth legs. Her hair is neatly coiffed and sometimes she wears a sparkling tiara. Sometimes she appears, wraith-like, in a long evening dress. She is clean, bright, and shining in white.
In 1953, Kathleen Hughes posed...
In 1953, Kathleen Hughes posed for famed Hot Rod photographer Eric Rickman on the Salt at Bonneville.
She brings the totems of recognition to our hero driver: a trophy, a bouquet, and a kiss.
This enduring motor racing ritual was played out with dignity, style, and sincere enthusiasm in the emerging years of drag racing, after, for many years, being a mainstay part of the show in circle-track racing.
For some of the young women, like a stunning and leggy 19-year-old named Raquel Tejada or a radiant blonde, Barbara Huffman, the trophy girl gig was just a way station on the path to bigger stardom. The finish line ritual was a natural way to be seen and photographed.
Raquel Tejada, who went on to stunning film and modeling success as Raquel Welch, often posed in the late '50s with midget race car winners at Balboa Stadium in San Diego. Barbara Huffman became Barbara Eden and enjoyed years as a TV star on "I Dream of Jeannie." She was a gracious and willing participant in any number of hot rod expositions and drag races in Southern California.
For some of the dozens and dozens of young women who graced the finish line and provided the winning hardware on tracks all about America, the enthusiasm was often engendered by the thrill of the sport itself.
Don Cameron won a midget main...
Don Cameron won a midget main event at Balboa Stadium in the late '50s and received the trophy from a stunningly beautiful 19-year-old model named Raquel Tejada-later to become, of course, Raquel Welch.
After all, it was plain ol' Southern-style drag racin', hot roddin', and car clubs-in this case the Ravenettes of Dalton, Georgia-that launched the career of Linda Vaughn, Queen of Queens, a statuesque icon who brought glamour, verve, star quality, and a powerful business acumen and management style to American drag racing.
"Honey, it was rock 'n' roll and racin'. This was America in the '50s," Vaughn reminisced. "Jimmy Newberry- he was the first boy I ever kissed-was in the Road Ravens hot rod club; but they had a no-women rule, so we just started our own club, the Ravenettes-just '55, '56 and '57 Chevys. I had a '57 Bel Air two-door with a Hurst shifter and a lighter from Honest Charlie's Speed Shop, five dollars down and five dollars a week.
"I loved cars, and wanted to take shop, but didn't have the money for the uniforms."
But the stunning Ms. Vaughn was looking beyond Dalton. She became a dental hygienist and found time to enter every beauty contest she could. And she stopped 'em cold at their tracks and raceways.
NHRA division director and...
NHRA division director and wizard track announcer Bernie Partridge took time at the '56 NHRA Kansas City Nationals to pose with some racing hardware and a model named Barbara Huffman.
By 1961, she was Miss Atlanta Raceway, where she cut a standout figure at the podium, in the pits, and aboard pace cars. In 1962, she was Miss Pontiac, and she was Miss Pure Firebird from 1963 to 1966. In addition to the circle-track scene, she was an enthusiastic fan at Southern drag races, where she met and smoothly made firsthand acquaintances with big-time Top Fuel racers like Don Garlits and Art Malone.
Between racetrack gigs, some trophy queens would retire to the makeup trailer or their suites, out of sight, away from the infernal noise and heat-but not Miss Linda.
Garlits remembers Vaughn-probably farther back than either would like to admit.
"Well, she was always right there in the pits," recalled the great Garlits. "But you know I met her first way back in 1951. Me and my good buddy, Greg Pickel, drove up the Dalton from Chattanooga. We were at this local garage, Furman Chevrolet, and she and her sister rode up on bicycles. We had a '38 Ford club coupe, and Greg and I invited the two girls to the local drive-in movie.
"Well, of course I completely forgot about this, but Linda didn't forget. At a banquet many years later, she reminded the audience-and me-that Greg and I had taken her and her sister to a movie those many years ago. I was totally floored.
Mary Ellen Simon was the trophy...
Mary Ellen Simon was the trophy queen when Oakland's Tommy Grove won Super Stock honors in the Melrose Missile III Plymouth at the third annual Winternationals drags at Pomona in February 1963.
"I knew she was a queen for NASCAR racing but was so glad when she started with drag racing. Our best memory with Linda was when me and (Art) Malone won the '84 Nationals at Indy. Here we were, two old dinosaurs in a three-year-old car we took out of the museum, Swamp Rat 26, and we won the whole thing-and best of all, Linda gave us the winning trophy!"
Vaughn, her moxie, her knockout beauty, her brains, and her business sense created an integral element in the most successful marketing and image campaign in American hot rodding history: Miss Hurst Golden Shifter.
Like an iconic idol, she was seen at huge national drag meets throughout the late '60s and early '70s riding a platform at the rear deck of a Pontiac convertible. Attired in a spangled swimsuit, she gingerly embraced a tall golden shifter as she cruised the length of the raceway, smiling, waving, and winning friends. George Hurst drove the convertible. They were a team.
"It was at Daytona that I first saw that Hurst Golden Shifter and he had some ugly old brunette there as the shifter lady," Vaughn said. "I went right over to him and said, 'You need someone like me.'
The late Evelyn Tocchini stands...
The late Evelyn Tocchini stands next to Frank Livingston's custom Chevy during a Car Craft shoot just prior to the 1958 Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland, CA.
"He cracked up and when he saw me next at Daytona, he said, 'Hey, there, hot shot'-that's what he always called me."
By '66, she was Miss Hurst Shifter
The Shifter enterprise blossomed when Vaughn helped bring aboard Gas Ronda and the Ford Super Stock team.
"I was a company employee when I first started with George, but he came to believe in my gray matter, especially when I sold Ford the shifter concept," Vaughn said.
Drifting into a bittersweet reverie, Vaughn still harbors major questions about George's death, ostensibly by suicide in 1986.
"He was a genius, you know, invented the Jaws of Life, saved a lot of people's lives."
Vaughn, of course, is on the road most of the year, a golden memory maker who draws thousands of fans to car shows and expositions.
The wildest drag racer she met?
"Jimmy Nix-and, well, 'Jungle Jim' Lieberman. Garlits was not wild, but wise. Snake and McEwen were great showmen. Paul Candies was the best owner, and the nicest gentleman on any track was Paul Schiefer, the clutch guy."
Karen Jensen was a "starlet"...
Karen Jensen was a "starlet" when she posed with the Grassi Bros. & Stich AA/F Fiat altered coupe in San Francisco in the early '60s.
"I was at the U.S. Nationals at Indy going down the straight and my bra strap broke. The safety pin I carried in my purse was locked in the car, but no disaster. No wardrobe failure. I carried it off."
"Without a doubt, Barbara Parks."
Parks, who, with Wally Parks, helped found and guide the NHRA during its earliest years in the '50s and see it grow into a world-class automotive sanctioning and racing organization, died in January 2006.
Louise Mueller-O'Neill is a tall, green-eyed beauty from San Diego who, in the late '50s, was the model of choice for energetic photographer Bob Hardee.
Hardee, a San Diego bus driver, was a tireless freelancer with a burning passion for motorsports. He documented racing action from Balboa Stadium to Paradise Mesa and covered car shows and the local rodding scene for Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines. Hardee was easily identifiable at any event with his crisp white trousers, curly hair, and Speed Graphic camera, one equipped with twin side-mount flash attachments.
The greatest of America's...
The greatest of America's trophy queens, Linda Vaughn, joined forces with George Hurst as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter in 1966.
"I did it for the good of the program," recalled Mueller-O'Neill, whose statuesque figure has graced many a street and strip coupe-sometimes in a leopard skin swimsuit, sometimes in a long cocktail dress. "I have a true love of cars, and the work they represent on the part of their owners. They are truly treasures."
Mueller-O'Neill, who went to Sweetwater High (to which she often drove her dad's Model A coupe), first garnered attention as Queen of the National City Fire Department and was seen at the Fiesta del Pacifico, where she met Hardee.
"He was a gentleman in every way, " she recalled. "In our time people were more gentle; I've never had any trouble. Everyone I ever dealt with was always respectful."
She also has fond memories of Garlits. "He was friendly and down to earth. He'd make way at any race to walk across the track and say hello."
Mueller-O'Neill never collected payment for any of her activities as a trophy queen and model. She was a dental technician when she met U.S. Navy pilot John P. O'Neill, a 26-year combat aviator who eventually flew more than 200 missions. They married and raised two children-Kevin, an engineer, and Erin, a schoolteacher who's won more than 40 trophies with her '65 Mustang show car
Film starlet June Wilkinson...
Film starlet June Wilkinson imparts some forward motion for the Chrisman Brothers and Cannon dragster, circa 1959.
And Mueller-O'Neill's funniest moment?
"Well, we were at Paradise Mesa and it was a scorching hot day. Bob wanted me to pose with a beautiful '40 Ford coupe. I nonchalantly backed to the car and immediate jumped and yelled. It was hot!
Lou Ann Wallen's storybook life reads like an American Dream plot from a '50s film: She met and fell in love with her husband-to-be, Richard, who had a job at Curries Ice Cream parlor in then-bucolic Redlands, California. His buddy at the ice cream shop was a lean and handsome young man who harbored a burning passion to race cars. He had the unlikely stage name of Troy Ruttman.
Her husband-to-be also had a drive for racing, particularly in midgets and Sprinters, which roared around the nearby Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino
He had several friends in racing, and began working on a midget owned by another fast young man, Rodger Ward. At 19, he took out his chauffeur license and decided to go racing himself.
In his first race, there was a tragic accident. A driver was killed. Young Dick Wallen changed course and decided instead to document this exciting phase of grassroots racing in America. He became a very successful filmmaker, publisher, and historian. In 1954, Lou Ann and Dick Wallen got married.
Model Pat Harris poses with...
Model Pat Harris poses with a '32 coupe for a magazine shot in the mid-'50s.
Because of the pair's presence in this racing culture, she became a trophy queen, cutting a distinctive figure in the company of some of the greatest racers of our time.
"My first big trophy appearance was at Ascot in 1960," she said. "Don Bazile, who was [J. C. Agajanian's] right-hand man, came over and asked if I'd be the trophy girl. We wore bathing suits-no bikinis-and high heels, which constantly got stuck in the Ascot mud."
Reminiscing about her days in the company of not-quite-yet-legendary drivers named Bettenhausen, Rutherford, Foyt, and Parnelli, Wallen recalled that drivers and their wives were all part of a small family.
Still getting to know these young chargers, she remembers picking a young A.J. Foyt as a race favorite because his photo was "cutest" in the program.
She and Richard traveled extensively in those years, attending Sprint and champ car races in Terre Haute and Langhorne.
And who were the greatest racers she saw?
"Oh, I'd pull for all of them, but Parnelli Jones was my hero of the time and A.J., well, he just started out as a superstar."
Three portraits from among literally hundreds of racing's trophy queens in the '50s and '60s, a seminal time in American drag racing and motorsports. And while the racing was a bit on the rough side, the trophy girls brought beauty, dignity, and a nice sparkle to the trackside proceedings.
Northern California drag racer...
Northern California drag racer Dennis Baca kept his eyes on the prize when posing with Barbara Roufs, queen of the 6th annual U.S. Professional Dragster Championship at Orange County International Raceway.
Harris' stunning pose wows...
Harris' stunning pose wows the kids and gets the glitter for this beautiful Deuce coupe in 1956.
Pat Harris added zoom-zoom...
Pat Harris added zoom-zoom to Don Menard's lakes competition coupe at the San Diego Ramblers Ramblerama in 1956.
Here Harris checks out the...
Here Harris checks out the Don Menard lakes racing coupe, taken in 1956 at the San Diego Ramblers' Ramblerama.
Art Chrisman gets the glamour...
Art Chrisman gets the glamour treatment with his famed Chrisman Brothers #25 car at Paradise Mesa in January 1955.
British actress June Wilkinson...
British actress June Wilkinson was an avid motorsports enthusiast who was often seen at drag races and sports car events in the early '60s.
Mueller-O'Neill knew how to...
Mueller-O'Neill knew how to add sparkle and glamour to the chrome and paint. Taken at Paradise Mesa in 1954.
A dozen dazzling beauties...
A dozen dazzling beauties graced the famed Kopper Kart custom at the 1959 San Diego Autorama.
Louise Mueller-O'Neill with...
Louise Mueller-O'Neill with a slick little A Model-replete with hopped-up four-banger.
Mueller-O'Neill was a statuesque...
Mueller-O'Neill was a statuesque San Diego stunner who had a natural affinity for cars-and the camera.
Mueller-O'Neill with Lyle...
Mueller-O'Neill with Lyle Fisher and Don Maynard and their top eliminator Speed Sport Special, Tucson, AZ, circa 1959.
There is still only one #1,...
There is still only one #1, and, in our eyes, we believe it's Linda!
Linda Vaughn with Tom Hanna...
Linda Vaughn with Tom Hanna (left) and the late Jack Williams with the Warren and Crowe dragster at the 1966 Bakersfield March meet.