"Women's lib writers came after me a few years back," said Linda Vaughn.
On her deepest inhalation, Dolly Parton would be no match for Linda Vaughn. For women's lib writers aiming at Linda, she presents large targets.
"They all said, 'Oh, you're being exploited by those dirty men in stock-car racing,'" Vaughn said.
As she spoke, she wore a T-shirt giving its all in its duty to cover the queens of stock car racing. She also wore cut-off jeans cut off short-short.
"I'm a woman," Vaughn said, "and I'm glad of it. I love it. I love being treated like a woman and I told those libbers I did and I told them if I burned my bra, I'd be in big trouble."
She had said that line before. You could tell. She smiled and waited for the image of a roaring conflagration to come and go.
Then she said, "Sure, I sell sex. What is advertising without sex? Look at Joe Namath's legs and look at what he did for pantyhose. You know what they did in Detroit once? They put my head on Joe Namath's body for a commercial -- and then they put Joe's head on my body.
"And some women libbers think I shouldn't be exploited?
"Me, I'm Linda Vaughn and I'm a woman and I'm a businesswoman. I know what I'm doing."
She is getting rich being Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, the tangible if untouchable ("I am sexy," she said, "but respectfully sexy") representation of What Stock Car Racing Is All About.
More than 100,000 people will come to Daytona International Speedway for Sunday's $588,000 Daytona 500-mile stock car race.
They will not be mistaken for a Super Bowl crowd.
"The impressive thing about the Super Bowl," said Beano Cook, the sardonic CBS-TV publicity man/sociologist, "is that it is a great family affair. It's so nice to see so many fathers taking their daughters to the game."
The Super Bowl is glitter, the Daytona 500 is grit. They fly in by corporate jet for Pete Rozelle's wretched excess; they roll down in four-wheel-drive trucks for Bill France's mobile picnic. At the Super Bowl, they wear silk to eat in elegance at parties Gatsby would have loved; they dress up at Daytona by tucking in their T-shirts before going to Mac's Famous Bar, where they can watch race films over a pizza.
The Super Bowl is a social occasion. Save for the 30,000 or 40,000 fans of the participating teams, the customers are expense-account creatures and wouldn't know Jack Lambert if he bit their earrings. The average Super Bowl witness spends the first half wonderling if his yacht is developing barnacles and the second worrying about the shine of his manicure.
Stock car racing's fans know their game. They come with grease under their fingernails. They come in Ford caps and STP jackets and they say things like, "Richard's getting squirrely out there 'cause he's pushin' in One and he's scrubbin' up blisters," and everybody knows what that means.
Stock car racing is direct. No subtlety here. It is a sensual experience. The cars are thunder on wheels. The explosions of an internal combustion engine pound against a spectator's chest. The smell of burning rubber and fuel is another part of the bond that ties the spectator so securely to his game. He hears the roar, his eyes are filled with blurred colors, all his senses brought alive. It is life in the fast lane and if the Super Bowl types sneer at racing as a murderous spectacle, it yet answers a basic need in some people -- the need to be free.
They leave gas pumps to come here, they leave body shops and garages, dirt-track speedways and truck-stop diners. The automobile set free the common man of the South in the '30s, giving him an escape from the drudgery of a hard life. And the car made some of them a living in the bootlegging business. They souped up the cars to outrun the federal revenue agents and on Sundays they took them to a race track.
"Some ol' state trooper ran me 39 times," an old-time driver, Curtis Turner, once said of moonshine-runnin' chases through the hills of Virginia, bullets whistling about his car. "But he never came close. I used to talk to that ol' trooper and he'd say, 'I'm gonna catch you if it's the last thing I do.' Later, that ol' boy committed suicide and some people say it was because he could never cxatch me. I don't know about that, but 39 times sure's a lot."
The good ol' boys threw down their whiskey and beer, kept their women in their place and worked honest days in sawmills and cotton fields. Fiercely proud of their heritage, they were independent souls who believe a man got what was coming to him, no more, no less. By racing, they rebelled against the commonplace.
So did Linda Vaughn. A daughter of poor dirt farmers in Dalton, Ga., she lied about her age to enter a beauty contest in Atlanta. "I was 16, but I looked to be 19, 20," she said. "I wanted to own my own clothes and to travel."
Of 200 girls, Vaughn was chosen Miss Atlanta Raceway.
A year later, 1962, she became Miss Firebird, the darling of an oil company, and in 1966 she went to work for the Hurst company, which sells transmission shifters and speed equipment. She makes 150 appearances a year in connection with car racing, does television and radio commercials and has appeared in one movie (and turned down 50 other, "all silly, sexy things"). Her income is said to be more than $100,000 a year.
She now lives in Laguna Beach, Calif.
Some kind of dumb, right?
No one thought it was too smart in 1933 when a banker's son left Washington, D.C., to go racing cars on a beach.
Today, from Bill France's office, Turn Four of the massive Daytona International Speedway looms tall in a window. The track is part of France's multi-million-dollar racing empire, a creation that began in the late '20s on a 1 1/8mile board speedway at Laurel, Md. France sneaked away from home in a Model T touring car to race on the 2-x-6 and 2-x-8 boards.
"Daddy never understood why the tires on his car were always worn out," France said.
The blizzard of '33 convinced the young France his future, as a racer and mechanic, lay in the warm sand of Daytona Beach, already a mecca of speed thanks to the world-speed record attempts on the beach by Sir Malcolm Campbell and his Bluebird car. In 1936 France finished fifth in Daytona Beach's first race on the city's long, hard, wide beach.
"Fifth paid $300," France said, "and I was tickled to death. I was living then in a furnished cottage for $13.50 a month."
A dozen years later, France, who had taken over promoting the beach races before World War II intervened, was the moving force in forming the first stock-car racing circuit -- the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). In 1978, NASCAR events drew 1.5 million spectators and paid drivers $4.8 million.
Nominally a cooperative association, NASCAR in reality was France's fiefdom. He ruled by decree and often infuriated the competitors with his constant tinkering with the rules. Always his tinkering was done with a single idea: to keep everyone on the same lap.If a team showed a sudden superiority, France sought out the reasons why -- and changed the rules to bring that team back to the pack.
Even today, asked to explain why the Daytona 500 will draw more spectators than any U.S. sporting event except the Indianapolis 500, France says, "It is the closest and best competition in any kind of motorized sports."
There is another appeal, France says.
"The fans have rooting interest. The Ford fans root for David Pearson (who drives a Mercury), the Chrysler fans rooted for (Richard) Petty (who, in desperation, has now switched to General Motors' Oldsmobile). The fans know their family cars are not as finely prepared as Pearson's and Petty's are, but they still hold their shoulders back if their car wins a race."
At bottom, France said, is this:
"In their heart, everybody feels he's about the best driver that ever came down the road. I felt sure I was. I'm sure you feel you're a pretty good driver. So everyone gets a certain fascination from looking at something we think we could do better than the stars. Now, I know that with my physical setup, I ain't built like a football player and I ain't going to get at the bottom of any pileup. But I can drive a car."
As a trade show here, Linda Vaughn was autographing posters of herself and a young guy said, "Would you sign it special for me? Make it 'To Carol, eat your heart out.'"
"No, I won't do that," Vaughn said, smiling all the while. "Racing ladies are my friends, too, and I wouldn't want my husband coming home with a poster that said that on it. You'll find out one thing about me, fella. I get along with women, too."
Like Bill France, Ralph Jones can drive a car. As a kid, he tore up the conutry roads around Upton, a town of maybe 600 farmers in central Kentucky. Wasn't much else to do and Jones figured he was pretty good at driving and so, after going to college and getting a master's degree, he went to racing some when he wasn't teaching school.
"It's immature, I guess, but I always liked to drive race cars and I wanted to be thought of as a race car driver," he said.
You've never heard of Ralph Jones. He is 35 years old and has been racing for about 15 years, with no particular success, mostly on the bullrings within an easy drive of Upton. He's never made any money at it. Lost lots of money. The car he is racing here at Daytona probably cost him $20,000 to put together and run last year; he won back about $8,000.
For every Richard Petty and David Pearson, millionaires in a hero's suit, a thousand Ralph Joneses go around in circles without reward. Among them, Buddy Arrington, Cecil Gordon, J. D. McDuffie and Frank Warren have run 1,429 NASCAR races -- and have not won a single time.
"But those guys at least make a living at it or they wouldn't keep at it," Jones said. "A guy like me shouldn't even be out here. I've got no money and no sponsor and no way to pay crew people what they need. I'll spend $1,300 on tires and that ain't enough. The high-bucks boys will go through $8,000 worth."
Like Linda Vaughn, Ralph Jones in no dummy.
"I oughta be at home right now," he said the other day.
Instead, he was in ecstasy.
By finishing 12th in a qualifying race, Jones had earned a spot in the field for the Daytona 500.
"This is my biggest thrill ever," he said.
Ambivalence owned him.
"It's like being an alcoholc," Jones said. "You know it's not good for you, but you keep doing it, anyway."
"It's hard to explain. It's a thrill. Much like sky-diving is a thrill, I guess. It's exhilarating. I just don't know how to put it. But there's a thrill to it I don't get anyplace else.
"That's why I haven't quit, really. I tried to quit once, but it didn't take. I had some friends running races and pretty soon I got the bug back. I can't do it full time. My living has to be made at home with my building supply business. I just hope I can keep the driving in perspective and not get over my budget. This is a very expensive sport."
Then Jones confessed that his budget was a shambles.
"Frankly, I've spent too much here. But what are you going to do? We're here to run with the best. If we'd qualified for the 500 and blown an engine doing it, we'd have to buy a new one, wouldn't we?"
Jones once was the mayor of Upton and his wife, Martha, teaches English at Hardin County High School and he has two children, Ted, 5, and Joy, 10 months. He first raced in a '50 Plymouth at Bonnieville Speedway, on "a little ol' dirt track," and however responsible he is in his community and family he yet chases racer bumpers in circles, looking, always looking, "for that little extra to go beyond what I am. If you could ever be really successful, get a lot of wins behind you, that would be the time to quit."
A man came by. "Ralph Jones? Follow me, please, CBS wants to film you for the Sunday telecast of the race."
In front of the camera, Jones stood solemnly until the CBS man said, "Ralph, smile some."
Jones' smile lit the dark corners of Daytona.
"All pro football coaches are right-wingers," said Beano Cook, the CBS imp. "If the NFI folded, all 28 coaches would go to Argentina, find Hitler and start the Fourth Reich."
In that case, stock car racing's fans would be ready for battle.
Billy Carter was a guest of large honor at the race two years ago. He spent the day hefting beer cans. Bill France did a lot of politicing for George Wallace in his last two campaigns for president. With women like Linda Vaughn seen as objects of reward, with racers like Ralph Jones seen as outlaws legitimate only by their own agreement and not society's, stock car racing has been judged a haven for rednecks, grease-monkeys and motorized hillbillies.
"All I know," France said of his customers, "is that when we play The Star-Spangled Banner, they all stand up and cheer. They're pretty good Americans."
The work ethic lives in stock car racing. David Pearson grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., wanting nothing more than to drive a wrecker. He spent $60 on his first race car, a 1940 Ford coach, and his first paycheck was $5.22.
"What really gets me hot," Pearson says today, nearly $2 million in prizes later, "is welfare, taxes and food stamps. Too many people aren't interested in working because they can do better in the welfare line. The cities counties and states should get them off their butts and put them to wotk. The American people's taxes are paying them to sit on their butts."
"If people work as hard as we did, and lay it it on the line like we did, then $850 ain't enough pay," Ralph Jones said of the money his 12th place finish produced the other day. "It ought to be enough (so) I could at least eat a big supper. That $850 won't even pay for my tires."
Asked how she handles questions about her measurements, Linda Vaughn said, "I'm 5-feet-7 1/2, blond-haired, blue-eyed and I work hard." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Fiery Crash And Escape
Flames envelop Joe Frasson's car (above) after racer hit wall on the fourth lap of a scheduled 300-miler at Daytona International Speedway.
Frasson (right), who suffered only minor injuries in the eight-car accident, makes a fast exit. All other drivers except Don Williams also escaped serious injury.
Williams, from Madison, Fla., was listed in critical condition at a local hospital with head and chest injuries.
Story, Page D4. Associated Press photos; Picture 3 through 7, The Daytona "500"