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Guess Who I Bumped Into?

Guess Who I Bumped Into?

In the late 1960s and into the mid-1970s, the Hurst Corporation (based in Pennsylvania) heavily promoted its line of speed parts, accessories and limited edition cars (usually Oldsmobiles) in a manner most males could appreciate: showgirls!

Linda (Miss Hurst Shifter) Vaughn was the best known of the bunch. Blonde and buxom, and blessed with a heart of gold, she quickly struck a rapport with both racecar drivers and fans the world over. Well, maybe not with jealous wives or girlfriends, but you get the picture.

Anyway, the Hurst girls responsibilities included maneuvering themselves lavishly on the show cars, handing out literature, signing autographs, and having pictures taken with show-goers and celebrities. In other words, not a bad life. They also got to be in the winners’ circle at racing events, giving the top driver his trophy and a huge smooch.

Truth be told, my first “crush” in life was Hurst gal, Nikki Phillips. She finished in the top 15 contestants in the Miss USA pageant in 1970 when representing the District of Columbia. A few years later she was hired by George Hurst to represent his firm with the other gals.

Nikki had darker hair than the other “Hurstettes.” And was taller and leaner. She was the “Bambi” of the bunch because the others were older. Linda has said she took the newbies under her wing, and kept them in order like a mother figure. That figures.

Every week I’d be at the newsstand looking for racing magazines with her picture in it! Usually, however, it was Linda Vaughn getting the limelight. So, how ironic is it that at this year’s Chrysler Carlisle show I bump into Miss Shifter Linda in the parking lot!

After giving her many thanks for all her years of dedication to motorsports, and asking her how her health was (she missed last year due to medical problems), I had to ask the most vital question on my mind at that particular moment. “Linda, please tell me whatever happened to your Hurst mate, Nikki Phillips.”

You’re going to have to wait for her response to me.

So, at 10 years old, long before Lori, Lisa and Lillian in junior high school, I’m infatuated with a “20 something” girl that gets paid to go from show to show and race to race. Oh, and graces the pages of racing publications and Hurst calendars and parts posters.

I probably should have written the Hurst Company in Warminster (just down the road) for an autographed 8″ x 10″ glossy of Nikki, but I figured they wouldn’t bother to deal with me since I couldn’t even drive yet! To compensate, I cut out pictures of her and put them on my cork bulletin board.

My mother felt this wasn’t a “healthy relationship,” let alone a long distance one. She encouraged me to drop Drag Racing and Super Stock magazines and instead peruse Boys’ Life and Sports Illustrated. Nothing doing. This is a free country, and I could read whatever I wanted to. Hey, I didn’t plaster my walls with Jungle Pam, did I? (Google this other drag maiden).

Mothers don’t like their little boys lusting after pretty girls in scant outfits and white go-go boots, do they? Any male with a pulse knew some boots weren’t just made for walking. The song even says so!

May 27, 1972, marked a milestone in my life, as I turned a decade old on that date. It also marked a special occasion for the Hurst company, as they specially prepared a limited edition Oldsmobile pace car for the Indy 500 race in both coupe and convertible.

The pace car had numerous decals on the side, and yes, included the special date of May 27 on both flanks. Footnote: Linda Vaughn handed the keys to the winner of the race, Mark Donohue. (Told you she was getting all the spotlight).

On a cool Spring Saturday, I stroll into the newsstand at the Loyal Plaza and find Hurst girls Linda, June, and Nikki staring at me from the cover of a car magazine. SOLD! Not just any car, it’s the Oldsmobile pace car! I practically ran home to read it! (And see the pictures).

One of the magazines actually did a one-page story on Nikki. She was no dummy — actually pursuing a masters degree in biology. The Hurst circuit was helping pay the school loans. Even at age 10, that impressed me, as I liked frogs, dolphins, and nature in general.

As time progressed, the automotive media made a big to-do around 1973-1974 about Linda Vaughn’s marriage to Billy Tidwell, a drag racer, and business owner. She later divorced him. Meanwhile, by the mid-’70s, Nikki fell out of the picture(s) literally. She wasn’t doing car shows or races anymore, where did she go?

Back to Linda in the parking lot. She’s diabetic and has had a stent put in due to some heart ailments. She sold one of her rare Hurst cars back in 2014 that generated almost $500,000 for cancer research. And here she is, standing next to me, in massive heat and humidity — at age 75!

I figured she would know what became of Nikki and what she accomplished after the Hurst stint. Her other partner, June Cochran died. So I waited anxiously for her reply. “I really don’t know,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “She never came to any reunions or other events.” Subsequent internet searches proved the same thing. No one can pinpoint where she ended up. Strange to me.

Although I was talking to a female Motorsport icon (she always loved cars and actually raced for a short time), in my eyes, so many years ago, Nikki still stole the show. Even back then, grown men loved Linda and drag racing as much as life itself. Linda wants it to be known she wasn’t a “glamour girl,” but rather, “company spokeswoman.” She spoke to me with style and grace; if I were holding a trophy she would have kissed me!

Nikki Philips always seemed to play second fiddle next to Linda and June (R.I.P.). But not in my rankings. If someone, anyone, knows if Nikki became a teacher, a biologist, pass the info on to me. And perhaps to Linda as well.

Just at the cusp of adolescence, life sometimes felt stuck in neutral. That is until flashy cars and Hurst girls “shifted” many of us into a higher gear. Legions of baby boomers feel those were the best of times and aren’t afraid to admit it.

Proof in the pudding? I never saved a single copy of Boys’ Life. Routine and boring. On the other hand, I have thousands of car magazines from every decade. Sorry, Mom.


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  • Bruce Haegerich
    December 28, 2018, 1:08 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more Nikki was fantastic. Don’t know where you live but Linda Vaughn is at a car show in Ridgley Md every year in October signing autographs, pictures and copies of her book. I even made a plaque with one of my old shifters and got her to sign that for me. Great story though

  • Mark Williamson
    December 31, 2018, 7:07 pm

    Nikki is doing quite well. She got her PhD and became a research scientist. Got married, had kids and is now a grandmother and artist.

  • Ric
    March 3, 2020, 4:44 pm

    Superb article ! I am a huge fan of Nikki as well. Someone must know what happened to her ?

  • James Elkins II
    July 18, 2020, 3:34 pm

    Thanks a bunch for the Updates on Miss Nikki. So Glad to hear she is doing well.
    I am a hugely devoted-fan of her as well… All Hail Miss Hurst "Speed" Nikki Phillips! She is a Goddess. 😉

  • Fred Foss
    June 9, 2021, 12:07 am

    gary, i"m a bit older. i was introdest to nikki at a hurst into at 70 or 72 indy nhra drags, we talked a lot and and i did was in a dream for weeks.she was in school in maryland. i live in michigan hauling oil. but since i had an addess i sent a dozen long stem red roses.then called. sure glad i was payed well.summers worked with drag cars. working on a coke camero with a buddy from school when nikki showed buddies wife was in the camper,hears nikki ,has her come in for buddy asked if i knew his wife is still trying to get me married.when nikki left she told me to call. did you know some unmarried 35 year old guys are reeely chicken. but i did call!! think about her a lot over the years.glad shes doing well,and linda also .little kid still plays with cars when i can. 84 year old kid still remembers nikki!!