- August 10, 2022
This story should make your engines rev. My tachometer surely hit the redline, and should give anyone hope in finding an idol from youth that they never got the chance to meet. Several issues ago, I penned a story about Nikki Phillips, my favorite Hurst show car gal when growing up. At age 10 I
This story should make your engines rev. My tachometer surely hit the redline, and should give anyone hope in finding an idol from youth that they never got the chance to meet.
Several issues ago, I penned a story about Nikki Phillips, my favorite Hurst show car gal when growing up. At age 10 I had a crush on her — she was a ripe 25 at the time and traveling to drag strips and auto shows promoting Hurst speed products and automobiles.
I wondered out loud whatever happened to her. Now, I can share with all of you what she has been up to. Nikki didn’t let me down; she’s a very interesting and hard working person. Read on!
Avid reader and friend, Tracy Clary, texted me just a few days after the story. “I found your Hurst girl,” she said. I was quite pessimistic, since no one at the shows I attend knew her whereabouts. Tracy forwarded my story to Nikki via Facebook. Nikki said “it made her day,” and was happy she was being remembered. Not only that, she was going to call me!
The next day, I spoke to Nikki O’Neill for about an hour. The conversation spanned from the present back to the heyday Hurst days. It was both a surprise and honor that a nationally known “living legend” would take time to contact me! Hey, I just had a school boy “crush” on her. We didn’t partake in lucrative business dealings or have her kiss my cheek in a winners circle.
My first question posed to her was why she left the car show and drag racing scene at her zenith. “I was getting my doctorate degree and became pregnant around that time. It was impossible to continue the racing venues,” she said.
Nikki is a sprite 71 years young now, and has several children and grand children. She has been married once, and happily for 45 years to one lucky guy. How did a Miss USA contestant meet her husband to be?
“I was on a date with one of his fraternity brothers,” she jokingly said. “And he asks him what his intentions were with me that night. When the guy replied ‘not very honorable,’ well, he took me under his wing and I have been with him since!”
Nikki asked where I lived, and when I told her Williamsport, Pa., she said she was very familiar with this area. “Oh sure, I took my sons to wrestling tournaments to that big high school on the hill.” Amazing. She passes through here dozens of times over the years. Some of you probably sat next to her or were in line at the concession stand chit chatting. And….where was I?
Nikki has resided in Maryland for many years and owns and operates a glass blowing shop. Her hand made items are both ornate and beautiful. The time she spends grinding and polishing and putting them on display defies her age. But, she told me she loves staying busy and active.
“Do I get a discount on a custom designed urn from you, I mean you WERE my first crush,” I asked her. Laughing, knowing a dark sense of humor was hiding in me, replied, “You are putting the cart before the horse. Hang in there, good things will prevail.”
I took time to view her glass creations on line. Unique and colorful, a true extension of herself. She invited me to come and see them personally, and I extended an invite to see my car collection. My inquiries and enthusiasm still sounded like an adolescent boy talking to a standout college girl. A “10” in both looks and brain power. Wow, was I really talking to the gal in all those magazines I kept?
I asked her if she kept her memorabilia from the fabled Hurst days. “All of it,” she told me. “It’s in the basement. I even kept every outfit. Linda Vaughn’s mother was a seamstress and she made all our outfits by hand.” It was Linda Vaughn (the most famous Hurst girl) who talked Nikki into becoming a Hurst mate when they met once at a show.
The former Miss Phillips told me she loved all the racecar drivers, and was especially fond of Grumpy Jenkins. I didn’t ask why, but if memory serves, this drag racer was a real clown.
During our conversation, it was evident that Nikki not only loved her children and her profession, but spoke constantly about “working hard to get what you want in life.” “Never give up in your dreams.”
It was at this point I had to ask Nikki why she bypassed all the Hurst reunions or current car shows. She was quite flabbergasted to hear that people still want to know how she is doing and what she is doing. I told her I spoke to Linda Vaughn at Chrysler Carlisle.
“Gerry, I don’t look like that anymore,” she joked. Seriously, who DOES look like they are in their 20s at age 70? I explained to her that it is the people and personalities at these shows that are special. She was showcased at a royal time in American racing and fast cars. And is still around to tell us about it!
She might consider all that “ancient history,” but I consider it a part of a golden era I grew up in. And trust me, I am not alone. With that in mind, I nudged Nikki into considering meeting up with Linda Vaughn next July at the Chrysler Carlisle show. It’s only a few hours from her home, and the guys who followed racing would love seeing her AND Linda waving side by side as they used to back in the day!
I think it’s going to happen. I really hope it does. Not just for Linda and Nikki to “reunite” at a big event, but for legions of fans who thought Nikki faded into oblivion. Believe me, she’s not your average grandmother. She still has racing fuel in her veins! An inspiration for people in retirement age!
I asked if she has a copy of the Hurst parts poster with her picture on it. the cool one with red outfit and white go-go boots, a quarter mile wide smile, if I remember correctly. “Yes, hanging up downstairs,” she proudly said. And not going on eBay any time soon. When I told her they were rare as hens teeth, she also was surprised. She promised to look for an extra one for yours truly!
By the end of our conversation, I felt I had known Nikki for a long time. She was honest and funny and high spirited. We keep in touch via email lately. She asks of my health, I ask of her glass works and grand kids.
Just a few weeks ago I posed a question that all of us had to know. Did she ever own a Hurst Oldsmobile. The type she used to promote and sit in and on during the auto events. “No,” she told me. “But they gave me a bright blue Camaro with a 350 motor in it for a years use after I beat 49 other girls to win the District of Columbia beauty pageant. I got two speeding tickets in one week with it, but the judge threw both of them out.”
Who says looks don’t get you anywhere?3 comments