Steven Cole Smith
Steven Cole Smith Contributor
3/23/18 3:55 p.m.


Story By Steven Cole Smith • Photos By Kurt T. Eslick

You know how some people look better in a fire suit than others? I don’t mean hotter or more stylish, just more natural–like Nomex simply suits them.

Linda Sharp had that ability, which is fortunate because she spent a lot of her life zipping up her one-piece.

I noticed it when I met her more than 20 years ago at Talladega: She looked a lot more comfortable than most of the journalists there wearing new white Saab ensembles, many of whom had spent a lot of time inspecting their suited-up reflections in the mirror and taking what passed then for selfies.

Saab had gathered some 900s–turbos, non-turbos and V6s–and invited said journalists (among them a much younger David S. Wallens) to set some world speed and endurance records in the cars.

Linda had a lot of experience behind the wheel of race cars: with the SCCA, in various other club racing series, and in some pro series, like the IMSA Kelly American Challenge. She had been introduced to racing by her then-boyfriend, Jim Fitzgerald. Yes, the same Jim Fitzgerald who won the SCCA Runoffs, drove in the NASCAR Winston Cup, and helped Paul Newman get started in racing, eventually becoming the actor’s teammate.

Linda and I gravitated to each other. I was amazed at the breadth and width of her motorsports and production car knowledge, and being from Tennessee, I thought her Georgia-bred accent sounded like home. On track, we paired up as often as we could get away with it. We were told not to draft, but we did anyway, running nose to tail as we tried to get as much speed as possible out of the Saabs.

At one wonderful point, for an hour, we had identical cars and were running right at 160 mph. Drafting, we could hit 162.

I led for a while and kept trying different lines–high, low, high then low–looking at the speedometer for feedback. This line got us 163 on the back straight; that line got us 161. It might sound daring, but Talladega is such a nice track, and the Michelin-shod Saabs handled the 33-degree banking with aplomb.

Occasionally Linda and I would hear over the radio, in an invariably polite Swedish accent, “Cars4 and 5, kindly separate,” and we would, until we hit the back straight again, front and rear bumpers drawn together like magnets.

That’s when I knew I had a friend for life: Linda and her husband, Bob, who built engines for NASCAR teams, moved up to that list of people you can count on two hands that you know are kindred spirits. Their place on the list was bolstered when I learned that Bob and Linda, like me and my wife, couldn’t turn away a stray animal.

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Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
4/1/18 11:19 a.m.

She was a neat lady.

jburnash
jburnash New Reader
4/2/18 5:57 p.m.

She sounds really cool - I wish I had met her during my brief and inglorious seasons in SCCA Showroom stock.

 

I remember watching Paul Newman run from timing and scoring when I wasn't racing, so it must have been around that time.

 

Nicely written - thanks

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