Barn Find Hunter: You Should Have Known Linda Sharp


The latest episode of Hagerty’s Barn Find Hunter, just posted on YouTube, took me back to some joyful memories, and I highly recommend it. Host Tom Cotter, a racer himself, visits the home of late racer and automotive writer Linda Sharp, and buys the historic number 22, 1968 Datsun 2000 roadster that she raced.

I knew Linda. You know how some people look better in a fire suit than others? I don’t mean more attractive or more stylish, I just mean more natural—like the Nomex just suits them.

That’s the way Linda Sharp was, which is fortunate because she spent a lot of her life zipping up her one-piece. I noticed that when I met her 28 years ago at Talladega, where Saab had gathered some 900s and a bunch of auto writers; she appeared a lot more at ease than most of the journalists wearing new white Saab fire suits, many of whom spent a lot of time in front of the mirror and taking what then passed for selfies.

Linda had a lot of experience behind the wheel of race cars, in SCCA and various club racing and some pro series, like the IMSA Kelly American Challenge. She had been introduced to racing by her then-boyfriend of 20 years, Jim Fitzgerald. Yes, the same Jim Fitzgerald who won 350 SCCA races as well as multiple Runoffs, and was also a NASCAR Winston Cup driver. He also helped Paul Newman get started in racing, and eventually became his teammate. Fitzgerald had a deal with Datsun, and typically raced their sports cars. Consequently, so did Linda.

Linda Sharp Vintage and Fitzgerald
Courtesy Kurt Eslick

Back to Talladega: In 1986, Saab had set a bunch of world speed and endurance records at Talladega in 9000s, and a few journalists were invited to come watch, and in a limited role, take part. There were not many of us there in 1986 available to return in 1996, when Saab set even more records, this time in 900s. And this time, journalists would play a larger role, actually helping set some records, too.

Linda Sharp Datsun helmet
Jordan Lewis

Linda and I gravitated to each other; I was amazed at the breadth and depth of her motorsports and production car knowledge, and being from Tennessee, 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, “Cars 4 and 5, kindly separate,” and we would, until we hit the back straight again, front and rear bumpers drawn together like magnets.

Linda Sharp Portrait black white
Facebook/IMSA Kelly American Challenge

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, bolstered when I learned that Bob and Linda, like me, couldn’t turn away a stray animal.

A few years later Linda and I, along with a third journalist who never really got comfortable, were invited to run a two-race weekend at Lime Rock in the Neon Challenge series. Our Neons were painfully slow—we had one of the regular drivers test Linda’s car, and the driver came back and said, “Huh. Apparently there’s stock, which are our cars, and REALLY stock, which are your cars.”

It was good to hear that because we were questioning our own ability, but let’s face it: If we were right on the tail of Chrysler hotshoe Eric Heuschele’s Neon coming down the hill onto the front straight of Lime Rock, and then Eric ended up 150 feet ahead at the first turn—well, Linda and I were pretty confident in our ability to shift and floor the accelerator, so it had to be the cars.

So basically we raced against each other, seldom more than a few yards apart. At the end of the first race, Linda finished a car length ahead. For the first time in my life, I was beaten by a girl. Not that there aren’t millions of girls who can outdrive me, but it had never happened before, and as enlightened as I think I am, it was a blow.

So onto the next race: Halfway through, Linda and I were side by side, and here comes the lead pack to pass us. I gave them room on the left, and Linda gave them room on the right, but somebody still body-slammed Linda’s car, giving me about a hundred-foot lead on her. I won that race, and she very generously told everyone then and since that we split the races, but if I’m present, I correct her: You won the first race, and got crashed out in the second one. Slow-talking, Southern-drawlin’ Linda Sharp is a better driver than me. Can kick my ass at will.

Soon after that, Linda, who worked as a driving instructor, and as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, started a dirt-track magazine called Muddslinger. I wrote for it, and she and Bob paid me more than the stories were worth. Linda and Bob semi-retired to a farm outside Mount Airy, North Carolina, the town that Andy Griffith’s Mayberry was modeled after, where they took in even more stray animals. Linda and I emailed several times a weekend about racing, about politics, about dogs and cats.

One of her longest and uncharacteristically angry emails came after she watched “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman,” the Adam Carolla-produced documentary that aired in 2015. With Fitzgerald—who was killed in an awful crash in a Trans-Am race at St. Petersburg in 1987, a race that Newman was also in—Linda was there for Newman’s racing career, and she was upset about how many people in Carolla’s documentary talked about how close they were to the action when, as Linda wrote, “Paul never knew they existed.”

One of my favorite passages from that email: “Robert Redford is also a very present ‘interview’ in the film. Paul would sometimes speak of Redford, but he never came to a race to my knowledge.  I can recall Paul saying, ‘Never go to dinner with Redford, because he eats off of everyone else’s plate before he touches his own food.'”

The last week of December in 2016, Linda went into the hospital for a minor surgery. Something went wrong. On December 30, she died. Leaving Bob, the nicest guy in the world, a widower, a couple dozen dogs and cats and horses nobody else wanted without a benefactor, and hundreds of friends like me stunned and saddened and ready as hell to get 2016 over with.

Cotter’s Barn Find Hunter brings all that back. Good memories of a friend taken too soon.


Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Read next Up next: Hybrid Hypercar Market: Have the LaFerrari, P1, and 918 Kept Their Halos?


    I recall the Sharp Team at Mid Ohio every year. They were the team to beat be it Datsun or Olds. They were a small but every successful team.

    I recall when Fitz died and that is something you never get over you just learn to deal with it.

    I lost track of Bob and his wife and never really heard what they did once they stopped racing. I hate to hear she was gone. I never knew them but I really admired their team and their efforts.

    I miss Newman too. He was a much better driver than most realize today. When at the track he just wanted to be a racer and nothing else. I did get to meet him once and he was kind and I kept my questions to the race only. That was one thing at Mid Ohio I saw the crowd would always respect him in the paddock area. He was pretty much left alone to enjoy his weekend.

    I hope Bob is well and know we miss him at the track. He really was part of a good era in racing and will not be forgotten.

    This is a team a good book should be done on. Tom if you are looking for a new topic I am waiting to buy it.

    Great story. Decades ago a friend bought a well used 1968 Datsun 2000 that did not run. He had a shop rebuild the engine. I helped him paint it and get the SU’s working. My friend would let me borrow it and it was a lot of fun to drive. It is a car I remember fondly. The gas tank attached to the trunk floor and flexed the floor so it cracked. I welded up the trunk floor to fix it.

    This video is fantastic. I watched it yesterday. Everything about it is great, from the personal stories to the racing parts nerd stuff. If you haven’t watched, I really encourage you to do so.

    This story fills in some holes in my memory. I saw the white Datsuns of Sharp racing at the SCCA races at Bryar Motorsport park in Loudon, NH. I was impressed and never knew the story behind them. Thanks….

    I enjoyed the video and commentary. Especially the background on Jim Fitzgerald whom I met very briefly in the Nissan National HQ shop in 1977. I was working on 280ZX accessories including the program to homologate a spoiler for SCCA racing. Jim was visiting with our Competition Dept. in preparation for racing the S130. I read Competition Press and Autoweek and was familiar with Sharp and Brock, but was not familiar with Jim’s impressive racing achievements.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *