Friday, April 7, 2017

Lyn St. James: A Driven #2

After Janet Guthrie's pioneering stretch of Indy 500 appearances (1977-1979), it took another 13 years for a woman to take the green flag. (Note: Guthrie did not qualify in 1976 and 1980.) THIRTEEN YEARS, people!

But in 1992, not only did Lyn St. James show up qualify, she also finished the race in eleventh and earned Rookie of the Year honors—the first woman to do so (only two women since have matched her). After that success, she went on to compete in the 500 a total of seven times (including in 2000 at the age of 53) and make 16 CART/IRL starts.

In addition, before her Indy Car years, she had a short career in sportscars, being sponsored by Ford, during which she raced at the 12 Hours of Sebring (eight times) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (twice). And she was the first woman to win a professional road race driving solo. And the first woman to exceed 200 mph on an oval track. And more.

But no one could have imagined all of that success after witnessing St. James' first race, when she lost control of her Ford Pinto racecar and drove it into a lake.

Nor could she or team owner Dick Simon have predicted her results at that first Indy 500. After all, it was her first oval-track race and only her second open-wheel race.

Except maybe St. James herself.

When asked about her legacy in racing, she responded, "I guess I would hope that people think of it all as, 'She did it for the right reason. She did it because she loved the sport. She wasn’t trying to prove a point or change the world, or whatever. But in fact, she cared enough to try to make the world better for women in racing.'"
(Petrolicious interview)

And she has made the world better for women in racing. In fact, I'd say it's her work since she hung up her racing suit (full time, at least) that has produced the biggest impact on the racing world. As early as 1993, she launched a non-profit aimed at helping develop female drivers, which has helped train and coach hundreds of young women over the years.

In addition, she created the Complete Driver Academy (formerly the Lyn St. James Driver Development Program), which was the most comprehensive educational and training program of its kind for talented and gifted female drivers. More than 275 women (and 30 men)—including familiar names such as Danica Patrick, Erica Enders, Erin Crocker-Evernham, Melanie Troxel and Sarah Fisher—participated in the invitation-only Academy.

These days, St. James is still active as a speaker, an ambassador, a board member, and, undoubtedly, a variety of other occupations. She's also a frequent VIP guest at IndyCar races. In fact, come May, you're pretty much guaranteed to see her—as I did last year—strolling through Gasoline Alley with a smile on her face.

(Photo from  LynStJames.com.)

1 comment:

  1. She sounds really interesting. Glad she was able to find success in such a man driven world.

    ReplyDelete