Courtesy of TheLedger.com
By Kyle Kennedy
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 12:14 p.m.
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Lyn St. James had more than two decades of experience in racing before she made history at the Indianapolis 500.
In 1992, at age 45, St. James became the first woman to win the Indy 500′s Rookie of the Year Award, and was just the second woman to compete in the race.
She would go on to compete in a total of seven Indianapolis 500s and 15 IndyCar events, adding to a storied career that includes wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring endurance races.
During the 1995 Indy 500 qualification weekend St. James set a world closed-course record for women after reaching a speed of nearly 226 miles per hour. She retired in 2001, one year after she made history again as the oldest driver in the field (53) at the Indy 500.
St. James continues to work as an author, sports commentator and advocate for women in racing as founder of the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.
The Ohio-born St. James will be the guest of honor at this weekend’s Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival.
To be honest with you what I miss most is being part of a team, besides the actual competition and driving the race car. When I started racing 30 years ago it was always about my passion and enjoyment and the challenge when you really did something well. It was very personally driven whenever I got in a race car. But I also realized it was being with people who had a common passion and a common interest, and then it was being a part of a team of people, being in that circle … I really miss that sense of unity and being a part of a team. I miss that almost more than the driving because the driving I get to go out every once in a while and do.
It seems that many people who don’t follow racing at all still know who IndyCar driver Danica Patrick is. Even with that kind of prominence, do you think it’s still challenging for women to find opportunities in the sport?
It’s still very difficult. You know, Danica’s success has been fabulous and certainly she has been the flag carrier, so to speak, for women in racing … she really represents that, but believe me it’s not trickling down that much. Is there a better chance for a talented female driver to get an opportunity? Yes. It’s not that the floodgates have opened but there’s certainly a very strong, large group of women coming in who are interested in the sport, interested in having careers in the sport and certainly interested in driving. Now we have moms and dads who say “It’s okay for our little girls to do what always has been okay for our sons to do.”
You work as a motivational speaker. How do you translate experiences from your racing career into that sort of setting?
I think my life example speaks for myself, you know, where I was in a male-dominated sport, I was older and I didn’t come from money.
Out of everything you’ve done in your racing career is there one accomplishment that means the most to you?
Not really. I’m just so flabbergasted when things show up like that. This year when I was acknowledged by Automotive News as one of the 100 leading women in the automotive industry, I was blown away. Obviously winning Rookie of the Year at Indy was incredible to me because it was such a huge mountain to climb and most everybody was betting against it, and I knew it. It’s a life that I’ve enjoyed living and I’m proudest probably that I was able to sustain such a long career. It’s really hard to have a long career in this sport for anybody.