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Putting women behind the wheel

Former Indy driver James
keeps hand in developing new talent

By Don Ward
Editor

(August 2005) – Lyn St. James counsels her race car driving proteges to move quickly and take advantage of every opportunity because time is fleeting, and tomorrow, the opportunity may be gone.

Lyn St. James' book

Photo by Debra Maylum

Lyn St. James' book
“Ride of Your Life.”

Good advice for those living on the edge – that is, those who get their kicks from driving 220 mph in heavy traffic and just inches apart.
When St. James completed her first Indy 500 in 1992 at age 45, she was just the second woman in history to race in the event. Now 58, the seven-time Indy 500 driver and Willoughby, Ohio, native lives in Phoenix, where she has had the ears of many young drivers in search of a career in open-wheel or stock car racing.
Many of them have attended one of her annual developmental driving school camps, held over a four-day period in Phoenix. And many graduates have gone on to promising careers in one of many racing circuits. Her stable of graduates includes mostly female drivers but some males, such as Boston Reid, a successful driver in NASCAR’s Busch Series.
By scouting the lower leagues, St. James identifies those young drivers with potential, invites them to her developmental program, then mentors them and instills in them the leadership skills they will need to face the competition, the media and the public attention. And as a female driver in a man’s world, they are sure to get plenty of the latter.
Among the female graduates are Sarah Fisher, who became the first woman to win an IndyCar pole while competing in 2000 at the Kentucky Speedway. She is now driving in a regional touring NASCAR stock car series. Rookie IndyCar sensation Danica Patrick, 23, has attended two of St. James’ camps, the first at age 14 and again at age 16. And Erin Crocker, who won the ARCA RE/MAX Series pole and finished second at Kentucky in July, is a graduate. Crocker, 24, of Wilbrahma, Mass., entered her first ARCA race at Nashville this season, and St. James was there to watch. She is also tutoring Allison Duncan, 24, a Californian in her second season in one of NASCAR’s late model stock car divisions, where she won a feature race June 11 in Stockton, Calif., and is on track to become that series’ first female Rookie of the Year.
St. James says success stories such as Fisher’s and Patrick’s did not occur overnight;

Lyn St. James

Photo by Debra Maylum

Lyn St. James appeared in Hanover, Ind.,
to sign her book, “Ride of Your Life.”

rather, they have evolved with years of experience behind the wheel of a race car. The ingredients necessary for such success include raw potential, race driving experience and hooking up with a good team that can afford the best equipment. For instance, Crocker is being sponsored by Ray Evernham Motorsports, a well-known name in stock car racing.
Patrick has signed a multi-year deal with Rahal-Letterman, whose owners are former IndyCar driver Bobby Rahal and TV talk show host David Letterman.
It was rare, however, for St. James to attend a race because she says her time is better spent teaching, promoting and running her business. She travels the country promoting her books and conducting motivational speeches.
She has been to the Kentucky Speedway once, to attend the inaugural IndyCar race there in 2000. “It’s unique in that, unlike a lot of older tracks, it can easily convert to holding stock car or open-wheel races,” she said.
St. James spent a day in Hanover, Ind., in May to sign her 2005 book, “Oh, By The Way...,” which stems from a letter written to her by her late mother about life. Her appearance was part of a grand re-opening of the Hanover Nursing Home, owned by the same company that operated the nursing home in Indianapolis where her mother lived at the time of her death in 2002.
St. James’ book, “Ride of Your Life,” was published in 2002 and covers her career as an IndyCar driver. While traveling and speaking, she also promotes her Lyn St. James Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization founded in December 1993 to promote programs for automotive safety and driver development, especially for women who aspire to become race car drivers. The foundation has trained more than 150 drivers from 38 states and two countries.

Erin Crocker

Photo by Don Ward

Erin Crocker, 24, a rising
star in stock car racing,
is among Lyn St. James’
proteges, as is the IRL’s
Danica Patrick. Crocker
won the pole and finished
second in the July ARCA RE/MAX Series race at
the Kentucky Speedway.

The foundation is planning its third annual “Women in the Winner’s Circle” luncheon on Aug. 4 in Indianapolis. More than 30 race car drivers are expected to attend, including many of her graduates – Fisher, Crocker and former IndyCar driver Janet Guthrie among them. Patrick has been invited but it is uncertain if she will be able to attend, St. James said. Last year’s event drew more than 350 people, including leaders in both motorsports and the community, who gathered to explore the challenges and opportunities facing women in racing.
Meanwhile, no date has been set for this year’s driver development program, which marked its 10th anniversary last December. St. James said there may be two programs this fall, one in Phoenix and a second in Indianapolis. They will likely take place in November or December, considered the offseason for most motorports.
St. James said each graduate of the four-day program receives a binder of notes. Reid, who came to the program as a 13-year-old and is now a rising star in NASCAR’s Busch Series, called her recently to say just how often he had referred to the binder for support.
“That really made me feel good,” she said.
She also has worked to create a network of former drivers who can serve as a support person in various regions of the country for young, up-and-coming drivers who have attended her developmental program.
“Then no matter where you lived, there could be someone nearby who knows and understands what you are going through,” she said.

Drivers wanted

How to apply for a spot in a future Lyn St. James Foundation and Driver Development Program:
• Submit résumé, references and biography to the LSJ Foundation, 57D Gasoline Alley, Indianapolis, IN 46222.
• Requirements include prior racing experience and excellence, and professional career aspirations.
• Cost: $500 (excluding hotel and travel).
• Web site: www.lynstjames.com
• Telephone: (317) 244-9790.

Although Patrick’s recent media blitz of the motorsports industry has focused the public’s attention on racing at all levels, St. James says it has always been her soap box speech to promote women and minorities in the sport. “We should want more than one; we don’t just need one token driver from each gender or race.”
She is encouraged, however, by what she sees as a phenomenon of young, female drivers coming up the pipeline in hopes of taking the checkered flag on race day. In the Midwest, the primary channels of progression have been in one of three race leagues: quarter-midgets, soap box derby and go-karts.
“They are meant for kids, but they can be a stepping stone to something bigger,” she said.

• For more information on the driver development program, the “Women in the Winner’s Circle” event or to order her books, visit www.lynstjames.com or call (317) 920-2251.

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