In 1978, Lyn St. James examine an post about the Ford Mustang in Car and Driver. The tale had a sidebar about Ford’s fascination in marketing the Mustang to girls by supplying aggressive and racing alternatives.
St. James experienced been racing for enjoyment for many years and earned her level of competition driver’s license at age 27. She was completely ready to get far more severe and was looking for a sponsor. “I wrote letters to absolutely everyone at Ford who was quoted in that report, inquiring them to sponsor me,” she suggests. She got a letter again from Ford, congratulating her on her racing achievement and telling her to retain them informed about her job. So she did. She raced when she could and despatched her outcomes to the Ford team. Right after a dogged pursuit, in 1981, she turned one particular of the first woman race vehicle motorists to acquire a comprehensive-year sponsorship.
Her subsequent tale is legendary: St. James was the 1st lady Rookie of the Calendar year at the Indianapolis 500, in 1992 — and she had six a lot more Indy 500 starts after that. Her 20-year racing profession bundled 21 global and countrywide shut-circuit speed records. She was named a person of Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Girls Athletes of the 20th Century. And she is one particular of six people today becoming inducted into the Automotive Corridor of Fame on July 21.
The recent consideration has been gratifying, St. James claims. “The planet was spending interest to me in the ’80s and ’90s. Then the environment wasn’t spending notice,” she states. “This past 12 months in specific I have been aghast — people today want to listen to from me yet again.”
That may possibly be due to the fact her tale is so powerful. She grew up in Ohio, the only kid of a father who was a sheet steel worker and a mom who had polio. Since her mother could not walk considerably, St. James states, “For her, a car was almost everything. She taught me how to push — and taught me that a automobile talks to you, how to realize the significant smells and seems.”
As a teenager, St. James worked component time at a service station. One particular year, her co-staff were being headed to the Indy 500, and St. James and her mom tagged alongside. “After that, I would go to the drags with the men. 1 evening I introduced a trophy house, and my mother was not pleased,” she states. “It was the very first time I experienced competed in a race. It was exciting, and really obtained my juices likely.”
But, St. James claims, “Until I was in my mid-20s, I did all the things culture explained a lady really should do. I received an education and learning, got a job, acquired a car or truck, fulfilled a male, followed him to Florida and obtained married. I helped him establish a company. But then we started off going to the races jointly. We each made the decision to start out racing — me in my Pinto.”
After finding her Ford sponsorship in 1981, that “traditional” life transformed as her racing career took off. For decades, she states, “I was normally the only woman in the gang. And like most ladies, I underplayed it. I did everything to make persons not recognize that I was a lady. But I did nevertheless paint my nails I didn’t want to compromise me.”
St. James suggests as she raced and traveled the place as a Ford agent and buyer adviser, she interacted with corporate executives and females at dealerships. “I bought to interact with the couple of gals who ended up then in the market, and I could see the similarities — the isolation they felt,” she states. She connected with and stayed in contact with gals such as Bobbie Gaunt, a Ford government who ultimately grew to become president of Ford Canada. When she began acquiring sports marketplace accolades, St. James satisfied and discovered she shared identical ordeals with athletes such as tennis legend Billie Jean King and Olympian Donna de Varona, who grew to become good friends and a sounding board.
After 2000, when her racing career ended, she began a 2nd occupation as a motivational speaker and an activist for gals in motorsports. In 2021, St. James was named the North American consultant on the FIA Girls in Motorsport Fee. And in April, she and motorsports govt Beth Paretta founded Gals in Motorsports North The united states, a team designed to really encourage, support and mentor women of all ages who want to build a occupation in motorsports.
“Today there are so numerous a lot more gals in motorsports. And it is not normally about the motorists, but about ladies in the market total — in engineering, functioning the organization, workforce entrepreneurs, tracks, marketing and advertising departments. Lots of of these women of all ages have been performing this for decades,” St. James claims. “We want to rejoice the successes, due to the fact if you really do not see achievement, why pursue it? One particular of our objectives is to entice new faces, bring new people today into the activity.
“Our activity is abundant with opportunity, partly due to the fact it is not as structured as the company planet. It is more entrepreneurial. There’s room for new things, new faces, new concepts. And females need to have to be component of that dialogue.”
Looking again on a occupation of milestones and breakthroughs, St. James suggests what she’s most very pleased of is her long occupation, both of those on and off the racetrack. “So normally in any occupation, but significantly for competitive things to do like sports activities, you’re lucky if you get 10 many years. You get to a peak and it’s the end. It could have been the stop for me in 2000, after three many years of racing,” she states. “But my job did not close there. And I’ve arrive to comprehend that I’ve designed an affect. That is unbelievably gratifying.”