because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lyn St. James

The first time race car driver Lyn St. James got behind the wheel of a car in competition (a Ford Pinto equipped with a roll bar and belts), she lost control and put it in a lake. She was a secretary and piano teacher named Evelyn Cornwall at the time, but when her husband suggested that she might should re-consider her hunger to speed, she said no way, changed her name to something snappier, and eight years later, won a slot on the Ford racing team.

Still, fifteen years with Ford didn't scratch the itch this in-your-face woman had to rev an even more serious engine. So, in her mid-forties, when she finally got a shot at racing Indy cars, she jumped at the chance and wound up Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992. After that, at one point or another, she won the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring races and completed twice at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Further, she showed up and qualified in Indianapolis in 2000 at 53 years of age -- by far the oldest competitor on the track that day.

Asked by Car and Driver magazine what she would have done differently if she had it to do over again, St. James said she would have started earlier. Girls entering her Complete Driver Academy (and there have been 250 of them since 1994!) begin as early as twelve. But everything else racing has cost her -- the family sacrifices, the effects on her body of multiple crashes, the toll on her relationships -- has been worth it, she says. An in-your-face woman just can't help herself.

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