Lyn St. James
Wakeup Call, Then Indy
St. James's career received a jolt in 1991 when Ford sharply curtailed its road racing involvement and dropped her as a driver. "St. James had to shop around for rides," Sports Illustrated said. After attending self-awareness seminars, she declared she would drive in the Indianapolis 500. Janet Guthrie, the only other woman to race at Indy to this point, first entered in 1977. Engine trouble forced her out that year, but Guthrie returned in 1978 to finish ninth. She pitched sponsors hard, and got such corporations as J. C. Penney, Agency Rent-a-Car, Goodyear, and Danskin, to sponsor her on the Indy car tour.
St. James finished ninth in her first Indy, her best finish among her seven there. She had her share of misfortunes at the Brickyard, including a drive-train problem and some crashes. One mishap, in 2000, involved 19-year-old Sarah Fisher in the first-ever two-woman field at the Brickyard. Apparent frostiness between the two women fueled headlines about the crash. "Despite teaming up to make Indy history, it was clear the two women were not close," the Associated Press wrote. "They had not talked since Fisher attended St. James' driving school four years ago. Fisher said she didn't learn much at the school and boasted that she would bring a new attitude to female drivers at the Brickyard, hinting that St. James and Janet Guthrie were merely satisfied to qualify and didn't race to win."
St. James also won a reputation as a spokesperson for women in sports and other male-dominated professions. She wrote auto-related columns for the Detroit Free Press, was president of the Women's Sports Foundation in the early 1990s and a guest at the White House five times. She wrote her first book, Lyn St. James's Car Owner's Manual, in 1984. She credits retailer J.C. Penney for having saved her program in 1993. J.C. Penney chief executive officer W.R. Howell found out about the driver through Carrie Rozelle, the wife of former National Football League Commissioner Alvin "Pete" Rozelle. When St. James, at Howell's invitation, made a marketing presentation at company headquarters in Dallas, St. James discovered three female Penney executives. In 1998 the women's television network Lifetime became one of her sponsors.
St. James found appreciation as an auto racing pioneer when she toured in 2002 to promote her latest book. "My entire career, it has always been, 'Who's going to work with the girl driver?'" St. James said an in interview with Sports Illustrated in 1993. "Many male drivers have told me, 'I couldn't do what you do.'"
St. James retired from the Indy circuit in 2001 at age 54, before the start of practice for the Indy 500. She took two ceremonial laps, then pulled into the pits. St. James has lectured and worked as a commentator for ESPN, ABC and Showtime, and has appeared as a guest on The David Letterman Show and Good Morning America. She also serves on the boards of many organizations.