Last week a prominent figure in automotive history came to Oregon for a visit. Her name is Lyn St. James. Many know her as being the second woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 but her racing career is so much more than that. Lyn holds the record for being the first woman to be the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year as well as a handful of international enduro racing titles. These include the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and others.
What makes Ms. St.James stand out is she didn't want to stand out as just a female. “No female racer wants to be known for their gender,” she says under a sunny day at Portland International Raceway. But as a female in a male-dominated sport, she inspired other women. She knows more than most the difficulty of reaching the professional level of auto racing. The money element in this sport is as steep and difficult to conquer as Mt. Everest. Few are capable and trained to harness sponsors and endure the uphill battle that is racing rejection. Not only has Ms. St. James overcome this challenge, but has dedicated most of her time mentoring the next generation of racers to do the same.
She says becoming a professional racecar driver “...comes from hard work. Racing only wants the best and brightest. There is more to it than just winning. It is about money and people.” This realization was a tough one to learn but ended up being the key to her success. “I went to 151 companies for sponsorship over 4 years. It was about what I could do for these companies, not about what they could do for me.” She describes tediously learning how to understand business and how to present herself to a company in a way so that she was seen as a marketing asset. Gaining sponsorship has to be beneficial to the company as much as the driver. “Do your homework. It is about the company, not you,” she says.
In her book Ms. St. James speaks a lot about trial and error both inside the car and out. In her autobiography, ‘An Incredible Journey’ she describes her encounters with rejection. “After my first dozen or so rejections I finally realized that nothing in my life changed after someone told me no… If I hadn’t accepted being turned down as a natural part of the process, I might never have learned to ask the right questions.” (pg 51) In our interview she stressed the importance of persistence. She described countless times that people came up to her upset that she received the funding to be a driver and they hadn’t. “I told them that I must have wanted it more than them. It is not luck.” By using her network, asking the right questions and taking risks, Lyn St. James made her dream happen.
Her recipe to make it to the professional level includes “being physically able, flexibility and reaction time. Have a business understanding, have a technical understanding so you can communicate better, and...like people. The sport involves people,” she says.
Having the chance to sit down and interview Ms. St. James was phenomenal. She is every bit the mentor and role model ayoung driver could wish for. Learn her story and be inspired. Read her autobiography ‘An Incredible Journey’ or check out her website at: https://lynstjames.com/.