A Conversation with Lyn St. James

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — There were many open wheel racing greats in attendance last weekend for the return of IndyCar after 10 years to Phoenix International Raceway.

The esteemed list included Lyn St. James, who reminisced on her times at the track and her career over the years.

“This track, initially, was for open wheel racing and for what is now IndyCars. It’s a great history, and to not have it here all those years was really a tragedy,” St. James said.

The 1992 Indianapolis Rookie of the Year winner has spent her fair share of time at PIR, both as a competitor and as a coach.

However, she explained that not all of her memories at the track were good ones.

“I punched a hole in the wall there outside of turn two,” she said with a laugh, She also mentioning a crash she was involved in at the track during a test run, and that “unfortunately crashes stick with you.”

Something positive she remembered, though, was how her first race at Phoenix was also her first race after her successful run in the Indianapolis 500. She touched on her memorable experience at Indy, saying the whole thing was “extraordinary.” She even had her 1991 Lola that she raced in that event restored and mounted on her home wall to commemorate that experience.

St. James explained that as a very goal-oriented person, her initial goal for her first season was just to do well and “don’t do anything stupid.” She never thought she would receive the honors that she did in such an iconic race.

“It was icing on the cake,” she said of being named Rookie of the Year. for the race “My accomplishment wouldn’t have been what it was had it not been for a team owner like Dick Simon. It was kind of a shared joy and shared pride.”

In that year’s 500, there were nine rookies in total, but only one female driver out of the whole pack — St. James. Since then, there have been seven female drivers in the sport, only one of which earned Rookie of the Year honors: a certain someone named Danica Patrick.

So why haven’t there been more females in the sport? St. James offered her opinion on the subject, explaining that it has nothing to do with the inclusiveness the series exhibits, but everything to do with the driver as an individual.

“The drivers really have to aggressively pursue the type of racing they want to do,” she said. “It’s really not up to the series to be more open. It’s never been closed. It’s just a difficult sport to really get deals and to get the funding, to get the team, to get all of those components and all of those resources together.”

One thing she said that she wished she saw more of now that she is a driving coach, are young drivers that want to go into the other forms of racing and not just stock cars.

“Fortunately we’ve had many examples of women who have been successful that have helped create an image for a young gal that’s racing go-karts or racing anything,” she went on to say.

For young women that want to go into the world of racing at any level or to any degree, St. James had this piece of advice: do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into.

“It doesn’t really matter what side of the cockpit you’re in, inside or outside of it, it’s tough.” she said. “It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s hard work, but at the same time you’ve really got to understand that and understand what you’re getting in for and you really got to know about it. Otherwise, move over and let somebody else have your spot.”

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Vivian Meza

Vivian Meza is from San Bernardino, CA. She currently lives in Phoenix, AZ, and is an undergraduate student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. Meza is also an intern in the media center at Phoenix International Raceway.


  1. Avatar

    Lisa Duarte

    April 12, 2016 at 1:52 am

    Nice article! Well written, interesting and informative.

  2. Avatar

    Rick D

    April 12, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Nice article Vivian, really enjoyed the history of Lyn St. James.

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