Lyn St James, who was named Indianapolis 500 Rookie Of The Year for 1992, says that she used to have the Lyn St James Foundation, which later became Women In The Winners Circle and Project Podium, and her grant foundation and a driver development program to help young female drivers with their racing careers. Speaking to Paddock Eye on Friday as part of a series of features relating to the initiative she co-founded, Women In Motorsport North America, Lyn says that she did this for 20 years from 1994 to 2014, but that became worn out,  as she asked herself if things were ever going to change. She felt she couldn’t get enough traction for change but never lost her passion or desire for racing. She found it challenging to provide help and support to those who needed it.

It wasn’t until St James was walking down the grid at the 2021 Indianapolis 500 on race day morning, as she does every year to wish the teams good luck, that she walked past Paretta Autosport and saw female crew members gearing up to go to work going over the wall. That’s when she realized that she was not alone, that this experience overwhelmed her, that she cried, and that she never cried at the race track.

Lyn said, ‘Oh my god,’ turned to Beth, hugged her, and said that she didn’t realize how alone she was until that moment because Lyn says she never felt alone. Beth responded, ‘I am doing this for all of us!’

St James said they followed up after the Indianapolis 500 that year and had conversations; at the time, Lyn said that she was the North American representative on the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission, a role she had for a while. She says that she learned a lot throughout that time and commends Michele Mouton for creating that a little over ten years ago.

Lyn says that she attended these meetings virtually and realized that there was an effort to help grow the sport and opportunities for women, mainly focusing on drivers, so Lyn was learning in the process. She was talking to Beth (Paretta) about it. They came up with a list of about 40 people they knew, men and women who worked in the industry, and they created monthly Zoom calls that went on for six months or so and started really to gain momentum and the brain power they had . They decided to form a 501c3, and then they thought what they would call it. What is the mission? They got caught up in all of that.

What is its name? What is the logo going to look like? Women In Motorsport North America will officially launch on April 15, 2024. Lyn thinks the government formally gave them the 501c3 status in February, so it was the creation of Women In Motorsports North America, which essentially is to elevate, celebrate, educate, and advance opportunities for women in motorsports to grow the sport. They want to develop the sport.

Lyn says that without a concerted effort by Women In Motorsport North America, it will be a long time before women can get involved in the sport unless they have family involvement or live in a community where they have direct exposure and involvement to know ‘I can work in this industry or I can play in this industry.’

St James says that motorsport as an industry is not that accessible, either visually or physically. Lyn says that she was fortunate to get involved in the sport, but the question is, how can we accelerate that change and accelerate the fact that there are opportunities out there? It is a sport that is changing and growing in terms of technology, which is a massive part of it now. It wasn’t so much like this 15 to 20 years ago.

‘You can talk to educators and talk to universities and students, and in real life, this needs to be part of their curriculum and talking to people who are maybe on the auxiliary part of motorsports where you can live in a community like Indianapolis or parts of Florida or Ohio or parts of Phoenix, Arizona.’

For example, Lyn says that she doesn’t think Latasha Causey, the new track president at Phoenix Raceway, had ever been to a race before taking up the role, and that is okay. She has brought much of her experience to the role and is well-experienced and successful in the community. She has a team who have been with the track for years, but she has the leadership to help improve the track.

St James says there isn’t a series that can be singled out. She says that you can look at all of the series, but for her, the likes of the NHRA have worked hard with their junior dragster program. There is no value to that as to why, but she says that the young driver program helps bring families in.

It’s a cultural change for new ones who know they can succeed, but it also ensures the older generation involved in the sport doesn’t question its changes.

Speaking about the event that WIMNA is hosting in Indianapolis in December, St. James says that it is their fourth event and that it is a way for people involved in the industry to network and get to know each other. It’s about bringing people together, men and women, veterans and leaders, and students and newbies to bring them together for networking.

James says that it’s educational and will help accelerate the culture shift. It’s an opportunity for people to share their stories about getting there. ‘You could have a co-worker, and you could learn about them. Story-telling opportunities exist, and people working in the industry can learn more about each other. Students can learn about the opportunities that are available to them.’

Lyn says that people can go to an industry website and find out what employment opportunities exist. The motorsport industry needs to work on this, and it is one of the aims of the Women in Motorsports North America Summit.

The summit’s purpose is to unite people, celebrate the industry’s successful people, educate them on what needs to change and what can be done better, and attract new people.

WIMNA has a program called Shero, and Lyn says that happens organically when people talk about heroes; she says that she has been corrected numerous times in the sports world and not racing, and Lyn calls Billie Jean King my Shero, not my hero. She’s my Shero, and that is a word that St James has become very comfortable with.

‘So, we created the Shero Award for organizations, corporations, teams, sponsors, and anyone in the motorsports industry with employees. They have a female employee who has gone above and beyond, which is an opportunity for them. You can give them a little trophy that will sit on their desk. Our partner is Jostens, and they deal with every sanctioning body. They created a fantastic little trophy with our logo on It, and the award with the person’s name on it recognizes them.’

Regarding support from inside the INDYCAR paddock, Lyn says WIMNA doesn’t have the time to complete everything. ‘We don’t even know everything that needs to get done. What we want to be is loud enough, big enough, and strong enough to poke everybody. If everyone (teams) created an event that they executed well, we want to put that on our website.’

‘Our website has a page supporting women in motorsports, such as the Women in Motorsports PNC Bank engineering partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.’

‘We are working on it. This is our fourth summit, and being at the PRI Show is a game-changer for us this year. It is brilliant and the most significant historically motorsports trade show, which is our audience. We are here to serve the industry. I see us having loads of worker bees just doing their thing.’

When it comes to WIMNA’s future, they always want to be there to serve the industry and create new opportunities. She says the industry needs to tell them what to do, and they will adapt.

Regarding how far the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has come regarding diversity since she won Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992, St James says it has been hugely significant. In 1992, she was trying to be the best race car driver she could be and qualify for the Indy 500, and that was all-consuming. Lyn says she was exposed to the Women in Sports Foundation in the 1980s.

Lyn says that she had this learning education at the Indianapolis 500 and that her racing career, success, and setting up the foundation helped her and her driver academy, which brought in Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick. Lyn says she was impressed with what Danica Patrick did during her time in NASCAR.

Throughout the ’90s, Lyn said that during interviews, she would talk about the future and women in the sport and would be asked when it would happen. In the 21st century, Sarah Fisher and Katherine Legge were doing their thing, but Lyn was keeping things alive when she came back. In the 2000s, it was sustaining things at the Indianapolis 500, but the floodgates didn’t open.

Lyn says that the game changer was when Danica Patrick moved to NASCAR and made a splash with her publicity. Now, kids are being born, and they are called Danica. They are being brought go-karting and quarter-midgets, and numbers are showing up. There are now engineers and track promoters. It’s happening culturally across the board in racing.

There is momentum; without momentum, it is like having flies on the wall. While there may not be a woman in the Indianapolis 500 every year, everyone knows this. For more information about WIMNA, click here.

Lyn St James concluded our interview by thanking Racer’s Paul Pfanner, founder, president, and CEO of Racer Media, for his support in the foundation of Women In Motorsport North America. She also thanked the Performance Racing Industry trade show for its support, as WIMNA will make its first appearance at the event in December.

For more information on the Performance Racing Industry Show please click here.



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