NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Diversity Pioneer Lyn St. James

To some racing fans, particularly those of the stock car persuasion, Lyn St. James is not a household name. This notion is somewhat understandable, as the Willoughby, Ohio native never raced nationally in stock cars and did not even make her Indy 500 debut until 1992 – at the age of 47. But James’s ephemeral stay in the IndyCar cockpit, which lasted seven Indy 500s, a few other races and ended nationally in 2000, has made her a major player behind the scenes in both the plight of female and minority drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series… and NASCAR. St. James spoke to Frontstretch’s Doug Turnbull at Atlanta Motor Speedway about not only her driver development involvement, but also on her turn inside a stock car at Talladega, and the NASCAR progress of her former pupil – Danica Patrick.

Doug Turnbull, Frontstretch: Tell us first – why are you at a NASCAR race?

Lyn St. James: I actually go to a lot of NASCAR races. My driver development program and the young drivers we work with are from all forms of motorsports. So we are working with a lot of young drivers in the Drive for Diversity program. Almost every young driver aspires to be a Sprint Cup driver. I have to stay current with what’s going on and it’s fun, too. So, I like coming to the races.

Turnbull: I was up at the Gresham Motorsports Park track announcing last week and saw a bunch of the driver development there, especially Revolution Racing [which has the core of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity drivers]. Are you involved at all with that and Max Seigel [head of Revolution Racing]?

St. James: Well, I’m not really involved directly. But I talk to Max and I’m on NASCAR’s Diversity Council, so I work more with NASCAR than I do directly with Max. I was in Charlotte for the debut of the show [“Changing Lanes” – on BET and about Revolution Racing] last Wednesday night. And I hope that everybody watches those shows for the next eight weeks. You know, half of the people they have in their diversity program are females. So many have come through the program.

Turnbull: There are so many that are on the brink of arriving. Many stock car fans probably don’t know who you are or what your imprint is on the IZOD IndyCar Series. Tell us about that.

St. James: I mean, really, my background is through sports car racing first, and then I actually set records at Talladega in a stock car with the Elliotts in the ‘80s. Bill and Ernie and the team built that car with Ford and turned 212.5 mph around Talladega and set some records. Really, this [NASCAR] is what I wanted to do and I could never get the support to do it. So then I drove an IndyCar and I said, ‘I really like this car.’ It was a real sweet experience. It was the very top of the ladder at that point. So my career went on to IndyCar racing starting in 1992, and I was Rookie of the Year in [the] ’92 [Indy 500] and went on to run seven Indy 500s and 15 IndyCar races. You know, I got to do some stuff that most everybody would probably dream about doing. I would have loved to have done this series, too, and run stock cars, but it just never happened for me.

I’d like to see a lot of young, talented drivers out there realize their dreams and realize their potential. It takes a lot of work, and one of the things I’d like all the fans to realize, because I’ve been following a lot of the comments about the diversity, is the fact that every driver deserves a right to get the opportunity, if they earn it. That is all we want, and that’s all that anybody [with the Drive for Diversity] is doing out there. Anybody that is in those seats [in the Truck, Nationwide and Cup series], they’ve earned that right. Nobody is giving them anything. They have earned that opportunity to show their stuff.

Turnbull: A person that you helped launch their career, Danica Patrick, a lot of people are skeptical about her. I admit I have been, personally. Many skeptics feel that she arrived in NASCAR because she is a star in [the IZOD] IndyCar [Series], and that she is a star there for reasons besides her talent. Getting past that, rate her progress in NASCAR, because she definitely has not been going out and winning races.

St. James: Has there been anyone that steps straight into NASCAR and wins races? Look at Jeff Gordon’s career. If you go back to the beginning of any new NASCAR driver, I don’t know of any of them that just come out of the box and won. There may be some, but that is very rare. I’m not saying none have, I’m just saying it’s rare. So, she is actually paying her dues now in stock car driving. I wouldn’t say she just earned the right to show up and do a Nationwide ride. She’s a very good racecar driver. Now, whether she is a very good stock car driver is yet to be seen. She’s got a lot to learn, and she’s learning it in front of millions of fans on television and at the tracks. And everybody is an expert, telling her all the things she’s not doing right. She has a lot to learn, and she is learning it in front of all of us.

Turnbull: People don’t realize how hard it is. I want to get back to you. You have a book that talks about your journey through motorsports. Tell us about that, and where fans can get it.

St. James: Thanks for helping me plug that. It’s called, “Lyn James: An Incredible Journey.” It’s primarily about my journey in IndyCar racing. It gives insight to just how hard [being successful in racing] is. A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to get into a good ride in a racecar. It’s a lot about that, and kind of has some flashbacks about my sports car racing and all of that. It can be found at Amazon.com or LynStJames.com. Those are the two sources right now. I don’t think it is going to be in a lot of bookstores. It is just going to be on the Internet. You can order it through my website and I will personalize it, autograph every copy that comes out of my stock inventory. I’m enjoying it. A lot of people don’t how hard it is in this sport and yet how much joy you can get out of it, being successful when you have that success.

Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory each Saturday, from 12-1 p.m., on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts podcasts on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com.

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