Race to Equality – History of Women in Racing Page Three
Lyn St. James’ story is remarkable. It culminated into victories few others can claim, winning the title of Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 1992, competing in seven Indy 500’s, in a sport in which few women have ever participated. She became the first woman to exceed 200 mph on an oval track and set 31 international and national closed circuit speed records” (Women Drivers). Lyn St. James is a rare athlete-a woman automobile racer. “She became only the second woman in the 82-year history of the Memorial Day weekend race to qualify for the race and to complete the tough course, finishing eleventh in a starting field of 33 professional drivers” (Women Drivers). In addition to these auto racing accomplishments, St. James is also a writer- columnist, teacher, businesswoman and piano player.
St. James spoke candidly about the challenges a women in racing must endure. Throughout her career, St. James has been told what she can’t do. “At times my own crew members have made it clear that I would be more welcomed in the garage if I fetched coffee rather than asked questions about chassis setup of the car.” St. James explained “My entire career, it has been, ‘Who’s going to work with the girl driver’… Many male drivers have told me, ‘I couldn’t do what you do.’” Nevertheless auto racing continues to adapt to women in competing on the race track. “Sports car racing had progressed a little on the gender-equality front by that time, but the sport was still light-years behind the rest of the world” (St. James 15).
“Money is attached to a female driver.” Lyn St. James explains. In 1999 St. James was struggling to find sponsors to continue to race, even though she was the first female Rookie of the Year and the oldest rookie in Indy 500 history, it was almost impossible to find sponsors. Fortunately for St. James someone took the risk in sponsoring her just weeks before the Indy 500 race in 2000. In a book written by Lyn St. James, she comments:
“I thought that focusing solely on our gender detracted from our racing. Sarah Fisher and I were race car drivers who happened to be women. As long as we were viewed in that context I didn’t mind talking about our accomplishments. Sure, we are women, and sure we were the oldest and youngest drivers in the field, but we had also put substantial speeds on the board in order to be where we were.”
A longtime supporter of greater opportunities for women in sports, St. James has been involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation created in Arizona. It is a driver development program for women who aspire to become race car drivers and for the last ten years she served as its president since 1990. “The following year she was named director of consumer relations for the Car Care Council, a trade group that addresses safety and maintenance concerns on behalf of car and truck owners” (Women Drivers). Lyn St. James has accomplished many things in her life and is continuing to expand her achievements. After opening her racing school for females, one of her students Danica Patrick aspires as a race car driver gives an example of how successful a female can be in racing.
Today, there are a few female drivers driving professionally, and the number female competitors are increasing. Danica Patrick, who is the most successful women in the history of American open-wheel racing, is becoming a household name. However it was her sister, Brooke Patrick who led Danica into racing. Brooke convinced their parents to get two go-karts instead of buying a pontoon boat. Patrick was hooked as described in Xtreme Athletes: Danica Patrick. “In my first go-kart racing go-karts, I was lapped within six laps by the completion. I knew I had to improve and be determined. But racing is something I wanted to do once I drove that kart for the first time” (Hinman 16). Patrick started in a Junior Sportsman Stock class at a local track. Her class consisted of all boys, ages eight to twelve. Even at a young age she competed against a field of boys to pursue her dream. After the first two years of karting, the boys were often intimidated by Patrick’s aggressive style. As the only girl, she quickly understood that this fact alone would also make her different. Her parents did whatever it took to see to it that she had all of the advantages in racing.
“In 1996, at age fourteen, Patrick won thirty-nine of forty-nine races. Patrick even attended the Lyn St. James driver development program to provide experience for aspiring drivers” (Hinman 20). Patrick decided the next step would be to move to England, so she dropped out of high school and earned her GED. Later, Patrick was one of many aspiring young racers eager to learn how to race open-wheel cars. The environment was very competitive and Patrick did not fit in easily. “All the drivers hung together, and I was left out of the equation a lot. They wouldn’t call me. It was boys being boys” (Hinman 33).
As the years passed Danica Patrick made a name for herself. “In May 2005, in her first Indianapolis 500, Danica Patrick became both the fastest woman in Speedway history, with a practice lap of 229.880, and the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500” (Hinman 39). She finished fourth, breaking Janet Guthrie’s record as the first woman to place in the top ten a ninth place 27 years later. Continuing to race, Patrick in 2008 became the first woman to win an Indycar race by capturing the Indy Japan 300. As time progresses, many more opportunities are being opened to more females. Danica Patrick, the most recent and successful female driver dominating her male competitors, shows other women that they can achieve anything with hard work; she is an inspiration. Always stay determined and never give up or in racing terms, accelerate quickly and never let up.
In looking back at my original question: “How has society evolved in accepting women participants in male dominated sports and activities?” I initially felt that it was a perfect question for me; however my meeting with Peter Giddings made me realize that I wanted to revise my topic question and focus on women and racing not other activities. I refined my question to: “How has auto racing evolved in accepting how women participants?” I wanted to focus my whole paper on Auto racing, a very male dominated sport, and how women were becoming more involved and competing against the males. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the modification because of my love of cars and racing. Cars are a hobby of mine and racing was an activity that I didn’t have the time to pursue due to my busy schedule. This project gave me the opportunity to learn more about the sport. I, being a female got to learn how hard it was to get to the point, where women like Danica Patrick and other aspiring female racers are today. During this project, I met, interviewed and befriended many new people, whom of which were people I would never dream meeting in my lifetime.
If it weren’t for this project I would never got to meet Peter Giddings, a kind man originally from England who is an icon of vintage racing and is known all around the world, Ken Clapp, former vice president of western operations for NASCAR, Gary Horstkorta, an automotive historian, writer for SCCA, Janet Guthrie, the first female Indy 500 driver, or Lyn St. James a seven time Indy 500 driver, one of the most famous women racers in America. I’ll draw on this process and experience in the future when I am tackling challenges in my own life; I will make sure I am the one in the driver’s seat in charge of the gas pedal whether I’m in a car or not.
Hinman, Bonnie. Xtreme Athletes: Danica Patrick. Greensboro, North Carolina Morgan Reynols, 2009. Print.
Hylton, Pete. The Gentlemen’s Club. Legacy Ink, 2009. Print.
Mull, Evelyn. Women in Sports Car Competition. New York. Sports Car Press, 1958. Print.
James, Lyn St. Lyn St. James: An Incredible Journey. Phoenix, AZ: LSJ Press, 2010. Print.
Guthrie, Janet. “Biography of Janet Guthrie.” Janet Guthrie. Web. 16 Mar. 2012.
Michelle Cabatingan 2012 James, Lyn St. “Welcome to the Lyn St. James Website!” Welcome to the Lyn St. James Website! Web. 12 Apr. 2012.
Why We Watch. “Janet Guthrie.” Bleacher Report. Bleacherreport.com, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Women Drivers at the Indy 500.” Indystar.com. A Gannett Company, 19 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2012.
Guthrie, Janet. Famous Female Racecar Driver. Email. Personal Interview. 23 March 2012
St. James, Lyn. 7-Time Indy 500 Driver, Sonoma, CA. Personal Interview. 31 March 2012.