Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives: Lyn St. James
Race car driver, commentator, author, motivational speaker. Competed in seven Indianapolis 500 races in nine years, including six consecutive years. Two-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest endurance sports car race. Nine-time participant in the 12 Hours of Sebring race. Two wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona race. Owner of over 30 national and international speed records over a 20-year period. A courageous, determined, hardworking, record-breaking, and inspirational race car driver. A woman.
Are you surprised? We're describing Lyn St. James, one of the most influential female race car drivers in history. From her first professional race in 1973, to her last in 2000, Lyn St. James continually showed the motor sports world that not only could women compete with men on the race track, but that they would outlast them, outsmart them, and outrun them. Lyn St. James was a pioneer who embodies the saying that sometimes “it takes a woman to do a man’s job.”
Throughout her career, Lyn helped other female athletes build successful careers just like she had. She serviced as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 3 years, and established her own charitable foundation, Women in the Winner’s Circle, in 1994. Her work with the foundation even led to the formation of a traveling museum exhibit about female drivers, created with The Henry Ford, in 2010.
In 2011, Lyn St. James donated a collection of personal papers and memorabilia to the museum. Looking through the materials St. James chose to archive throughout her career, her passion for the advancement of women in sports in abundantly clear: a letter written to legendary athlete Billie Jean King, newspaper clippings about female race car drivers from around the country, notes of support for the America3 Women’s America’s Cup team. All of these underline her commitment to the cause. Looking through the memorabilia in the collection, we are filled with such esteem for the work she has undertaken to help women achieve everything they can in sports, and in life.
One artifact in particular spoke to us. At first glance, perhaps this checkered flag from the St. James collection in the Benson Ford Research Center doesn’t seem like anything extremely special. However, take a second look. Notice that each white square of the flag is signed by a different race car driver, and all of them were women. The signatures of Janet Guthrie (the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977), Erica Enders, and Erin Crocker can all be seen on the flag. These women, and all of the others who took a permanent marker and signed their name, have found success in racing and have proven their worth on the track and off.
Women continue to make strides in the world of auto racing. Take a look at Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, and Courtney Force Hood, just to name a few. Sarah has driven in the Indianapolis 500 9 times now, Danica is the only woman to earn a victory in an IndyCar Series event (the Indy Japan 300 in 2008), and Courtney currently holds the record for most wins by a female driver in NHRA history. Gender equality in sports means much more than just the opportunity for women to compete alongside men. It means that women are able to live in a society that believes in and encourages their dreams, and allows women to have the skills, confidence, and community support to take the lead in their field.
March is Women’s History Month, and every year, the National Women’s History Project develops a theme for the event. 2015’s theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to imagine Lyn St. James, or any other female race car driver, weaving her way through the pack of race cars to take the lead, set the standard, and win the checkered flag.
Janice Unger and Molly Malcolm
race car drivers, by Molly Malcolm, by Janice Unger, women's history, racing