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St. James Hangs Up Her Helmet

by Larry Roberts

May 14, 2001

During the Indy 500 last year, the oldest and the youngest drivers in the race came together in a crash on the 74th lap. The younger of the two was attempting to pass the other in a turn when a third driver tried to dive under them, forcing the pair together and putting them both into the unforgiving wall.

The fact that the oldest and the youngest drivers in the race came together would in itself have been gist for a motorsports commentary but the real irony of the situation was that they were both females, two of only three of their gender to compete in the famous event. At the time Lyn St. James was 53 and a veteran driver who first qualified for the race in 1992, while Sarah Fisher was just 19 and was making her "rookie" appearance in the 500-mile event.

To add another paradox to the situation, Fisher had been a student in St. James' school for race drivers four years ago previously.

This year, both women had intended to make a run for a qualifying position on the starting grid of the Memorial Day Weekend race, but after taking two laps to sort out the car assigned to her by the Dick Simon racing stable, the venerable Grande Dame of Motorsports pulled into the pit area and announced that she was retiring from the Indy Racing League's Indy Car competition, one of the two top single-seater racing venues in the United States.

St. James cited her inability to secure a "ride" in an Indy car since the last 500 as a determining factor in her decision, stating that it prevented her from staying in top form for the grueling race.

St. James had reach the pinnacle of American racing after starting from the very bottom of the sport. She began by solo autocrossing in 1976, progressed to SCCA amateur races and then on into the professional Trans Am sports car series a few years later. During her career, she won the GTP (Prototype) class at the 24 Hours of Daytona, participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, set speed records at the high-banked track at Talladega, Alabama, as well as participating in various other forms of auto racing.

In her first appearance in the Indy 500 nine years ago, she was not only the first woman to earn the Bank One Rookie of the Year award, but at 45, she was also the oldest. Many successful Indy drivers have retired from competition in their mid-40s.

She has expressed a desire to continue auto racing in some lower-level forms of competition and many potential sponsors of sports car endurance racing teams are more than likely being contacted by the St. James organization.

In the mean time, Lyn St. James will busy herself with her multi-faceted business venues which includes lecturing, operating her driving school and a plethora of other ventures. It's still too early to draw the curtain on a person who can truly be called one of America's Fast Women.