When Lyn St. James decided to turn her auto racing dreams into reality, “taking the plunge” wasn’t just a figure of speech, it was a reality. In her first novice race after completing driver’s school, St. James and her Ford Pinto ended up in a Florida lake, a mishap for which she was awarded “Alligator of the Year.”
St. James wasn’t underwater for long. The Ohio native overcame her less-than-auspicious start and went on to race in the Indianapolis 500 seven times and set 21 national and international speed records in her career.
St. James recently visited Hagerty headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan, where she joined us for our weekly Cars & Caffeine get-together and talked cars, motorsports, perseverance, and the power of persuasion.
In 1992, St. James became only the second woman to qualify at Indy, 15 years after Janet Guthrie became the first. Starting in 27th, she finished 11th in the crash-heavy race and earned Rookie of the Year honors. [She likely would have finished 10th, but late in the race, St. James’ crew told her to let A.J. Foyt pass because they mistakenly thought he was a lap down.]
St. James’ best Indy qualifying came two years later, when she averaged 224.254 mph and started on the outside of the second row, directly behind Emerson Fittipaldi and directly in front of Mario Andretti—one qualifying spot ahead of defending CART IndyCar Series champion Nigel Mansell.
“I remember seeing my number 90… at the top [of the scoreboard] for about 10 minutes,” says St. James, who was an early qualifier. “Then it dropped… and it held after it got to the sixth spot.”
Al Unser won the 1994 race from the pole position. St. James ultimately placed 19th.
The road to Indianapolis was long, St. James says. Her mother didn’t support her desire for a career in auto racing, but she jokes that her mom had only herself to blame, since she actually fueled St. James’ interest in cars. After leaving home and beginning her career in SCCA events, St. James says she would call home and tell her mother how she was doing.
“She’d say, ‘Oh, that’s really good! Are you all done with that now? Will you get this out of your system?’” St. James recalls with a laugh. “She taught me how to drive; she taught me that a car talks to you, the car gives you warnings and signals. I had to learn the smells… My mom was the car person in the family, so she’s the one who instilled that in me. [But] as a mother she was concerned about my safety.”
St. James worked her way up the ladder, but she never rested on her laurels.
“When you decide you’re going to be a professional race car driver, it’s a business, so I put my business hat on and I said, ‘I’ve got to figure this out,’” she says. “I’ve spent my entire life convincing people to do things.”
That included Ford Motor Company, which finally sponsored her “after three years of bugging.” It led to a 15-year relationship with Ford. “It worked out pretty well,” she says. “…Without that relationship I’m convinced I never would have had a career in this sport.”
She also bugged IndyCar team owner Dick Simon for three years before he gave her a shot in 1988, and her tryout went well. “I thought, ‘Oh my god… this is real. I’m a real race car driver,’” St. James recalls. “Simon said, ‘We can do this.’ He didn’t say, ‘You can do this,’ he said, ‘We can do this.’ So I had that piece of it… I had somebody else who believed in me. Four years later, after 150 companies had said ‘no,’ JCPenney said ‘yes.’ And the rest is history.”
The JCPenney sponsorship secured an Indy ride with Simon, who was a master at nurturing rookie drivers, including Guthrie, who became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1977.
Learn more about St. James’ speed records at Talladega, her continuing career in vintage racing, life as a motivational speaker and supporter of women in racing, and the difference between dreams and goals by watching the video.W
Lyn was recently featured in video on the Hagerty website:
SVRA’s Charity Pro-Am Series A Battle Of Titans In The Mold Of Original IROC
Southlake, TX (February 14, 2018) – Al Unser, Jr., Willy T. Ribbs, Davey Hamilton, Lyn St. James and Max Papis have filed entries for Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s (SVRA) first-ever Vintage Race of Champions (VROC) at Road Atlanta on March 29 and 30. VROC builds on the success of the SVRA Charity Pro-Am races that began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014. Other VROC Series races are planned for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August, and Virginia International Raceway in September. Plans call for two points championship trophies to be awarded – one for both an amateur and a professional racer.
These first entries set up a classic inter-disciplinary battle of titans reminiscent of the venerated original IROC series. SVRA officials report that champions from other fields, such as the various levels of NASCAR and sports car racing, will inevitably enter as well.
The new Road Atlanta Charity Pro-Am will support Hope For The Warriors, a national nonprofit organization that provides assistance to combat-wounded service members, their families, and families of those killed in action. The organization focuses on those involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and their families. The SVRA race weekend will run during their Month of the Military Child.
“These drivers are not only racing legends, but over the years have become dear friends,” said SVRA CEO Tony Parella. “They are best known for their achievements at the Indianapolis 500, but also they have collectively won untold races and championships across virtually every discipline of the sport.”
Collectively the five champion drivers represent two Indianapolis 500 victories, 37 Indy car race wins, two Indy car championships, an IROC championship, a Can-Am championship, three overall 24 Hours of Daytona wins, 19 Trans Am victories, an Indy 500 rookie-of-the-year trophy, and 13 IMSA sports car victories as well as numerous other successes across a variety of disciplines and major events. The combined experience of this elite group includes, in addition to Indy cars, all the major categories of auto racing such as Formula One, 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, the three major NASCAR series, World of Outlaws, and short track racing in general.
Al Unser Jr. is a two-time Indy car champion (1990 and 1994) and the winner of 34 Indy car races including the 1992 and ’94 Indianapolis 500s. He was Indy car series champion in 1990 and again in 1994. His 1992 Indianapolis 500 victory is the closest finish in history with a margin of just 43 ten-thousandths of a second over runner-up Scott Goodyear. A versatile driver, he was a winner in World of Outlaws sprint car racing, 1982 Can-Am champion, and IROC champion in 1986 and again in 1988. He’s also a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1986 and ’87. Like his father Al Unser Sr. and Uncle Bobby Unser he enjoyed tremendous success as a star driver for Roger Penske’s team, which provided his winning entry for the 1994 “500.”
Willy T. Ribbs is the first black driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He did so twice, in 1991 and again in 1993. He also tested for a Formula One seat, in 1986 with Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team. He was Trans Am’s most prolific winner from 1983 through 1985 when he scored 18 of his 19 career-total victories. He was series rookie-of-the-year in 1983, winning five times and more than any other driver. After Trans Am, he moved to Dan Gurney’s IMSA Toyota team for two years and picked off 10 overall victories.
Davey Hamilton, who is renowned for his mastery of super-modified racing, competed in 11 Indianapolis 500s with three top-10 finishes including a fourth place. He finished in the runner-up spot twice in the Indy car season championship and in 2014 raced in Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Truck Series. Hamilton is a leader both on and off the track. He was founder of the “King of the Wing” sprint car series and has been active as an Indy car owner. Last year he served as driver coach and consultant at the Carlin IndyCar race team.
Lyn St. James is a seven-time starter in the Indianapolis 500 and the event’s rookie of the year in 1992. While many fans know Lyn best for her Indianapolis 500 achievements, she is an accomplished road racer and has earned numerous laurels at the wheel of a variety of race cars. She is a two-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1989 and ’91). She was even more successful in 62 IMSA GT events, amassing a record of six wins, 17 top-five and 37 top-ten finishes. Her 1985 GT victory at Watkins Glen remains the only time a woman has scored a win in that series driving solo. Lyn raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring nine times, winning the GTO class in 1990, and was a two-time winner in the GTO Class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. She has held 31 international and national closed circuit speed records and is a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and the SCCA Hall of Fame.
Max Papis has driven in virtually every major series this side of drag racing. This includes Formula One, NASCAR, Indy car racing, Le Mans as well as V8 Supercars and IROC. The versatile driver competed in two Indianapolis 500s for 1998 race winner Eddie Cheever and won three Indy car races for Bobby Rahal’s team. In NASCAR he raced Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series. He competed in seven 24 Hours of Le Mans contests, scoring a class podium in five of those events along with top-10 overall finishes on four occasions. Papis also won two 24 Hours of Daytona races – including an overall win in 2002. He has also started in more NASCAR races than any European driver in history.
SVRA officials have set a goal of expanding the VROC series to five races with a television package and entitlement sponsor by 2020. As with previous pro-am races, the cars are 1963 to 1972 vintage Corvettes, Camaros, and Mustangs of SVRA “Group 6” A and B Production.
About SVRA – The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association is the premier vintage racing organization in the United States. Founded in 1978, SVRA has grown steadily to 2,500 active members with a database of over 11,000 race cars. The 2019 schedule consists of 14 race weekends at some of the finest racing venues in the United States, including: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Lime Rock Park, Sebring, Road America, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Auto Club Speedway, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Portland International Raceway and Virginia International Raceway (VIR). SVRA hosted the first U.S. Vintage Racing National Championships at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas in 2013. Further information on SVRA, a complete annual schedule, and entry lists can be found on the SVRA website. Also, be sure to check our Facebook page and YouTube channel which currently boasts a library of over 300 action-packed videos of events.
Please take a moment to listen to the distinguished panel of highly accomplished industry members as they share experiences, perspectives and invaluable advice on how to pursue a future in motorsports. With a focus on the mentorship mindset and encouraging/inspiring advancement for ambitious or would-be female racing professionals, this program is led by motorsports legend Lyn St. James, whose own impressive career has set the bar for women in the male-dominated sport of auto racing.
Moderated by St. James, other participants include Cara Adams, Katie Hargitt, Shea Holbrook and Karen Salvaggio.
Ex-Formula 1 driver Alex Wurz reveals W Series driver selection details in an online Q&A. Please visit the W Series website for complete details; or view the excerpt here:
Describe the W Series driver selection process that will be taking place at the Wachauring, Melk, Austria, in a few days’ time.
“All the W Series qualifiers – in other words the 50-60 drivers whose applications were accepted to enter the selection process for the first ever W Series season – will assemble at the Wachauring, Melk, for three days of intensive appraisal. The programme will be run on behalf of W Series by Test and Training International, the company that my father Franz and I founded and still run, and it’s basically the same programme that we inaugurated for the FIA Institute some years ago, when it was running its Young Driver Excellence Academy [2011-2015]. A lot of top-class drivers went through that programme – guys like Stoffel Vandoorne and Alexander Rossi for example. My dad used to be a successful rally and rallycross driver, which adds a valuable counterpoint to my own extensive experience in circuit racing, principally in Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship.”
But what will the W Series driver selection process actually entail?
“It’s a comprehensive programme, and I won’t go into all the details now, but it’s a very tough series of tests involving all aspects of a racing driver’s skill-set – not only the driving itself but also physical fitness, mental aptitude, psychological and psychometric testing, communications/media/PR skills and so on. And it works. I’ll be one of the judges, but so will David Coulthard, who’s one of the Directors of W Series, and also Lyn St James, who’s a successful retired female racing driver from the States who started seven Indy 500s in the ’90s. It’ll be a private event – not open to fans or journalists I’m sorry to say – because it’ll be a crucial and challenging test for all the W Series qualifiers, whatever they’ve raced in the past, and they must be able to focus on the tasks they’ll be given without distraction of any kind.”
Why did you decide to get involved with W Series?
“It’s the declared ambition of W Series to help the promotion of women in motorsport, and I totally support that effort. I firmly believe that, given the same opportunities, women can race on an equal basis against men, but sadly women haven’t had those same opportunities so far. W Series is aiming to address that imbalance.
“If, as a result of the launch of W Series, more girls and young women are able to go motor racing, then more girls and young women will progress to the higher levels of motor racing. It’s as simple as that. The fact that we’ve never had that many female racing drivers is merely a reflection of the fact that so few parents encourage their daughters to go karting whereas so many of them encourage their sons to do so. And if W Series’ drivers begin to generate a following, particularly among young girls, and those young girls then develop an interest in motor racing, then that current gender imbalance may gradually shift towards greater equality. I’d be very happy if Test and Training International could play its part in helping bring about that important change.
“And, last but not least, I want to help make sure that the best, most promising and most deserving drivers are chosen to race in W Series this year, so that W Series has the very best chance it can possibly have of developing its winners and champions into successful professional high-level racing drivers who’ll go on to compete and win against male rivals, utilising the lessons they learned while racing for W Series.”
On October 20-21, Lyn will be the featured guest speaker at the MAAP Fall Fling event!
The can’t-miss event, offers a banquet at Hotel Madison with special guest speaker, Lyn St. James, tours of MAAP, a low competition car show, time to explore Harrisonburg and the farmers market, and experience the unique cuisine the town has to offer and much more!
Tours will be from surrounding areas in Virginia and end in Harrisonburg at the downtown pavilion right next to the Farmers Market. Take a stroll along the sidewalk and venture right into the heart of downtown. With so much to do and see, you’ll want to come back every year! We hope to see you soon!
TCA: Coming from a background as a secretary and piano teacher, how did you get into racing?
LSJ: Well, I grew up in kind of a car culture really in the Midwest, and I was a race fan. I went to the drag races, I went to the Indy 500 as a spectator. I mean, racing was certainly on the radar screen, but strictly as a spectator. It wasn’t until quite a few years later — I didn’t start racing until I was 27. When I moved to Florida and went to the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring as a spectator, I found out that people did this as a hobby besides at the professional level.
Even though I knew a lot of people who I did some drag racing with when I was a teenager, it wasn’t really for me — sitting in line, waiting to go down, and it’s over in a few seconds. But I saw road racing, and I saw this endurance racing, and I saw real people drove race cars. They were in Corvettes and Camaros and Porsches, besides the stars who were up in the front.
I found out about the Sports Car Club of America and went to a couple of those races in South Florida, and I found out that you can go to driver’s school and get a competition license. That’s what I wanted to do. I went out and got a Ford Pinto, which was my street car. I prepared it with a roll bar, a five-point seat belt, and a fire extinguisher, took it to driver’s school, and just never looked back.
It’s not an easy sport by any stretch of the imagination. Even to this day I still race, and it’s a very complex sport. It requires human resources, it requires technical resources, it requires financial resources, which are all very hard to pull together. It’s not just something where you go buy a tennis racket and you go out to play against the wall or you go out to a court somewhere and get an opponent. It has much more moving parts and elements to be able to figure it out.
Did you have any inspirations?
Not really. I was married at the time, and fortunately, my husband and I went together. He was as keen on this as I was, so that helped a lot. I wouldn’t call it an inspiration, but it’s certainly a lot of help.
As I look back, you know, a lot of times we see things we didn’t see at the time. Because I went to a girls school, I got sports, where if I had gone to public school, that wouldn’t have been offered. They didn’t have the sports for girls. So, I think I was blessed to be able to participate in sports.
I didn’t consider myself a great athlete. And then I remember watching Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in 1973. I think that somehow impacted me, with a woman tennis player beating a male. He was a lot older than her. It got national attention. I think somewhere, probably in the back of my mind, it kind of gave me permission to do something that maybe would have not been considered the right thing for a girl to do. Consciously I never say that to myself, but sometimes we have a lot of subconscious messages that our brains are processing that we’re not necessarily paying constant attention to.
And later, I became very much an advocate for women in sports. I got to meet Billie Jean, and my life changed dramatically. But at the time, if you were to talk about inspiration — I think that probably had some impact. My husband wanted to build a Corvette and all that. So it was more that I had allies for it than I had inspiration.
You raced during the same time and even co-drove with Janet Guthrie. Since the both of you were kind of rarities at the time, was there any rivalry between you two?
No. At the time I started racing, I didn’t know anything about Janet Guthrie. When she came to Indy in the late ’70s, she gained all kinds of attention. And I was racing, but I was racing in the amateur and very low levels, local levels. So, I didn’t relate to her in that sense, and quite frankly she was at a much higher level. I was amazed at how they appeared to not really want her there. I mean, with the media and the editors, there was a lot of controversy when she showed up at Indy. I didn’t sense that in my life. In my world, I felt like I was part of something.
But I did get a chance to meet her and race with her in the late ’70s at Sebring. But again, she was way up on the pedestal, and I was just this local Florida girl. By the time I got to what I’d call my professional time — in the ’80s and when I got Ford as a sponsor, and then of course in the ’90s when I got to Indy — she had already retired. So, we were never really contemporaries. It was just for that one time at Sebring.
Racing when you did, were there any challenges to competing in the male-dominated sport of auto racing?
The challenges are every time you show up to the race track. No matter how well prepared you think you are, no matter how much you want to do well, it’s incredibly difficult to get to a race track, to have a car prepared, to have all the pieces in place.
I was just kind of, it is what it is. I’m proud of the fact that I’m a woman and I am a race car driver, so it’s not like I’m a woman race car driver. I never felt that I was different. I think it’s important to, for any of us, that we have our feet on the ground about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I wasn’t trying to prove anything about women. I was trying to earn respect and do well. I mean, I felt pretty good when I did well, and I felt really shitty when I didn’t. So, it was really more about how I felt about me as opposed to worrying about what other people thought about me. And I kind of always had stayed true to that, and I think that’s helped me survive and helped me stay grounded and not get too carried away.
I certainly have realized that through the Women’s Sports Foundation and working with Billie Jean that I actually have a responsibility and an opportunity to impact the way people think about what women are capable of. I certainly realized there was a power behind what I was doing in the later years. That was a tool — that was a benefit of what I was doing. I just never got it in the way of me doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I just loved to drive race cars, and that’s why I do what I do. I realized there was this benefit, I guess you could say, and opportunity to do that and the powerful tool to benefit others, which feels good. You like to feel that what you’re doing in this world actually — in some way, shape, or form — can benefit other people or change the way, positively, how people think. That’s a really cool bonus.
What made you decide to move from endurance racing to CART and IndyCar?
I never really decided that. I liked endurance racing because it’s a chief sport, and you get a lot of seat time. I just wanted to drive an Indy car because they’re the ultimate. Maybe some people say Formula 1, but that wasn’t in my stratosphere. I really just wanted to drive an Indy car. It’s called perfection. And as I got better as a race car driver, I wanted to see how I would stack up and what would it feel like.
I finally got that opportunity in 1988 when Dick Simon gave me that opportunity to drive an Indy car. I definitely took to it better than I anticipated, and I liked it. He watched me and said, “We can do this.” He didn’t say, “You can do this,” he just said, “We can do this,” which was very powerful because then I realized I had somebody who saw my ability and also had the resources. He had cars and teams, and he was in the business. That inspired me. I think I looked at him like, “Are you serious?” He was like, “Yes.” And so it set me on that path. It took us four years before I was able to find sponsorship.
So, it’s just having a little bit of a dream, and the dream comes true. The dream was just to drive the car, and then the dream became a reality, which then turned into a challenge and a goal. I mean, it literally turned from just a dream, reality, and then, “Oh my god, I have a new goal.” Kind of like what the heck am I really thinking? But I couldn’t stop — I could not not do it. But I’m glad I did.
You were the first woman to win Rookie of the Year at Indy. What was that like?
I’m a very goal-oriented person, so when I get a goal, I get really, really focused. First of all, I never even knew there was such a thing until I got to Indy. I didn’t know they had a Rookie of the Year. You go to these meetings with all the rookies, and then the talk starts about it. There were like 11 rookies that year, so it was a big field. I didn’t even learn about it until I actually got to Indy and throughout the month of May. And then I was like: “There’s no way. There’s no way in hell.” I found out that it’s evaluated on a lot of different things — your qualifying position, your finishing position, but also other things done by this group of media people. And, of course, they were all males. So, I was like, “There’s no way.”
That wasn’t even on my radar screen, and when that was announced at the victory banquet, I was totally, totally taken aback. But what was more a bigger part of the story was that Dick Simon, my owner who had taken more rookies to Indy than any other team owner and was very successful and very well known for that, had never won Rookie of the Year with any of those drivers. What was so cool was to not only be taken aback and my sense of pride, but I really felt that that was sort of a trophy for him, winning for all the other rookies that he’d taken. It was very cool. I asked them if they would make a trophy so that he could have a trophy.
What is it like having competed in perhaps some of the most prestigious races, like the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 24 Hours of Daytona?
It’s extraordinary. These are iconic races that I’d read about and watched, that I knew that the people who race in those are the best of the best. And then when you get there, and you actually do it, particularly at Daytona and Indy to have the success we had. At Le Mans, we didn’t have that kind of success. But at the same time, it’s almost, what I might call it, an out-of-body experience. You’re just living it and wondering all of those years that you wondered what it would be like in your mind. And particularly like at Daytona as a spectator at that event and then racing in it a number of times, and we actually had the win.
You almost have to hit yourself upside the head and say: “Hey, you’re not a spectator, you’re actually doing it. Pay attention.” You’ve got to really slap yourself sometimes and kind of be in the moment and actually be doing what you’re doing and try not to observe what you’re doing. It’s a wonderful feeling to accomplish things that are not only goals, but are goals that are pretty lofty.
What is your favorite experience of your racing career?
That’s an impossible one to answer because there have been so many. I just raced a 1927 Bugatti Type 35C at Laguna Seca, and I was wanting to see what it was like driving one of those Bugattis that the women of the ’20s and ’30s raced. That certainly doesn’t necessarily take the top of the list, but it’s the most recent one. Racing at Indy is obviously the epitome of accomplishments, and my driving style is so well suited to that type of racing. So, that was perfection for me. And then racing at Le Mans.
There’s just too many. Going to Talladega and setting a speed record, and racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats last year and setting a record there. I’m just so blessed to have all of these extraordinary experiences. I could never, ever just pick one.
What is the first car you ever drove ten-tenths?
The first car I drove ten-tenths was the Ford Pinto. I had to learn how to do that, it was ten-tenths for sure. I had to use the handbrake and every bit of rubber I could get down on the pavement. It wasn’t a lot of horsepower, but putting it down and thinking about momentum and clip angles — that was the best experience to start for me. It was affordable, it had protection around it, and it wasn’t so much power that I could get into so much trouble. I had to learn how to get everything I could out of it.
What made you retire from auto racing full time, and what do you do now?
My last Indy 500 was in 2000, and I was 53 years old, so I was behind the curve and I knew it. I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it to be that way, but as much as we’d like to deny it or hate to accept it and totally deny it, certain things slow down. Reaction times, your concentration, all of that. There’s just certain things that you need to have if you’re going to be at that level of the sport.
That closed that chapter of my career. And quite frankly, I had a dormant period for a while because I don’t own race cars, I really don’t have the financial ability to do that, and my life changed in many ways. So, I kind of had a dormant period and thought maybe my racing days were over, which was really depressing.
And then sometime in the mid-2000s, I got an invitation to be a grand marshal at a vintage race, and they didn’t have a budget to pay me. I said: “Oh, I’d love to do it. But can you get me a drive in something and then you don’t have to worry about paying me?” I got into this Formula Atlantic car and just had a blast. It just brought me back to life.
That’s how the whole vintage racing thing happened. It’s still pretty sporadic, but it just feeds my soul. You don’t have to be 100 percent at the top of your game. You’re not going at the speeds of an Indy car and all that kind of stuff. So, I didn’t decide, my body decided pretty much. I’m just blessed that I can still race.
It also gives me the opportunity to not only be a little bit more available to make appearances. I do book signings. I’m also an ambassador for the RPM Foundation, which stands for Restoration, Preservation & Mentorship. I get so sick and tired of everybody saying young people don’t care about cars. Our society’s changed, and maybe all of us don’t need cars like we did 10, 20, 30 years ago. But it’s not that they don’t care about them — it’s that they don’t have the same way of caring about them as we did.
There are opportunities for people to understand mechanics, who really have mechanical aptitude. There’s a whole career opportunity for them to be able to restore and preserve the cars because it’s also part of history. You don’t even have to necessarily want to be a racer or a mechanic, but you have to care about the history of our country, the history of the world, and many times it’s tied around the automobile and around other mechanical objects. I really enjoy the opportunity to get that message out and to interact with young people at their schools, bring students to the races, to different concours and events around the world. There’s a real need for it. There’s an opportunity for people and the parents to understand the career potential for their kids. It’s not just a grease monkey job.
I’m kind of exploring new venues with that, and of course I still have scholarship programs for women in racing. I’m still trying to help those gals who are out there and really are serious about their racing, to see if there’s a way I can help them get up the ladder.
For any girls or women wanting to get into the sport of auto racing, do you have any advice for them?
First of all, go-karting is a great way to just give it a whirl, give it a try. And if you get yourself in a go-kart and it’s fun, and you seem to kind of like the idea of sliding around and bumping and grinding a little bit wheel-to-wheel, and you can do that in a go-kart, don’t be discouraged.
The next thing is to find people to do it with, whether it’s family or friends. You’ve got to find people to do it with. And at that point, do it as well as you can, learn as much as you can, and then decide whether if it’s something you just want to do for fun, which is absolutely OK, or whether you are so serious that you want to try to do it professionally. And at that point, call me.
Lyn St. James will headline the Opportunities for Women in Motorsports Seminar at this year’s PRI Trade Show. The exclusive seminar which will feature a discussion and Q&A portion is free to attend; and is scheduled for Friday, December 7 from 8AM-9AM in Rooms 241 & 242. Details are as follows:
A distinguished panel of highly accomplished industry members share experiences, perspectives and invaluable advice on how to pursue a future in motorsports. With a focus on the mentorship mindset and encouraging/inspiring advancement for ambitious or would-be female racing professionals, this program will be led by motorsports legend Lyn St. James, whose own impressive career has set the bar for women in the male-dominated sport of auto racing.
Industry members of all generations and genders are invited to hear how these skilled and determined professionals achieved greatness behind the wheel, in the pits, on a crew, and in various other capacities across the spectrum of motorsports. While questions and discussion topics will be directed by St. James, time also will be set aside for audience Q&A.
Harrington, Bagley, and Treadway Also Enter SVRA’s Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am
Southlake, TX (May xx, 2018) – The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) today announced that Lyn St. James, Alex Lloyd, Scott Harrington, Tom Bagley and Rick Treadway are returning to race in this year’s Fathers’ Day Weekend Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The field of Indianapolis 500 veterans continues to grow with more entries expected before the June 16 race.
“This will be our fifth running of the Pro-Am and interest remains extremely strong,” said Tony Parella, the CEO of SVRA. “We are honored to have all these drivers return to this very special event. Lyn, in particular, has been a tremendous friend to SVRA and recently authored an article for our Vintage Racing Quarterly magazine. Alex earned opportunities to race professionally again by impressing his co-driver, Dave Roberts. It’s very special that so many friendships and opportunities have been created by bringing together top drivers like everyone announcing their entry today.”
St. James, a seven-time starter in the Indianapolis 500 and the event’s rookie of the year in 1992, raced in 15 Indy car races in her career. While many fans know Lyn best for her Indianapolis 500 achievements, she is an accomplished road racer and has earned numerous laurels at the wheel of a variety of racecars. She is a two-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1989 and ’91). She was even more successful in 62 IMSA GT events, amassing a record of six wins, 17 top-five and 37 top-ten finishes. Her 1985 GT victory at Watkins Glen remains the only time a woman has scored a win in that series driving solo. Lyn raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring nine times, winning the GTO class in 1990, and was a two-time winner in the GTO Class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Lyn raced in 53 Trans Am races with seven top-five finishes. She has held 21 international and national closed circuit speed records and is a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and the SCCA Hall of Fame. She has competed in all of the Indy Legends Pro-Am races since 2014 and has raced in a variety of cars on different tracks at SVRA events.
Lloyd is a veteran of four Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of fourth in 2010. Among numerous other successes he was the Indy Lights champion in 2007, winning eight of 16 races. Lloyd started racing karts in Britain and Europe at age nine and became British Open champion at age 14 in 1999. His career progressed and in 2001 he was racing competitively in Formula Ford. The British Race Driver’s Club (BRDC) named Lloyd “young driver of the year” after a runner-up finish to Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton in the 2003 Formula Renault series. This led to a Formula One test with McLaren in 2004. After racing off and on in Formula 3000 Lloyd traveled to the United States where he enjoyed great success with the Indy Lights series and that led to his Indianapolis 500 rides. Most recently Alex competed in Pirelli World Challenge (2014) and has brought his knowledge and expertise to motorsports journalism with articles and online video through such outlets as Road & Track, Automobile Magazine, Yahoo Autos and Jalopnik. This will be his fifth Indy Legends Pro-Am.
Bagley is one of those drivers who accomplished much with limited resources. A three-time Indianapolis 500 starter, he was Indy car rookie-of-the-year in 1978. He competed in 42 Indy car races with top four finishes on three occasions and placing in the top ten 23 times during a period when some of the greatest legends in history were at the zenith of their careers.
Scott Harrington began his motorsports career on two wheels earning success in both AMA Motocross and Supercross. He transitioned to four wheels racing in Formula Atlantic and SCCA Can-Am, where he won the 1992 series championship. He earned a starting spot in the 1996 Indianapolis 500 and later won the rookie-of-the-year award for the series in 1999, his first year running the full season. This will be Harrington’s fifth Indy Legends Pro-Am.
Rick Treadway raced in the Indy car series for two years, qualifying for the 2002 Indianapolis 500. He is the son of Fred Treadway, who won the 1997 Indianapolis 500 as a car owner. Treadway is a veteran of four Indy Legends Pro-Am races.
The Indy Legends Pro-Am is the Saturday feature event of the Brickyard Invitational. The Indianapolis 500 veterans will be in 1963 to 1972 vintage Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs of SVRA “Group 6” A and B Production. The professionals will be paired with amateur drivers, splitting their stints at the wheel. Additional Indy 500 drivers will be announced as they enter in the coming weeks.
In addition to the Pro-Am, there will be a festival of other activities at the Brickyard Invitational including the Sunday, June 17 feature race by the professional Trans Am series headed by 2017 champion and emerging superstar, 20-year-old Ernie Francis Jr. The weekend also presents the Hagerty Insurance “shine and show” car corral, vintage motorcycle racing, and 500+ vintage racers ranging over 100 years of automotive history racing in SVRA Groups 1 through 12. An oval exhibition featuring a racecar show of judged competition for the A.J. Watson and Sir Jack Brabham trophies led by track historian Donald Davidson will also take place. Also, the Pre-1920 Race Exhibition cars will be on track along with a paddock area full of in-period equipment displays. The National that finished seventh in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 will be driven at speed.
About SVRA – The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association is the premier vintage racing organization in the United States. Founded in 1978, SVRA enters its 40th year with over 2,500 active members. It will sanction 13 events in 2018 at some of the finest racing venues in the United States, including: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sebring, Road America, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Auto Club Speedway, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Sonoma Raceway, Portland International Raceway and Virginia International Raceway. SVRA hosted the first U.S. Vintage Racing National Championships at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas in 2013. Further information on SVRA, a complete annual schedule, and entry lists can be found on the SVRA website. Also be sure to check our Facebook page and YouTube channel which currently boasts a library of over 250 action-packed videos of events.
Kathy Blaha Teams With Lyn St. James for First All-Woman Driving Team at the Classic at Daytona Classic 24-Hour Race
Jochen Mass Returns to Daytona to Partner Fred Schulte in 1973 Porsche 911 IROC
Adrian Newey and Ray Evernham Featured Guests in VIP Driver Panel at DIS Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Expanded Entry of 165 Race Cars and Nearly 260 Drivers from 18 Countries Coming to “World Center of Racing” for the Third Running of Classic at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (November 7, 2017) – A growing entry list for the third running of the Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) Classic at Daytona presented by IMSA, this weekend at Daytona International Speedway (DIS), November 8 – 12, has attracted even more past and current driving stars and and an expanded lineup of 165 race cars and teams from 18 different countries.
The day-long Classic 24-hour race now includes the Classic at Daytona’s first all-woman driver lineup with Kathy Blaha and Lyn St. James, returning sports car racing legendJochen Mass and a Friday night VIP Driver Panel featuring motorsports technical, team manager and design legends Adrian Newey and Ray Evernham.
A regular podium finisher in HSR competition, Blaha is partnering with two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona GT class winner (1987 and 1990) and 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year St. James in Blaha’s No. 14 1974 Porsche 911 RSR.
The 24 Hours of Daytona was the first road race I ever saw in 1971, and I haven’t missed coming to the 24, either as a spectator or competitor, since the 1970s,” St. James said. “I’m very excited about being back in a race car at Daytona! Having two wins there, as well as a Sebring win and two times running at Le Mans, endurance racing is one of my favorite types of racing. It’s such a team effort, and if you’re prepared and lucky as a driver, you get lots of seat time.”
After Blaha drove solo in her 2015 Classic at Daytona debut, St. James was enlisted as this year’s co-driver by Blaha’s husband and fellow driver Mike Banz, the reigning HSR Classic RS Cup Champion. Banz put together the Classic 24 pairing as a present for his wife’s recent birthday.
“I met Lyn once, a couple of years ago at Indy, where I stood in line with everybody else to shake her hand,” Blaha said. “I told her I was a driver, and as soon as I said that, she just perked up and was just so warm and so accommodating. I told my coach, Jim Pace, I would like to drive with her someday, he said he knew Lyn well, and now my husband arranged it. It’s his birthday present for me, I am looking forward to it, and my goal is to just soak up everything I can from her experience, her expertise, have some fun and learn some things from her.”
St. James is looking forward to racing an iconic mid-1970’s era Porsche 911 RSR at Daytona.
“It was a great surprise to hear from Mike about driving with Kathy in her 911 RSR,” St. James said. “I’m excited, and a bit nervous, about running such an iconic race car. I don’t have much experience in Porsches, which are quite different to drive, but there’s plenty of track time to get a handle on it.”
– Blaha’s Porsche 911 RSR is prepared by Heritage Motorsports, which also fields a similar No. 31 1973 Porsche 911 IROC for Fred Schulte. German sports car racing legend and Formula 1 race winner Mass will co-drive with Schulte in what has become an annual return for the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans winner to the World Center of Racing each November. Mass was a high-profile participant in the first running of the Classic at Daytona in 2014 and again in 2015, the same year he served as the Grand Marshal of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
– Friday night’s VIP Driver Panel at 5:30 p.m. EDT will showcase Newey and Evernham in a true meeting of two of the greatest minds in modern-day motorsports. Although best known for their illustrious achievements outside of the cockpit, both Newey and Evernham are driving in the Classic at Daytona. Newey, the only designer to win Formula 1 World Championship titles with three different constructors, will be co-driving a No. 88 1983 March 83G, a design he perfected in the early stages of his winning career. Legendary NASCAR Crew Chief and Team Owner Evernham will be co-driving the No. 121 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4.
All Classic at Daytona ticket holders and credentialed competitors and guests are welcome to attend the panel, which will be held this Friday, November 10, at 5:30 p.m. EDT in the Daytona International Speedway Drivers Meeting Room in the DIS infield. The panel will be moderated by the knowledgeable founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, Bill Warner, who is also competing in this weekend’s Classic 24-hour race. Warner will co-driving the No. 65 1965 Shelby GT350.
The list of current and legendary drivers and motorsports notables confirmed for the Classic 24 includes Newey, Evernham, Mass, St. James, Pace, Warner, Patrick Long,Andy Wallace, Joao Barbosa, Butch Leitzinger, Eric Curran, Jules Gounon, Terry Borcheller, Aaron Scott, Dieter Quester, Kees Nierop, Bruno Junqueira, Eric Van de Poele, Didier Theys, Forest Barber, Fredy Lienhard, Gunnar Jeannette, John Fergus, Carlos de Quesada and more.
The Classic 24 features six period-correct run groups rotating through a full 24 hours of racing on the 3.56-mile Daytona road course. The run groups, which include various classes of similar-era race cars, each take to the track four times throughout the 24 hours. The competitors in each group covering the most total distance in the shortest amount of time in their group’s four sessions will be “crowned” Classic 24 at Daytona champions.
The entry list for the 2017 Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) Classic 24 Hour at Daytona presented by IMSA is available by clicking here.
Overall Run Group winners will be presented with custom-made HSR Classic 24 Hour B.R.M. Chronographes watches.
The HSR Classic 24 Hour at Daytona JSI Logistics Critical Shipment Hotline for the event is toll free: 1 (833) JSI-CARS or outside the U.S: +1 (508) 728-4565. Competitors preferring email can reach JSI Logistic at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The HSR Classic 24 Hour at Daytona and sister Classic 12 Hour at Sebring event will be run in the same calendar year for the first time in 2017, and less than three weeks apart, in November and December. Just 17 days after the Classic 24 Hour, HSR travels to America’s other grand road course, Sebring International Raceway, for the second edition of the HSR Classic 12 Hour at Sebring, Pistons and Props, presented by the Alan Jay Automotive Network, November 29 – December 3.
About HSR: Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) was formed in the mid-1970s with an event at Road Atlanta. There was one goal then and it remains true today: to celebrate the race cars from the past. As a “time machine” of sights and sounds, HSR provides a venue for competitors and spectators alike to share in the wonderful history and excitement created by the cars that competed at race tracks around the world. HSR currently sanctions eight vintage and historic racing events at some of the world’s most renowned race tracks, including Road Atlanta, Sebring International Raceway, Daytona International Speedway and more. The complete schedule and full event information can be found on HSR’s website at www.HSRRace.com. Look for the HSR Channel on YouTube and follow HSR on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/HSRrace/ and on Twitter and Instagram at @HSR_race. A dedicated website for the Classic 24 Hour at Daytona presented by IMSA is available at www.Classic24hour.com.
BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS | USFRA WORLD OF SPEED | SEPTEMBER 14-18, 2017
What is Bonneville Salt Flat Racing? Why is there such a mystique about it? And why does just about every racer want to go there? I was fortunate to finally get the opportunity to run on the salt at the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA) 31st Annual World of Speed event. After wanting to run on the salt for many decades, it finally happened, and I’m starting to understand it.
Let me start with “What is Bonneville Salt Flat Racing”
I think it’s the Ultimate Mechanical Challenge. It combines creativity, design, and the engineering ingenuity to “build something to a diverse set of rules that will go fast on an unknown surface”. The only area where there’s no compromise is in safety – because the tech inspectors take no prisoners when it comes to safety inspection. Everything is thoroughly checked (even the all the drivers gear – including underwear – to the highest degree of FIA safety specs). There’s a huge diversity in the types of vehicles that show up to run on the salt: production cars, custom built race cars, modified street machines, motorcycles, trucks, 2 wheels/3 wheels/4 wheels, wings, no wings, hot rods, just about anything and everything the mechanical mind can imagine. And the unknown surface – well that means every time there’s a meet on the salt, no one knows what condition the salt surface will be in until the day(s) of the meet. It varies based on the weather over the last season, the current weather conditions, and the constant deterioration of the salt. It takes place on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), so authorization has to come from the BLM to schedule the race meets. Many variables, many unknowns, yet people spend all year (years) to build/prepare a vehicle to run on the salt, and often the event will either get canceled prior to the scheduled dates/or even while on site.
Why is there such a mystique about it?
Literally and visually it’s a phenomenon. The area is a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville and is the largest (46 sq. miles) of the many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake. Speed runs have taken place on the salt flats since 1914. But I think there’s a mystique when one looks out over this massive white surface, surrounded by mountains, and often you see a mirage that looks like the surface is actually water. And depending on the clouds and sun, everything set against this white surface takes on such artistic forms. Jaw dropping.
Why does just about every racer want to go there?
The combination of history, engineering ingenuity, limited access (at best 3-4 times/year), the wide range of types of vehicles, and of course – the SPEED! NOTE: It’s difficult to describe the salt; it’s very coarse, in some places really hard; in other places quite mushy (like slush); quite crusty; and in there are ruts and potholes. It’s never really smooth. And it sticks to everything!!
Now onto my experience of being there for the first time.
How did it happen? I’ve wanted to run on the salt since the 80’s and over time quite a few people knew about it. At Amelia Island in March of this year, Bill Warner had a special display of land speed record cars, and while I was drooling/taking photos of the cars I ran into Ted Wenz of Savannah Race Engineering, who knew about my desire to run on the salt. He asked me if I was still interested in doing it, and of course I said “YES”. He connected me with John Goodman out of Wichita, KS who was building a Lakester to take to Bonneville, hopefully later in the year. John and I started emailing back and forth, and the wheels were now in motion. I joined the USFRA and got the rulebook so I could learn what a Lakester was, and what I needed to get/do as a driver. NOTE: A Lakester is a streamliner with four exposed wheels, and there are many difference classes based on the engine size. John’s has a 2.0 Cosworth BDG engine, so the category is G/GL for engine size, Gas Fueled Lakester. The current record in that class if 211.463 mph. I had to upgrade my nomex, which was fine, except for the race suit (because they are so expensive and this would likely be a one-time use, I was hoping to figure out how I could borrow a suit). I ran into Yves Morizot, founder of Stand 21, at the Rolex Reunion at Mazda Raceway, and Stand 21 came to the rescue. They had one suit (FIA 20 grade) that just might fit me. Walla! So I was ready (at least for the things I needed to do). THANK YOU, STAND 21!
Day 1: I decided to rent a car and drive from Phoenix, which would give me flexibility in my traveling day(s). I left Phoenix on Tuesday, 9/12 expecting to arrive in Wendover, UT that night. I almost made it, but had a tire blow out on my rental car just past Ely, NV – so I ended up spending the night in Ely, NV and had to wait for a replacement rental car the next day (crazy car had no spare tire/just one of those stupid pumps).
Day 2: As I drove into Wendover the marvel of the salt flats appeared off to my right and I just had to stop and take a photo. I arrived Wednesday afternoon and immediately went to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Everyone was just starting to set up; the folks at registration recognized me and gave me my car and pit pass, but I couldn’t officially register until the car arrived and passed tech. After I checked into the hotel I got a call from John saying they had arrived. (They had 3 flat tires on the drive from Kansas). It rained during the night, at least at the hotel, which was only about 10 miles from the Salt Flats.
Day 3: We agreed to meet at the course at 9am, so I met John for the first time, along with his crew: “Izzy”, Glen, “Bones”, Wayne and a little later “Stainless”. The sky is dark, ominous, and looks threatening for the entire day, but the only place it rains is in Wendover, but not on the course. The first order of business is to take the car through tech. This is a newly built car, so tech inspection seems to be more critical than usual. Did you see the movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian”? Well, that’s what it was like going through tech. John Goodman is an experienced record holder on the salt flats, but hasn’t been there since 1999, so he’s a bit nervous. And then there’s me, a salt flat rookie, but somewhat “known entity”, so there’s quite a bit of attention being paid by everyone. Almost 2 hours later and after much discussion, we leave the tech area with a list of things that need to be changed, or the car cannot run! Stainless has arrived on the scene (a true legend/veteran salt flat record holder) and the consensus is they’ll be able to fix things, so let’s work on fitting me and John in the car so we can do our “Bail Out” tests (this consists of after being tightly strapped into the car, the driver has to release everything and be able to get out of the car unassisted in less than 30 seconds). Love the optimism in all racers!! While I make a lunch run to town (drenched in rain) they fit John in the car and he passes his “Bail Out”. Then they start fitting me in the car (not an easy task). Most critical is being able to see and reach everything in the cockpit. About 3 hours later the tech inspectors show up to observe by “Bail Out”. I have to be able to exit the car on my own from a tightly strapped in position in under 30 seconds. The canopy weighs about 20# and isn’t hinged, and the latches are hard to reach. But I get it done (in 21 seconds). As I look up at the sky, there’s a rainbow! We leave the track and decide to meet for dinner at the Copper Kettle Diner (not many options in Wendover – other than the casinos in West Wendover, NV). Good day!
Day 4: The driver’s meeting is scheduled for 8 am, with another rookie driver’s meeting at 9am. Everyone is able to take their personal/tow vehicles down both the long course (7 miles) and short course (5 miles) to observe where the mile markers are, lines marking the course, and other important landmarks. It’s incredibly windy and hazy, so it’s pretty difficult to see much of anything. I’m in information overload at this point. “Floating Mountain” and other references are discussed. I’m used to finding braking zones, turn in points, and apexes, but they’re like right in front of me. Now I’m having to look at quarter mile posts, mile markers, and having a difficult time seeing them at 20 mph! Relax! Patience is required. The wind never lets up; gusts over 20 mph, so the track continues to be on “hold” because of the wind. But our crew is now more focused on fixing the things that need changed from tech inspection. This mostly has to do with how the fuel lines are run – and not isolating the driver compartment from potential flow if the fuel line were to leak/break. A solution is discussed, and before work is started they discuss the solution with the tech inspectors, who seem to agree. Work begins. About 4pm in the afternoon, work is completed and tech inspectors come back for final sign off! YES! We can now officially register and be ready to run tomorrow. Let’s start the motor and do a systems check. Grind/grind/grind. The car won’t start. At this point, I determine there’s absolutely nothing I can offer, and I’m completely windblown from the elements, so I decide to go back to the hotel. NOTE: One high point of the day was the arrival of 14 school buses full of high school students from area schools. How cool to see so many kids excited to be around these vehicles, asking questions, and taking photos. They stay for a couple of hours. I find out later that some of the buses got a chance to drive down the course since it was closed due to the winds. What a great experience for the kids!
Day 5: Perfect conditions! Cool (low 50’s), sunny, no wind. I arrive at the track about 8am, and the crew are making last minute adjustments to the car to get it ready to move over to the short course. About 8:30 one of the fastest streamliners, the record holder Vesco Terminator II, makes a pass and everyone stops for a few minutes to listen (they announce the speeds on AM radio 1610 & CB radio) to what the speeds are: 315.664mph at the quarter mile, 338 mph at the 1 mile, 395 at the 2 mile, 420.499 at the 3 mile, and final trap speed is 430.524. Not a record run, but really fast! About 10am they get the car loaded onto the trailer to get in line on the short course, and load the van with as much support equipment they think they will need. It’s like the paddock is transported to the line (which is now the pits). And the line is long; 38 cars ahead of us. This reminds me of my early drag racing days; hurry up and wait in line to make a pass that will only last a few seconds/minutes. There are 3 lines on the short course: one for the 130mph club cars, one for the 150mph club cars, and one for Land Speed Record cars (which is the one we are in – the longest line!). There is very little activity, time to wander around, but not much to see. Things get really quiet and we realize the course is shut down; there’s a communication glitch with the officials (which threatens safety) so the delay is over one hour. When we’re about third in line John gets suited up and warms up the engine. At about 3:45 (5 hours after we put the car in line) the starter waves John to “go”. I’m in the van, which is the push vehicle, so we push John at the starting line and off he goes. Since this is his first pass, he’s not to exceed 150mph, and even though he only has to go to the 3 mile marker, he seems to disappear into the horizon. It’s a successful run (clocked 138 mph between the 2-3 mile markers), but he’s not happy. The car is unstable, but he needs to get back in line for his second run (between 150-175mph). They inspect the car and begin making suspension adjustments while it’s in line. There continues to be delays, some vehicles take runs, and darkness begins to threaten. Even though it was scheduled to stop at 5pm, they run until a little after 6pm when one of the cars seems to go off course immediately after leaving the start line. End of day! We keep the car in line so it will be able to go out early tomorrow morning, and after that it will be ready for me to run the salt! But we’re done for today! I’ve been here for four days, but still don’t know what it’s like to drive fast on the salt!
Day 6: I arrive at the track at 7am – there’s cloud coverage on the horizon, but you can see the sun peeking out as it comes up. I get a few good photos of the sunrise over the salt. The weather is perfect – cool, and soon to be partly sunny. John goes out about 9:15am and gets a good run – 174mph. While walking around the pits I look over and see someone I recognize, but didn’t expect to see here – Ray Evernham. He tells me he’s doing a documentary on the Bonneville Salt Flats. He said Erin told him I was going to be here. He said let’s do an interview. I get suited up and we do an interview.
Now that John has his first two licensing runs done it’s time to get the car ready for me to run. This involves installing the seat insert, pads, and additional seat belts (cheek belts). At about 12:15 I get my first run down the salt! The time sheet they hand out has the following breakdowns on the short course: NOTE: These are all averages. Here are all my runs.
LSJ Times: 1st Run (Sun) 2nd Run (Sun) 3rd Run (Sun) 4th Run (Mon) 5th Run (Mon)
130 Club (1 mile) 115.15096 137.35503 132.86531 aborted 151.70051
You’ve heard the saying “flying blind”, well my first runs down the salt were literally driving blind. I’ve never done anything in racing quite like this – no real seat of the pants feel, and can’t see much at all. Between the vibrations, distortion in the canopy, the bright white salt, the wide space between two blue lines marking the edges of the track (done with environmentally safe type fluid), and looking for the mile markers at both edges of the track, you really have no idea where you’re going! I also can’t read the GPS gauge on the steering column that indicates speed. And that’s the ONLY indicator to give you any idea of how fast you’re going (no tach/no temperature gauges/no gear indicator), so I just shift by the sound of the engine. They give me “speed goals” for each gear, but since I can’t read the speed, it really doesn’t matter. I know the goal is to stay between 125-150mph to get my “D” license. Luckily I achieve that with the 142.40744 mph. When they check over the car they realize the battery is down, so they put a battery charger on it and work on the GPS speed gauge. I abort my next run after the 1 mile because the inertia switch tripped and shut the car off (we didn’t realize what it was until John got to the car and saw it had tripped). At 3:30 I get back in and do a second run, but I can’t shift into 4th gear, so I top out in 3rd gear at about 157 mph, which at least earns me my “C” license (150-174 mph). We get back in line and at 5:40 I get in my third run, but still couldn’t get it into 4th gear. I’m getting really frustrated. Long lines, so much work/time spent taking any part of the body off the car to work on it, it’s like time stands still. And then when I DO finally get on the course, something (or maybe me) isn’t working. We call it a day and decide to go to the Salt River Café Mexican restaurant for dinner. Good call! Time to gather the troops – but my throat is sore and I feel a bad cold coming. The weather is predicted to be windy tomorrow (Monday), which means the course may not even be open. I mention to John that if the track is open it might be good for him to run the car and check out what’s happening with 4th gear. It was left we’ll just see what the weather will be. And they’ll check the car out in the morning. I go back to my hotel feeling under the weather (literally) and thinking that the likelihood of me getting any more time on the salt isn’t likely to happen.
Day 7: I get a good nights rest and slept in a little bit since I figured I wouldn’t be running. My cold wasn’t any worse, so I figured I’d get some cold medicine, stop at the course to see everyone, go to impound to get my license, and get ready for the drive back to Phoenix. As I’m checking out of the hotel my phone rings and it’s Gary (from the team) who says “get suited up – they found the problem with the shift linkage and we’re getting ready to run with you in it”, so I hustle over to the course. And the conditions are perfect – no wind, cool (60’s), partly cloudy. I arrive about 9:30 and the crew are working on the car (they found where the shift linkage was hanging up), and we load the car on the trailer and transport it to the pits. There are only a few cars around, which is great – NO LINES! There’s excitement in the air, and I hear John say “I have a good feeling about this”. YES!
I’m going down the course and the car shuts off 2 times, so I pushed the inertia button down twice and kept running (got into 4th easily) and when it happens the 3rd time, I know we aren’t going any faster so I abort the run and go down the turn out area. Bummer! John and Stainless decide how to fix it so it won’t happen again, and we take it back to the start line.
I notice on my last run how much more my situational awareness had improved. Even though I couldn’t see any better, it just seemed easier to see what I needed to see. And things now felt like they were happening almost in slow motion rather than fast forward motion. As I looked down the course I felt the left side of the course looked a bit smoother (plus that line was used for the slower cars the last few days and probably had gotten beaten up less), so I talk with Stainless and tell him I’m going to try to stay closer to the left side of the course. I learned later I was right because the workers had “dragged the left side of the course up to the 2 mile marker” that morning (that’s how they smooth out the course – they drag wooden pallets behind trucks to pack down and smooth out the ruts in the salt). My confidence level had also improved, so as they pushed me from the start line and I dropped the clutch at 30 mph in 1st gear, I was “ON IT” full throttle – and went through the gears aggressively – yes, I’m “going for it”. All my shifts were by sound (still can’t read that damned GPS gauge, and when I do see a number, I don’t like it – it’s too slow). Sailed into 4th gear – throttle down, just past the 2 mile marker, when the front of the car takes flight and turns toward the right! I go into a couple of spins – pull the parachute lever (which because I was going backwards didn’t deploy) and land/dig deep into the salt headed up course. I “Bailed Out” (fortunately had practiced that earlier in the week) and by the time the course workers were there I was out of the car. I was fine – and amazingly the car wasn’t too bad. Fortunately it stayed upright, the nose box was somewhere down course, and the undertray was all torn up, but the cockpit and engine bay/rear body work, were all attached and other than being covered in white salt, were all good. This was not how it was supposed to go. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong; in fact, I felt pretty good about how I handled it. Then one of the course workers comes up and tells us my speeds: 177mph at the Quarter (2-1/4) marker (which would earn me my “B” license) and between the 2-3 mile marker (which I was traveling airborne) the speed recorded was 273.63078mph. How could that be?!? The only thing we could determine was I tripped the timing line.
It’s hard to put into words how blessed and grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had in racing. Running on the salt has been a goal for decades, and to finally get the chance to do it was amazing. I’ve been asked “is it what you expected”, and my reply is “I had no idea what to expect, and kept an open mind”. I’m glad I did. In my opinion it is the ultimate challenge and test of courage, commitment, and determination. The patience required, the problem solving, the ability to brave the elements, and the determination to keep coming back (whether it’s to go for another run, or get ready for another year), is beyond anything else I’ve done in racing. I’ve raced SCCA (amateur and pro), IMSA, Indycar, off road, go karts, FIA, vintage, but nothing compares to running on the salt. Yes, there are rules, but there’s so many ways to “do it” which can be successful or get you in trouble. To some degree I think it’s a throwback to what racing used to be like (race what you bring to the track), but don’t be fooled, it’s not crazy nor easy.
I want to thank Ted Wenz for introducing me to John Goodman, and thank John and the entire Kansas Twisters for giving me this opportunity and giving it everything they had to give. And thank you to the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFTRA) for continuing the legacy and passion of salt flat racing – Safe is FAST!! I want to go back! I want to earn my 200 mph Club Membership!