ST. JAMES: Women Are Making Noise On The Race Track
There have been women in racing for decades, whether it’s holding a stopwatch, writing a press release, or behind the wheel of a race car.
So why write a column about it?
Well, because there are so many more women involved and they are so much younger when they become interested and involved in racing. As a result, they are becoming more and more successful.
When I started racing in the 1970s, in SCCA in a new class called Showroom Stock, I was in my 20s and it was because I first went to the races as a spectator with my husband. I didn’t see many women other than wives and girlfriends, and the ones I saw were either corner workers or worked in timing and scoring. On occasion I would see a woman competing in a race car, but not very often. I loved being at the races and I loved to drive fast, so I gravitated to learning to be a race car driver.
This column isn’t about me, but I thought it would be helpful to provide a little background as to why I’m so passionate about female racers. I am pleased that National Speed Sport News has provided this space to share what’s happening in this growing area of motorsports.
After successfully competing in the Indianapolis 500, I was bombarded with fan mail asking for advice on how to be successful in racing, so in 1994, I started a not-for-profit organization, now known as the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation. The hope was to provide a curriculum for female racers who had career aspirations.
Over these 15 years, I’ve observed the significant changes of how many women are racing, how much younger they are when they get started, how many different types of racing they’re doing (from go-karts to sprint cars) and how successful they are — they are winning races and winning championships everywhere.
That’s what this column is about — Women in the Winner’s Circle. I believe that as we see these young, winning women racers move up the ladder, we will see our sport grow because this will attract more fans, more media interest, more sponsors and greater exposure. People are interested in people as well as cars, and a more diverse pool of people driving race cars just creates more interest and better reflects the society of people watching.
Besides educating and training aspiring female racers, our Driver Development Academy also has a scholarship fund, Project Podium, by which women can apply for financial grants to assist their racing careers.
One criteria to be eligible to receive a grant is that it has to be on a matched-fund basis; meaning the driver has to show they’ve raised an equal amount of sponsorship to the amount of their grant request. Learning how to generate support and create partners is key to becoming a professional in racing, so this in itself is part of the teaching we do.
Without our partners we would not have been able to start this fund, so I want to thank the late Paul Newman/Newman’s Own — our founding partner, and our other partners: Atlantic Championship Series, Grand Am, IndyCar Series/Indy Lights, Mazda, NASCAR Foundation, NHRA, Rolex, Toyota, Volkswagen and NASCAR President Mike Helton.
In 2008, our grant recipients were sprint-car driver Miranda Throckmorton, stock-car driver Megan Reitenour, go-kart racer Kristy Knoll, mini-sprint racer Brandie Jass and go-kart racer Natalie Fenaroli. Each of them won championships and/or rookie-of-the-year titles.
We invite you to join our Project Podium Scholarship Fund and/or contribute to the foundation, and you’ll hear more about women in racing in National Speed Sport News. You can reach me at (317) 244-9790 or check out our Web site at www.lynstjames.com.