Heavy Metal Affliction - Lyn St James Pt. 2
Lyn St. James has raced nearly everything on four wheels in her racing career. She is also one of the many Voices of Motorsport you will find in Forza Motorsport 7. Last week in part one of our interview with St. James she talked about how she developed her career. This week we learn about her approach to racing and where her life behind the wheel has led her.
Read on for the details.
Heavy Metal Affliction: The Indy 500 is one of the most storied race events in the world. How does racing at the Brickyard compare to any other race?
Lyn St. James: There is nothing else like racing at Indy, whether it’s the 500, or now the vintage races at the Brickyard. The incredible history of the speedway certainly plays a huge part in what makes it so special, and how well maintained and the fact that it’s still the original track layout also makes it unique. The pre-race celebration is like none other, but there are other races, like the 24 Hours of LeMans, that also create a memorable celebration.
HMA: Discuss how you approach every track differently and the tools you have to employ to be successful on each.
LSJ: Every race track demands a different set of skills, and what’s really cool is once you’ve learned the course, you become aware of the rhythm that sets in for each track – some better than others. For me, tracks that come to mind where there’s a good rhythm [would be]: Watkins Glen, Daytona, and Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. It’s like those tracks have a flow. Other tracks where it’s hard to feel the rhythm [are]: Sebring, LeMans, Riverside, and Mid-Ohio. I think it’s a matter of the length of the track, and where there’s a big mix of high speed and low speed corners and right/left hand corners.
HMA: Tell us about the Women in the Winner’s Circle and your goals as a motivational speaker.
LSJ: Between 1992-94 (after racing in the Indy 500) I got so much fan mail, and much of that fan mail was asking for advice, I felt it was time for me to figure out how to make a difference for other women in racing. After my leadership experience with the Women’s Sports Foundation (founded by Billie Jean King) it helped me have the vision that I could start my own foundation and create a training program, called the Driver Development Program. We had our first program in the fall of 1994 and hosted 24 female racers in Indianapolis for four full days of physical fitness, nutrition, media training, personal and mental skills development. Over 20+ years we trained over 230 drivers from 33 states and four countries, including Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, Melanie Troxel, Erin Crocker, and many others. In 2007 with the help of Paul Newman, I started a scholarship fund – Project Podium, and received support from some of the racing communities. I transferred the fund into the Women’s Sports Foundation in 2013 and continue to provide support for women in racing.
My goal as a motivational speaker is to try to use my experience in racing as a way to share more about the sport to larger audiences and to help people understand the sport better. It really parallels business, especially entrepreneurial business, more than people realize. Each race team is an entrepreneurial business.
HMA: What did you learn through racing that translates to helping others succeed?
LSJ: You have to know how to turn a dream into a goal; you have to believe in yourself, then motivate others to believe in you. Success is dependent on preparation, teamwork, learning from failure, and persistence.
HMA: When you are in public, how do you deal with fans? How do your fans differ today from when you were a rising star and Rookie of the Year?
LSJ: I always appreciate fans, especially today since my days in the spotlight were quite a few years ago. They are mostly inquisitive and respectful. During the years that I raced at Indy, they were also mostly respectful, but definitely more forward. As a rookie at Indy I had no idea what to expect when fans started calling out my name and standing in line to get my autograph. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to include when doing my driver development program. While it’s a very special feeling, it helps if you’re prepared for it.
HMA: Was Rookie of the Year your most prized accomplishment? If not, what was, and what does that accomplishment mean to you?
LSJ: That’s a tough question. Being named 1992 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year was probably the biggest surprise of my racing career, and yes, one of the things I’m most proud of. But I think the biggest accomplishment is qualifying and racing in seven Indy 500’s – qualifying 6th in 1994 – and being able to continue to race these 42 years. I’m also proud of how many different types of racing I’ve been able to do and be successful – including racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September of this year. I hope it never ends!
HMA: Talk about how social media has changed the presence you or other race drivers can have in the world. What are your social outlets and what do you use them for?
LSJ: Social media has changed the game in every way. You can’t hide anymore, and you might as well get on board and join the crowd. I wish I had a better handle on how to do and manage it, so right now I have Facebook page(s), Instagram and twitter – but Facebook is the only one I’m personally active on. One benefit I love is how I’ve been able to learn more about people I’ve known for a long time, and stay in touch with people who I don’t get to see very often. It’s fun!
HMA: Has your career always been the priority since you got behind the wheel? Tell me about the hard choices you have had to make to follow your path?
LSJ: I have to admit that once I started racing – it’s been the highlight and priority in my life. It’s like I found the one thing that I believe I was meant to do in this world in this lifetime. I’m in heaven when I’m at the track, and when I’m driving a race car. When I realized I could make this a career, it even became more important. For the decade of the 1980’s when I had Ford Motor Company as a sponsor, I still had an auto parts business (Autodyne), because my contracts with Ford were only on a one-year basis, so I was always worried what I would be doing the next year and felt I needed a backup plan. Plus, I enjoy business, so I enjoyed running it. There were definitely hard choices. Friends outside of racing were hard to have because I traveled so much, and unless you were into racing it was hard for other people to understand my passion and commitment. It was like, “Don’t bother to invite Lyn because she’ll probably be gone racing”. When I was married to John Carusso (my first husband), we were in business together and went racing together, so that was good while it worked. After we divorced, it was tough because I had to figure everything out on my own (my auto parts business and racing career). All in all, while there were times I felt isolated and alone, I wouldn’t trade or change any of my decisions. I’ve been blessed to have been able to do what I’ve done.
HMA: Who were the most influential people in your racing career? What roles did they play?
LSJ: I’ve had some super people who have helped me in my racing career. My first husband, John Carusso, was so supportive in the beginning and taught me so much. Dick Simon, my team owner for most of my Indy racing, was just the best owner/teacher/friend I could have had at such a critical stage of my racing career. I’ve always watched the people who were successful in racing and tried to learn from them, even sometimes by just watching them. People like Roger Penske, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Jim Busby, and many others who would be willing to offer advice.
HMA: Who were and are your racing heroes? What did they do to earn that credit?
LSJ: People like Roger Penske, Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart, Peter Gregg, Brian Redman, Rick Mears; they were my racing heroes. I looked at what made them successful, and there were different things from different people: [being]smart, kind, meticulous, prepared, gracious, authentic, innovative, focused. I looked for qualities and tried to integrate them into who I was and how I did things.
HMA: What is the most difficult factor in competing in a 24 Hour race?
LSJ: The hardest things to do in a 24 hour [race] is pace yourself – and manage your energy. It takes some experience to learn proper hydration and nutrition that personally works, and to not burn out too quickly, yet stay “up”, and be adaptable. You have to adapt to weather conditions, mechanical conditions, and personality issues. You learn what a person is made of in a 24-hour race – and that’s everyone: teammates, crew members, media, fans, everyone.
HMA: Tell me about a typical week in the life of Lyn St. James.
LSJ: There is no such thing as a typical week in my life. The only constants I try to maintain are daily communication (checking emails, return phone calls, etc) and my workouts (with a trainer when I’m home, and on my own when I’m on the road). Scheduling appointments and meetings, both current and future are a must. Food shopping, both at home and on the road, is a must because I hate to eat out, so maintaining my proper food intake can be a challenge. I love to read, and I love to read magazines and books, so I get as much of that in as I can. A little television either when I’m bored, or if there’s something special I like (I love Jay Leno’s new shows), and once in a while I will catch a movie. I enjoy working in the yard, so when I’m home I spend about an hour every morning cleaning the pool and working in the yard, it’s great therapy.
HMA: Where do you see the next ten years leading you?
LSJ: I’m going to be a first-time grandmother in early 2018, so I’m very excited about how that will change my life! I’m hoping to continue to try to make a difference for the women who are racing and see more of them winning. I want to see the subject of whether a woman will win the Indy 500 and race in F1 closed for once and all. Let’s see that happen! After going to the Bonneville Salt Flats earlier this year, I’m definitely chomping at the bit to go back and set some records and earn my way into the Bonneville 200mph club. I’ve learned you can’t make that a goal and expect it to just happen…it may take some time. I also traveled to Italy for the first time this year, so I would like to go back to Italy and take a longer look at some of its wonders, as well as visit one or more countries where I can visit historically important racing and automotive places. I’ve enjoyed doing a little bit of painting, so would like to do more of that. It’s fun and tickles my creative juices. I can’t imagine not driving fast cars, so that better keep happening. I would love to fall in love again!