Lyn St. James – race car driver extraordinaire!

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Visiting my “ride” before taking my laps.

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My tall handsome chariot driver!

I had been looking forward to Lyn St. James’ lecture at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, CA in November but then she had to postpone. But an opportunity arose to see her at Sonoma Raceway during the CSRG Charity Challenge. I hung around all morning looking for her and waiting for my 3-lap ride (read “10 minutes of absolutely delicious terror”) around the 12-turn 2.52 mile road track in a 1952 Jaguar XK 120 owned and driven by James Alder. I had been at the track a few weeks earlier watching Helio Castroneves and Will Power navigate their Indy cars around the same track. Hitting Turn 1 at full throttle is fear on steroids! At least for this 71 year old Granny!

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Lyn St. James’ record setting Thunderbird

I did get a gander at Lyn’s 1989 Ford Thunderbird in which she set a myriad of speed records in the track winner’s circle and read a sign about all of her feats, but no sight of its famous female driver.2014-10-04 12.13.22 I was about to give up and strolled over to the cafe for something to eat when I spied her sitting at a picnic table signing her book for a friend.

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Lyn and me at Sonoma raceway

Breathlessly, I introduced myself and ran off into the raceway store to purchase a copy for signing. The most interesting part is that I had read up on her personal history the night before and discovered that she grew up in Willoughby, Ohio, the same small town outside of Cleveland where my grandparents had lived their entire adult lives, where my mother had been born and raised, where many of my other relatives had been prominent citizens, and where I had been baptized, had visited many times, and had even attended second grade. My uncle, Robert Shankland, a famous physicist, had, along with his uncle, served as a trustee of the Andrews School for Girls (now the Andrews Osborne Academy), which Lyn had attended from 7th to 12th grade. My uncle’s father, Sherwood Shankland, had been the school’s first superintendent. Lyn shared about how this school, which was eons ahead of its time in empowering the lives of young women, influenced her character development and ambitions. And we had a lively discussion about her visit next spring to the Museum. I hope to become involved in the preparations for this event. Finally, a volunteer activity that truly captures my attention–a combo of two loves, the excitement of car racing and my passion about the place of women in the fabric of America.

The theme of Women’s History Month in 2015 is Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives. The warp and woof of Lyn’s story is woven with Nomex, a fire-retardant material that is used to make the suit, gloves, socks and shoes worn by race car drivers. But as her website says: “Lyn St. James’ story is not just about being a successful race car driver. It’s a story about goal setting, determination, passion and fully utilizing all her defeats and successes to break into a world no one could have imagined possible: auto racing.” The 2010 revised edition of her book Lyn St. James, An Incredible Journey, is still available. For any woman who was told as a child that she can’t be this or that because it’s a man’s prerogative, this book is a must!

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