Lyn St. James has set thirty-one national and international speed records during her professional racing career, and is renowned as one of the top race car drivers in the world. Her driving ambition to become one of the best in her field has moved with precision, speed, determination, and focus.
An only child, Lyn was born and raised in Willoughby, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Her father, Alfred, was a sheet-metal worker; her mother, Maxine, was a full-time wife and mother (who also spent time, during World War II, as a taxicab driver).
Lyn developed her love for cars early, and one could say Lyn's first trainers were her parents. By spending time in her father's shop, she learned about mechanics and quickly developed a proficiency and respect for things mechanical. Her mother, who suffered from polio as a child and was left unable to walk for long distances, was completely reliant upon a car for mobility. This instilled in Lyn an appreciation for cars as symbols of freedom and independence.
Although Lyn's passion for cars was always there, it would take years and fortuity before Lyn would put her racing career on track. Following her mother's wishes that she grow up well-educated and self-sufficient, Lyn attended Andrews School for Girls in Ohio, where she majored in business, played sports, and continued the piano lessons she had started at age six. Following high school, she went on to earn a piano-teaching certificate from the St. Louis Institute of Music and become an accomplished classical pianist.
During her teenage years, Lyn's fascination with cars was also developing. One day, Lyn (then 17 years old) and her friends were attending the drag races in Louisville, Kentucky. A male companion entered their GTO and lost. When Lyn made a remark about her friend’s driving ability, he suggested that she race it herself. She did, and won her class.
In 1966, Lyn and her friends went to the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, where she obtained A.J. Foyt's autograph. "I was mesmerized," she says. "It was the most incredible experience of my life." It was also then that she realized she had to find a way to make cars her life.
At the age of 23, Lyn moved to Florida to marry John Carusso, the owner of a consumer electronics firm and, later, an auto parts business. Sharing a love of cars, the couple bought a Ford Pinto in 1973 to compete in regional amateur Sports Car Club of America races. John soon moved up to a Corvette, and the Pinto became Lyn's. In 1976 and 1977, Lyn was named the SCCA's Florida Regional Champion. In the same year, John gained acclaim by finishing sixth at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the highest finish for an American car in the race. As part of his crew, Lyn should have been elated, but she was not. She realized then that she would not feel complete unless she was the driver.
In an attempt to carve out her own identity within their jointly owned businesses, Lyn decided to change her last name. (Her inspiration came from watching the TV show, McMillan and Wife, starring actress Susan Saint James). From that point on, Lyn was on track to establishing herself as a successful entrepreneur and race car driver.
In 1979, her first pro season, Lyn made history in the IMSA American Challenge Series with a second place finish (.079 seconds behind the winner). Shortly thereafter, she and John divorced.
In 1981, the Ford Motor Company became an official backer of Lyn St. James' racing career. Although it wasn't until 1985 that Lyn won her first professional race at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, she was winning continuous recognition in the industry. In 1984, she was named IMSA Camel GT Rookie of the Year and, in 1985, she received the IMSA Norelco Driver of the Year honor.
After her first professional win, Lyn continued to develop name recognition, and more honors came her way. In 1987 and 1990, she was a winning GTO team driver at the 24 Hours of Daytona and, in 1991, at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
In 1992, Lyn raced for the first time in the Indianapolis 500. The only woman in the race, she placed eleventh, and was voted Rookie of the Year. She has followed that accomplishment by qualifying for a position in six consecutive Indy 500s.
For the 1997 Indianapolis 500, she drove the Lyn St. James Racing-owned car fielded by Hemelgarn Racing. Although she qualified for 16th position, she was bumped and started the two-day rain-delayed race in 34th position as part of the controversial expanded field. She ran within the top fifteen positions during the race, climbing to ninth position before being taken out by a rookie driver. Receiving the "Most Improved Position Award," she also was voted by IRL fans as the third most-popular driver. But her accomplishments don't all involve the racetrack.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lyn was instrumental in the establishment of Human Performance International Inc. at Daytona Beach, Florida. She remains a minority owner and advisory board member (as well as a client) of this organization, which is devoted to personal development programs for optimizing competitive performance.
As the leading woman competing head-to-head with men in a male-dominated sport, Lyn has gained recognition as one of the world's top female role models. As a woman as dedicated to advancing opportunities for female athletes as she is to her driving career, she served as president of the Women's Sports Foundation from 1990 to 1993.
Lyn established the Lyn St. James Foundation in 1994, a non-profit organization dedicated to professional race car driver development, especially for aspiring young women. It provides vision, leadership, education, and resources for these individuals and is also committed to promoting automotive safety in general. Also in 1994, Lyn created the "Make a Difference" campaign, a program which helps girls in the Indianapolis area gain self-esteem through sports and leadership programs.
Since 1996, Lyn has cultivated a successful relationship with Lifetime Television for Women. Lifetime's support of her racing efforts became the network's second venture into sports sponsorships and was instrumental in the creation of their newly formed sporting division, Lifetime Sports. From 1996-98, her Indy 500 car had sponsorship provided by Lifetime Television, and in return Lyn has become an active spokesperson for the unique cable network.
In addition, Lyn is chair of the Advisory Board of the Colorado Silver Bullets, the first all-female baseball team in the North American Professional Baseball League; a former consumer advisor for the Ford Motor Company (she helped develop the 1989 Ford Probe and 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII); a published author (in 1984, she wrote the Lyn St. James Car Owner's Manual); a television commentator for ESPN, Showtime, and ABC; and one of the country's top motivational speakers. She is also currently involved with the National Car Care Council and holds a seat on the Executive Committee on the Women's Board of this very active group.
She resides in Daytona Beach, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Vail, Colorado, with her husband, Roger Lessman, who is a ski resort developer with an avocation for challenging land-speed records. Lyn has established her business headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The top female race care driver in the world, she is an inspiring role model to millions, and is not only changing the rules for women, but redefining their roles and changing perceptions as well. "It's not a case of us against them," says Lyn of the roles of men and women. "It's a matter of melding all people's skills and resources to create a better world for everyone."
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