Female Race Car Drivers Honored at Lyn St James Event
I had the great privilege in my role as President of the Women's Automotive Association International to present the Deborah Renshaw Women in Motorsports Scholarship last week at the Lyn St James annual Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation event. This annual event is held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the eve of the Brickyard 400 where Tony Stewart drove his Chevrolet to victory lane last weekend; he is a two-time Cup champion racing for Joe Gibbs Racing and led a race-high 65 of the 160 laps.
Attendees of the event pictured here are Lorraine Schultz, CEO and Lyn Wilhelm, Executive Director of the Women's Automotive Association International, (www.waai.com), Janet Guthrie, (first woman ever to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and in the Daytona 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race, Yolanda Jackson, Director of Athlete Marketing and Promotions for the Women's Sports Foundation founded by Billie Jean King, and Nancy Lieberman, Basketball Hall of Fame Broadcaster and MC of the event.
Did you see any female race car drivers during the Brickyard 400? NOT! Do you know of a female race car driver who has won a NASCAR Cup series race? How about a Busch series race? Craftsman Truck Series race? Hmmmmmmmmm?
AskPatty.com is a 2007 proud sponsor of the NASCAR No. 112 AskPatty.com Chevrolet driven by the highest ranked professional female race car driver Deborah Renshaw and supports all female race car drivers in all series and Lyn St James in the great work she is doing through her foundation on behalf of women race car drivers. Our support is year round with sponsorship, marketing support and in 2007 made a larger commitment to female race car drivers with our AskPatty.com sponsorship of Deborah Renshaw in the NO# 112 Chevrolet in the late model racing series. I WANT to see a female race car driver like Deborah Renshaw win a major NASCAR series race and race series championship in my lifetime!
Reporter for NASCAR.com Raygan Swan wrote a great article highlighting the lack of support of lower level race series and how it hurts female drivers.
Despite campaigns to increase female presence on the racetrack, some industry authorities still believe it may be several years before NASCAR will see a woman compete in the sport's premier Cup Series.
Lack of funding, but more so the lack of grass-root support, continues to be an obstacle for aspiring female NASCAR drivers, according to Lyn St. James, racecar driver and pioneer for women in motorsports who on Thursday hosted an awareness luncheon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway honoring 40 female drivers looking to rise in their respective fields.
When asked why NASCAR, the country's most popular form of motorsports, has yet to produce a competitive female, St. James pointed the finger to the smaller series teams in the industry who are failing to lay the foundation and provide the level of experience necessary for female drivers to become attractive to high-level NASCAR Cup teams.
"They're not getting the best equipment or with the best programs and they need funding behind them," said St. James, 1992 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year.
To combat the problem, St. James at the luncheon unveiled Project Podium, a program geared to provide grants on a match-fund basis to female drivers who look to succeed in the highly competitive motorsports industry.
As part of the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation, the program will rely on sponsors like NASCAR, USAC and the Indy Racing League for support, in addition to corporate contributions.
"I think the top is interested in having [females in NASCAR] happen but not necessarily making it happen," St. James said. "I'm not sure there's a strategy in place, other than the Drive for Diversity program, but that's a pretty small niche for a big issue like this one. They need to have enough experience at a grass-root level first."
By creating a pool of money and scholarships to place behind talented female drivers through Project Podium, St. James hopes team owners in series such as ARCA RE/MAX and Late Models will take notice.
As a member on NASCAR Diversity Council, St. James said she will continue to be a voice and champion rights for female drivers in the sport.
"Today's racing world is more encouraging for female drivers than when we first held this event in 2003," she said. "More and more women are receiving opportunities to prove themselves on the track. And increasingly women are rising to higher levels of racing and earning their place on the podium."
Lyn St. James completed her first Indy 500 at the age of 45, she was just the second woman in history to race in the event. Some doubted that a woman could keep up with male drivers, and Lyn struggled to get the sponsorship she needed to race. She took eleventh place, and became the first woman to be selected Indy 500 Rookie of the Year.
Fueled by inspiration and limitless motivation, Lyn St. James managed to rise through the ranks and eventually become known as the American Woman Racing Icon of the Century. She is undoubtedly a testament to the power of determination and positive thinking.
Mike Helton President of NASCAR was quoted in the article saying: "Events like this help us figure out what we might need to do to adjust our ongoing efforts, because many female athletes want to be a player in our sport and it reminds us of our responsibility to make that happen," Helton said. "Seeing a female in Victory Lane is something NASCAR looks forward to."
Pictured here: Jody DeVere president of AskPatty.com with Mike Helton President of NASCAR during the Women in the Winner's Circle event!
Major sponsorships for female drivers like Deborah Renshaw that evaporate after one race season or a few bad race results are not enough to carry a female driver into victory lane in a major NASCAR series. Getting the best equipment, enough wheel time, the 100% support of the entire NASCAR organization, support from other drivers on the track, (yes you guys out there!), and generous marketing and support to take a female driver like Deborah Renshaw to the checked flag and keep her competitive in a NASCAR series takes a multi year sponsorship commitment to her through all the ups and downs of racing.
Who will take on the challenge and join me and AskPatty.com to support female race car drivers like Deborah Renshaw and get them to the checked flag in a major NASCAR series?
Go here to learn more about Deborah Renshaw and her racing career : www.deborahrenshaw.com
By Jody DeVere
President - Ask Patty, Inc.