Lyn St. James on going 232.4 mph in a 1989 stock car: “Your desire and your passion outweighs rational thinking.”
The car was prepared by Bill Elliott, giving the NASCAR team a leg up on the competition for the 1989 season
If you look at the photo above, you’ll see what appears to be a naked race car. The insides look stripped away, it looks empty. But, that’s just how race cars were made before safety components cluttered the cockpit.
In 1988, Lyn St. James came to Talladega Superspeedway with the goal of breaking all the records. NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Bill Elliott prepared a 1989 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe.
In turn, Bill Elliott and his race team also got to take the 1989 Thunderbird to the wind tunnel. It was a loophole in the rulebook.
At that time, manufactures weren’t allowed to give information on a future car to just one team. It had to be given to all the teams. Helping St. James with this test, gave Elliott a slight advantage over his Ford competitors and a loophole around the rule.
Lyn St. James
“I think I can say this now… This was not a NASCAR spec car. They got to go to the wind tunnel with the ’89 body style,” Lyn St. James explained from Talladega Superspeedway.
“It gave them a little more knowledge about what they were going to be racing in 1989 without breaking the rules. Probably, I don’t think they broke the rules anyway.”
Over the course of two days, she broke 21 FIA international speed records. 16 of those records could have been held by a male or female. The other five records were female specific records.
Of those, she turned the fastest one-lap average speed around Talladega Superspeedway as 212.577 mph. Her top speed that day was 232.4 mph.
“I thought I would love driving this Thunderbird,” Lyn St. James stated. “I really didn’t adapt to this very well. The car just seemed so immense, so heavy and somewhat numb compared to what I was used to.”
“I said to Bill [Elliott], ‘I don’t know who’s driving this. Because it isn’t me.’ I’d turn the wheel and nothing happens.”
She eventually got the hang of driving bulky, numb stock car. By that point, the sun had surfaced and the track was slick as a result. They decided to come back again the following morning when the track had cooled off. That’s when the bulk of the record setting took place.
“I really thanked Ford Motor Company and Goodyear. Goodyear was not always happy when I called them to get tires to set speed records. They’d say, ‘If it goes well, we never get the credit. If it goes bad, they always blame the tires.’ “
1989 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe
It was also the debut of the 1989 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe.
“I would love to drive stock cars now. Because, they’ve got some technology and actually work really well. I love smooth, high speed driving. Where you really thread the needle.”
232.4 mph in 1988, is something. Since then, drivers have been required to wear full faced helmet. Seats and seat belts have become far more advanced. In those days, it was a tiny aluminum seat with no side seat helmet braces.
“I’m glad I didn’t think about it. You’re just doing, when you’re in a race car. We didn’t have speedometers. We didn’t have digital read outs.”
“Your desire and your passion outweighs rational thinking. That seat is a really good seat. That roll cage is a really good roll cage. I’m not going to say I’d want to hit a wall with that. For the time, it was a safe car.”
She’s still racing today…
These days, St. James is still at the race track. At the time of this press conference, she had just raced a 1954 Lancia D24.
“It only had a lap belt. I put my hans device on, St James said of the Lancia pictured above. “They said, ‘Why are you wearing that? Without the shoulder straps, it’s not going to do it’s job.’ I said, ‘I just feel safer.’ “
“Safety’s important and I’m glad to see the safety measures that are being made at the tracks, the cars and everything. I’m not discarding that.”
“But, as a race car driver, we tend to just not look at that as carefully as we probably should.”
Helping females reach the world of professional motorsports
Lyn St James was once active in forming a female driver development program. Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher and Melanie Troxel all came through that program which brought 24 drivers to the camp each year.
However, she eventually bailed on that, for a lot of reasons. The most important, being that it wasn’t working. Instead, St James has created a scholarship program.
In the last ten years, twelve drivers have been awarded funding. Shea Holbrook and Julia Landauer name a few of those driver who have received the scholarship.