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Historics: Lyn St. James, vintage racing brings back 'purity of the sport'

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At the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association's (SVRA) Brickyard Invitational at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) on Friday, June 6, seven-time Indy 500 starter and 1992 Rookie of the Year, Lyn St. James commented that historic and vintage motor racing "brings you back to the purity of the sport."

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In an exclusive interview at IMS with Historic Motor Sports, St. James said about drivers' motivations at such events, "In vintage racing there's no prize money, no points, no trophies. There's a lot of smiles." The racer, she said, experiences or re-experiences why she or he ever started racing in the first place -- for "the pure joy and pleasure of driving the race car."

St. James brought smiles to many spectators' faces as well on Friday when she could be seen out on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a large field of 51 other drivers qualifying in SVRA's Group 9. She drove car #11, a 1977 Chevron B39 Formula Atlantic, an open-wheel car with 1599cc displacement.

Posting a best lap time of 1:37.162 minutes in that session, according to SVRA, she ranked mid-field in the group overall, but that was among some cars in the group that were newer or had higher horsepower than the Chevron (diversity of cars within basic groups is fairly common in historic/vintage racing). It is the first time for everyone, St. James noted, to drive the current road course configuration at IMS.

Though she has driven historic/vintage race cars at places like the Goodwood Revival and Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2007, the Indy veteran places her start in historic/vintage racing in 2011. In October that year, she served as Grand Marshal and Featured Driver of the CSRG Charity Challenge at Sonoma Raceway where she also drove the Chevron B39.

St. James said that getting back in the seat of a race car to compete felt very natural to her. "I was totally hooked again," she said of her return. She relished the fact that she was "learning again" how to make the car go faster and enjoys the full "sensory" experience that only piloting a race car can bring.

When she was asked to be Grand Marshal at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival in upstate New York, she said she waved the green flag to start the tribute event around the original 6.6 mile road course. She learned from that experience, however, that she would rather be driving a car up the hills and along the village streets herself. Like other former professional drivers, St. James said she can only be a spectator for a limited time at a race track. She would like to do more historic/vintage racing in the future.

St. James is "doing the double" in the inaugural SVRA Brickyard Invitational that continues through Saturday and Sunday. Not only is she competing in Group 9's open-wheel race but she will also drive in the 40-minute Indy Legends Pro-Am race on Sunday. Paired with amateur driver Curt Vogt on the 2.43-mile Grand Prix road course, she will co-pilot a 1970 Boss 302 Mustang. The Pro-Am competition is the feature race of a three-day weekend with at least 11 different groups of cars running races all day, every day.

When she was asked what makes Indianapolis Motor Speedway so special, why so many drivers and spectators alike revere the track the way they do, Lyn St. James replied, "You just feel it."

The track is not only full of history, she said, but it has also occupied the "same footprint" throughout that history. Several other renowned sporting venues would fit inside its perimeter. "This is the granddaddy of them all," she said.

Ironically for such a historic track, this weekend's race meeting is the first full historic/vintage event ever held at the famous speedway. According to SVRA, it is also the largest single gathering of competing race cars to ever occur in the United States to date. Approximately 700 cars representing over 100 years of motor sports history are racing at the speedway this weekend.

The SVRA Brickyard Invitational is open to spectators who are welcome to not only watch the races but to also stroll through the IMS paddock, look at the cars up close, and talk with car owners, drivers, and crews. Day tickets for the event on Saturday and Sunday are still available.

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