Lyn St. James' Project Podium Gives Racers A Chance To Build Their Success

The only place that Lyn St. James wants to be served milk is in the Winner's Circle at Indianapolis. 

Everywhere else, she's only interested in the cream, the drivers who rise to the top and have that differentiating quality that separates being a great racer from being a good racer. 

That is why the legendary racer founded the Lyn St. James Driver Development Program and why she started the Women's Sports Foundation's Project Podium -- an industry-wide scholarship fund for female race car drivers.

"To be candid, for the driver development program and then even for the Project Podium Grant program, I'm looking for the cream," said St. James, a seven-time Indianapolis 500 starter. 

"I'm looking for the best female drivers that are out there. And I was getting a lot of milk, I was getting a lot of wonderful human beings and gals that wanted to race and had raced for a while... The real cream are the ones that are really that committed. We put a lot of work and effort to bring a lot of people a lot of experts into the place to do the driver's development program, and it just didn't equate."

Project Podium was started while the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation, established by St. James, was in the mature stage of the driver's development program in 2007. Drivers who apply for the grant money "will only be considered eligible if there is proof that funds equal to the scholarship amount have been raised from sponsorship," according to the Winner's Circle Foundation website.

The issue of funding is particularly important to St. James. 

She leveraged a relationship with Ford Motor Company, J.C. Penney, and a series of one-year contracts into a record-breaking career. As a result, she realizes it is that persistence and drive that separates those who simply want to race from those who will succeed. 

"There are a lot of people who have aspirations or dreams about becoming a professional racecar driver, male or female," she said. "But I think there is still a little bit of a lack of understanding or misunderstanding on how hard you have to work. Not just on your race craft but on your overall career and that includes funding."

Former recipient of a Project Podium grant, McKenna Haase became the first female winner of a Knowville Raceway feature.

The point of this program is to get women to the winner's circle and on the podium. To do so, these young women must show their ability to continue to fund for themselves and stay on the track. Young drivers can include funding that they receive from family and friends and funding given in kind, such as a promised year of tires from a local shop. But having some source of funding is a must to show one's dedication to success. 

"What that does is, first of all, I don't want this to be a handout," St. James said. "If you're going to give someone $5,000 or $10,000, that doesn't go a long way in racing. It doesn't go a long way at all. So what I wanted to do was to teach people how to ask for money. That's why the structure of the program is the way it is and the way the application is. By them already having some funding tells me that they're out working and they have some ability to be able to fund what it is they're doing."

nullAlong with having a firm grasp on funding, potential grant recipients must also have an outline of their goals in racing to be considered. This shows dedication to their career in the same way as their funding prowess.

"Well we're basically looking for clarity, that people really have a clear vision, a clear view of what they've already done and what their goals are," St. James said. "That they have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve. We have a minimal requirement that they have to have at least raced for three years. We're not trying to help fund startups and people thinking about getting into the sport."

The Project Podium grant for 2017 will be open and accepting application around the end of July and will close at the end of September.

It's been set up this way so that the deciding board has the most up-to-date information about the racer going into its decision and to give the grant recipients the chance to let it affect their following season -- in this case 2018. Female racers who are currently looking for more funding can go to Project Podium for more information.

Part 1: Lyn St. James' Legendary Racing Impact

Women in Racing

Morgan Turpen
Ahnna Parkhurst
Amber Balcaen
Sarah Cornett-Ching
McKenna Haase

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