Lyn St. James Fuels Female Drive for Finish Lines
October 21, 2008
By Michelle Ferrier

Women from all over the world who aspire to a professional racing career end up here, at Lyn St. James' Complete Driver Academy, which brought nine women to the New Smyrna Speedway on Oct. 10, 2008, for the final phase of their Complete Driver Academy.

The year-long program coaches drivers through physical and mental preparation, business and media training, and the on-track and technical phase -- which is by invitation only from Lyn.

Lyn -- former professional Indy car driver and perhaps best known to local residents as a two-time team winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona -- established the academy in 1994, through the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation. It identifies up-and-coming motorsports talent and equips students for high on- and off-track performance.

The goal of the academy for Lyn -- one of five women to successfully qualify for the Indianapolis 500 -- is to provide "the most comprehensive educational and training program for talented women race drivers," she says on her Web site. She looks for established drivers with consistent high finishes, goals in professional motorsports and at least three years of racing.

The nine women are at New Smyrna Speedway for two days of intensive on-track coaching under the guidance of the
FinishLine Racing School, run by Michael and Krystal Loescher of Edgewater. They will also get training in chassis setup at the school's garage.

The women are: Tiffany Daniels of Smithfield, Va.; Natalie Sather of Fargo, N.D.; Jessica Brunelli of Hayward, Calif.; Julia Landauer of New York City; Trista Stevenson of Pocahontas, Ill.; Ashley Freiberg of Homer Glen, Ill.; Molly Rhoads of Hastings, Minn.; Kristin Bumbera of Sealy, Texas; and Kristy Kester of College Station, Texas.

Jessica Brunelli's been racing for six years, starting in the sport when she was 9 years old. At age 15, she is the youngest out on the track today.

Jessica says the school has been a tremendous opportunity to learn how to succeed both on and off the track.

"It has definitely given me the opportunity to talk to various professionals -- nutritionists, mental coaches, physical trainers, on-track coaches, financial advisors. Lyn's program, 'Mind Shaper,' is great because racing is only 30 percent on track and 70 percent off track."

Julia Landauer started in go-karts as a youngster.

"My dad got my sister and I into it when I was 10 and my sister was 7," she said. "Now my brothers are racing go-karts."

While it's her first time in a stock car, Julia's confident she's in good hands because she's heard good things about FinishLine Racing School and because she was tapped by Lyn to attend this final phase of the academy.

She says that she's confident as a driver, even though some on the track will see her as a woman first.

"I've had to prove myself more to teams to get on the teams for recognition," Julia said. "But when you're up front -- they recognize you as a driver."

The challenges she faces as a woman are more off-track. She says teams don't take her seriously, and she endures comments off-track. She is thoughtful about the role of being a "girly girl" on the track and its advantages and disadvantages.

"I think it goes both ways. It's a disadvantage being girly at first, trying to get attention. But it's an advantage after you get established because you're more marketable in this sport at this time because there are so few of us."

"When it comes to selling yourself to top sponsors, it depends on how you use your female status," she said. "Unfortunately, sex sells, and I would hope that that would tend to be less of the case in the future."

Some of the women training with the academy will go on to NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, an effort by the sport to increase participation in NASCAR among Americans of diverse ethnic, racial, and gender backgrounds. Natalie Sather, Kristin Bambera, Tiffany Daniels and Trista Stevenson have been invited to participate in the Drive for Diversity program this year.

Molly Rhoads says the most important thing she'll take away from the academy is the need for overall physical and mental preparation.

"It's about your whole self. You've got to be physically fit and your car has to be tuned. And you can only control your car and what you're doing -- no one else."
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