Lyn St. James Loves to Drive Her Miata Like It’s the Indianapolis 500


Lyn St. James, professional race car driver, advocate for women, and the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500’s Rookie of the Year award (1992), on her 1990

Mazda

MX-5 Miata, as told to A.J. Baime.

In the spring of 1990, I was at a racing function in Columbus, Ohio, and the guy who was hosting said, “Hey, do you want to see my new baby?” I said, “Sure.” We went out in his garage and there it was, this little red sports car. I had never seen or heard of a Miata before. I asked if I could sit in it and when I did, I put my left hand on the steering wheel and my right on the shifter. I said to myself, “It just feels right.”

Soon after, I started seeing billboards and print advertisements. Mazda’s motto for the new car was, “It just feels right.” Total coincidence. At the time, I was under contract to race with

Ford Motor Co.

, and so I always had Ford cars. I didn’t need a new car, but I bought one anyway—a Miata from its very first model year.


Photos: Over 30 Years of Speed

Lyn St. James shows off her 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Lyn St. James motoring at Phoenix Raceway in her 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata. She has owned it for over three decades.

Steve Craft for The Wall Street Journal

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There wasn’t anything like the Miata at the time—a new, small, two-seat convertible sports car. And this one hit every mark. It had cool styling, it was affordable, it had durability, performance, and economy. I was living in South Florida and it was a perfect place to drive with the top down. Though it had a small four-cylinder, it was a double overhead cam engine. The car loved to go fast. I definitely got some tickets. It was the kind of car that made you want to go into your garage so you could say good night to it.

Now, so many years later, I can look back and say that I have never owned any car for more than three years except this one, which I have owned for over three decades. It amazes me that when I first saw it, I’d never heard of the Miata. Now you see them everywhere. It has its own successful racing series, the MX-5 Cup. [Built in Hiroshima, Japan, the Miata is today, by far, the bestselling two seat convertible sports car of all time.]

About five years ago, I was going to visit my daughter who lives in San Francisco, and I learned that Tom Matano—who led the design of this car for Mazda—was working in San Francisco. I made an appointment and I met him. To me, it was like meeting

Enzo Ferrari

if you’re a Ferrari nut, or

Carroll Shelby

if you’re a Shelby nut. He turned out to be the most humble, delightful human being, and it was an honor to get to know him.

These days I still drive the Miata to its fullest. When I take it out, I want to take it out. Recently I went on a road trip with one of my favorite girlfriends, south into Mexico. We were on a straight road that had no speed limit. I was hauling at 120 mph. The car was as happy as a camper, as they say, and so was its driver.

In 1985, Ms. St. James won her class at a 500-kilometer endurance race at Watkins Glen, N.Y. Though she was teamed with a co-driver, she did all 500 kilometers herself.



Photo:

Lyn St. James

Ms. St. James with a Ford racing car at Daytona International Speedway in 1985.



Photo:

Lyn St. James

Write to A.J. Baime at myride@wsj.com

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