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 Rookie of the Year award (1992), in her 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata, as He told AJ Baime about it.

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

Soon after, I started seeing billboards and print ads. Mazda’s motto for the new car was: “It just feels good.” Total coincidence. At the time, he had a contract to race with Ford Motor. Co.

, which is why I always had Ford cars. I didn’t need a new car, but bought one anyway, a Miata from its first model year.

Photos: More than 30 years of speed

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

Lyn St. James driving at Phoenix Raceway in his 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata. He’s had it for more than three decades.

Steve Craft for The Wall Street Journal

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There was nothing quite like the Miata at the time: a new, small, two-seat convertible sports car. And this one hit all brands. It was cool in style, it was affordable, it had durability, performance, and economy. He lived in South Florida and it was a perfect place to drive with the top down. Although it had a small four cylinder, it was a double overhead cam engine. The car loved to go fast. I definitely have some tickets. It was the kind of car that made you want to get into your garage so you could say good night.

Now, so many years later, I can look back and say that I have never owned a car for more than three years, except this one, which I have owned for more than three decades. It amazes me that when I first saw it, I had never heard of the Miata. Now you see them everywhere. It has its own series of successful races, 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 visiting my daughter who lives in San Francisco and learned that Tom Matano, who led the design of this car for Mazda, was working in San Francisco. I made an appointment and met him. For me, it was like meeting Enzo Ferrari if you are a Ferrari fan, or Carroll Shelby if you are a Shelby fan. He turned out to be the most humble and charming human being, and it was an honor to meet him.

These days I still drive the Miata to the max. When i take it out i want make it happen. I recently took a road trip with one of my favorite friends, to southern Mexico. We were on a straight road that had no speed limit. It was carrying 120 mph. The car was as happy as a caravan, as they say, and so was its driver.

In 1985, Ms. St. James won her class in a 500-kilometer endurance race at Watkins Glen, New York. Although she was in a team with a co-pilot, she did the 500 kilometers herself.


Lyn St. James

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


Lyn St. James

Write to AJ Baime at [email protected]

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