Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

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May 31 show

Lyn St. James, racing pioneer for women

Has it really been 22 years since she became the first woman to win the Rookie of the Year award in the Indianapolis 500?

Even though time has roared by and Lyn St. James retired from Indy Car racing in 2001, the pioneer has never left the spotlight. In fact, Lyn, who competed in the 500 Mile Race seven times, will be racing again at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 8. Race driver Lyn St. James with car and crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Image courtesy Women's Sports Foundation.Along with such fellow veterans as Al Unser Jr. and Willy T. Ribbs, she will compete in the Indy Legends Pro-Am, a race on the Speedway's road track with muscle cars, including vintage Corvettes and Mustangs.

In fact, Lyn will do double duty that weekend because she also will compete in an open-wheel race at the Speedway. She will drive a specially designed Chevron built in 1977, a fully restored race car. Lyn will drive it in a new "Brickyard Invitational" weekend organized by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association.

Before that, Lyn, 67, will be Nelson's studio guest, as Hoosier History Live! explores the life and career of the race-driver-turned-motivational speaker who has been a role model for young women and girls.

"There's no sound in the world like the scream of an Indy car" is the opening line in her book Lyn St. James: An Incredible Journey (LSJ Press, 2005), which initially was published as Ride of Your Life (Hyperion, 2002).

In the book, she writes about her unforgettable first visit to the Speedway as a teenager. While her male friends could walk around Gasoline Alley, Lyn was forced to wait outside because women and girls weren't allowed in the restricted area then.

Lyn St. James.Although she became the first woman to be named Rookie of the Year - that happened in 1992, when she finished 11th, her best result - Lyn wasn't the first woman driver to compete in the Indy 500. That distinction, of course, belongs to Janet Guthrie, who competed in the 1977 race.

But Lyn's accomplishments in a sport that remained almost universally male-dominated resulted in visits to the White House to meet three presidents (Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) and appearances on national TV programs, including The David Letterman Show and The Today Show.

She often has been included in lists of the "Top 100 Women Athletes of the 20th Century."

Primarily based in Phoenix now, Lyn has lived in Florida, Ohio and, periodically, the Indianapolis area.

She has worked as a pit reporter for ABC and ESPN. Her civic endeavors include serving on the advisory board of the Indiana Fever pro basketball team and as a founding board member of the Indiana Motorsports Association.

All of this began inauspiciously; in fact, her racing career started with the wrong kind of splash. In reviewing Ride of Your Life for The Indianapolis Star in 2002, our host Nelson wrote:

Lyn St. James at 1993 Indy 500 qualifications. Image courtesy Lyn St. James."With a candor that qualifies as courageous, St. James discusses the highs as well as the lows of her career, including an embarrassing description of her first race in 1974 in West Palm Beach, Florida, when she spun her Ford Pinto into a lake near the track."

That rookie mishap unfolded at a race track surrounded by murky wetlands and ponds. Lyn's car careened into one of them after she lost control.

Despite that nerve-wracking episode - and the butterflies that surely afflict all Indy 500 drivers when they put their safety on the line at the Speedway - Lyn writes that the most frightening moment of her life had nothing to do with auto racing. It occurred when she was a seventh-grader at a private, all-girls academy in Ohio. She competed there in an organized sport for the first time as a member of a field hockey team.

"When the opposing team charged downfield toward me, I felt the most intense wave of panic I've ever experienced," she writes. "Nothing since that day has come close. I got over it. I stood my ground that afternoon, and eventually became captain of the field hockey team."

Years later, she oversaw a driver development program for young women after her racing career ended.

On the track, her accomplishments include qualifying sixth in 1994 for the Indy 500, out-qualifying Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and other legendary drivers. In 1995, Lyn set a world record on a closed-course track for women when she reached a speed of 225.72 mph.

History fact: In 2000, two women qualified for the Indy 500 for the first time when Lyn was joined in the field by Sarah Fisher. (Hence, that was the first time Mari Hulman George ever used the plural for women in the command: "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!")

Also at the Indy 500 in 2000, Lyn - at age 53 - was the oldest driver in the field, male or female. She retired as an Indy-car driver the next year.

Roadtrip: Ruth Lilly 'Twin Oaks' home tour

Guest Roadtripper Diana Mutz of the Indiana Historical Society recommends that you take a rare peek at the former estate of both L.S. Ayres II and philanthropist Ruth Lilly. The English Garden at historic Twin Oaks in Indianapolis. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society.It's the Historic Twin Oaks Home and Garden Tour on June 6, 7 and 8, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

The 1941 Colonial Revival home is hidden behind the trees at 555 Kessler Boulevard West Drive in Indianapolis. Starting with the elegant spiral staircase and distinctive murals in the entry, guests can explore 17 rooms of this extraordinary house, as well as take a stroll through the home's meticulously kept English Garden.

The home is accessible by shuttle service only, with parking and shuttle service available at Fox Hill Elementary School (802 Fox Hill Drive, Indianapolis) - just a one-minute ride to Twin Oaks. Tickets for adults are $18 in advance or $20 at the door, and cost for children ages 3 through 12 is $5.

For more information and/or tickets, call (317) 232-1882 or visit www.indianahistory.org.

History Mystery

During the era Lyn St. James raced in the Indianapolis 500, one of the winners created a controversy in Victory Lane by spurning a tradition that dated back to the 1930s. Three-time Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw drinks milk after winning the race in 1940. Image courtesy nbcnews.com.Rather than drink a celebratory bottle of milk immediately following his win in the Indy 500, he opted for orange juice.

The "milk snub" by the Indy 500 winner outraged many spectators as well as officials of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the American Dairy Association. Even several years later, when he returned to drive the pace car in the Indy 500, the driver received some loud boos because he had ignored the tradition involving milk that was nearly 60 years old.

Question: Who was the driver?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call into the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win the prize if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months.

The prize pack is a gift certificate to Arni's Restaurant, courtesy of Visit Indy, four passes to the Indiana Experience, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, and two passes to Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, courtesy of Conner Prairie.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer

Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant

Joan Hostetler, Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, Dana Waddell, advisors


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgments to Monomedia, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships and individual contributions. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially. Also, see our Twitter feed and our Facebook page for regular updates.

June 7 show

Natural gas boom of 1880s and '90s

Eight or nine counties in east central Indiana became the setting in the 1880s and '90s for, as one of our guests puts it, "one of the great natural resource discoveries of American history." The Natural Gas Boom in Indiana also is regarded as one of the most dramatic eras in the state's history.

This newspaper drawing from 1887 shows an early gas well in Jay County, Ind. Image provided by James Glass.Alas, the boom - which significantly affected cities such as Muncie, Kokomo, Anderson, Marion, Elwood, Gas City and Fairmount - did not last, even though many civic leaders, businesses and residents assumed the plentiful natural gas would never run out. For most industries, businesses and homeowners, the era was over by 1910 or much earlier.

To explore what unfolded - and how Indiana became one of the country's top glass-producing states during the Natural Gas Boom - Nelson will be joined in studio by two guests:

According to our guest Jim Glass, Indiana's "gas belt" covered 2,500 square miles, making it the largest natural gas field in the country in the 1890s.

A range of industries requiring large quantities of fuel were attracted to east central Indiana as a result. They included glass (Muncie became the country's No. 2 glass-producing city after Pittsburgh, Jim writes), brick, wire and nail, iron and strawboard, an early type of cardboard.

So why did the Natural Gas Boom end so quickly?

"No effort to conserve," Jim writes. "No one wanted to believe the gas would run out, despite plenty of scientific evidence."

Learn more: Our guests recommend watching this video, Fueling a Region: Indiana's Gas Boom, which was published in 2013 by WIPB Public TV in Muncie.

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