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Monday, June 12, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 150

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The purr of the engines

Women shouldn't feel out of place at the Indy 500

T.L. Hall

Well, summer is officially here: the Triple Crown is complete and the Indy 500 has been run. I have never been a horse aficionada, but let me inhale eau d'gasoline and hear the scream of the engines in open-wheeled racers and then -- for me -- summer has truly arrived.

Maybe it's simply Pavlovian reasoning. You know, if your parents took you to the beach on Memorial Day weekend from the time you were six until you were 16, your first beach visit of the year heralds summer's arrival.

My hard-working farmer father always made sure his crops were in by Memorial Day because it was his way of celebrating the planting: the annual 150-mile pilgrimage through the richest farmland in America to a funny-sounding city -- Indianapolis -- to watch 33 men chase each other for 500 miles and to see who crosses the finish line first.

So, for me, summer begins with the running of the Indy 500. And I have had a dream since the innocent age of six -- to be one of those guys out there chasing each other. Not an impossible dream.

I learned to shift gears on a John Deere tractor. I was driving grain trucks to town at age 12 and drag racing at age 16. Winning first place at local sports car club and the Sports Car Club of America events came next.

Strong beginnings, but I couldn't get a bigger ride (sponsor) than the local auto parts store. That's because "T.L." stands for Tory Lee, and back then, Janet Guthrie was the only woman to have run at Indy. Just a few years ago, Lyn St. James followed in Guthrie's footsteps.

But the new millennium has brought another first in the fight for equal rights. This Memorial Day, two women drove at Indy, and one got there at the age of 19 rather than after years of struggling against the rule: no women in the pits!

Having long ago given up racing (except for my old Corvette on deserted country roads on Sunday mornings), I still get very emotional about women at Indy. Of course, the ultimate goal is women in Formula 1 racing, but that won't happen in our lifetime.

At any rate, I was horrified, but not surprised, when both women were taken out by one man who ignorantly tried to pass both of them as they entered Turn 1 of Lap 74.

Or was it so stupid?

The offending male, Jacque Lazier, did not injure his car. In fact, after the two ladies were forced into each other (and out of the race) to avoid him, Lazier finished the race in 13th place. St. James and Sarah Fisher have both said that three cars abreast in that turn is not something that can be done.

So, the question is, did Lazier run low and alongside the two women in Turn 1 to force St. James and Fisher to crash into each other? Much attention was focused on Al Unser Jr.'s giving Fisher tips. (Unser was even quoted as saying he would like to see his daughter get into racing.)

These tidbits should be juxtaposed against Guthrie's Indy debut, in which no driver would talk to her. Is it really a kinder, gentler world of racing? Somehow, I believe it is still very much a man's world at the Brickyard, and it will remain so for years to come.

Hall, a journalism major, 
can be reached at veeshatx@aol.com.

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