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    Gender Equality


    UP NEXT
    UP NEXT

    INDIANAPOLIS – Katie Hargitt can hardly believe that it’s been nearly 20 years since she first met long-time racecar driver Lyn St. James.

    Hargitt, the pit reporter on NBCSN's IndyCar broadcasts who also works for IndyCar TV, has leaned on the mentoring of the 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year since first attending her driver development program as an 11-year-old. Hargitt credits much of her career success to the guidance and inspiration of St. James.

    Hargitt has created Fuel the Female to pass that success along to the next generation of girls interested in pursuing careers in racing. With the help of St. James on Tuesday, Hargitt led the second Fuel the Female event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The event welcomed more than 100 girls from eight Indianapolis-area high schools with the goal of empowering them to pursue careers in STEM fields through motorsports.

    a group of people sitting at a table: More than a hundred area high school students took part in the 2nd annual "Fuel the Female" event as they began to build model race cars Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc. More than a hundred area high school students took part in the 2nd annual "Fuel the Female" event as they began to build model race cars Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    “(St. James') support means so much, not only because she’s been a mentor of mine but because she knows the ins and outs of motorsports and the business,” Hargitt said. “She can help create a passion in these girls that she created in me 20 years ago.”

    At the event, the girls split into groups and – with the use of recycled materials such as mouse traps, string, CDs, tape and wood – built and raced model cars with the guidance of female students from IUPUI’s school of engineering.

    St. James kicked off the event as the keynote speaker. She began by surveying the room, asking, “How many of you have been to IMS?” About a dozen girls raised their hands. Then she asked, “How many of you actually have a driver’s license?” Again, about a dozen hands were raised.

    She went on to talk about her first car – a Ford Pinto – which she transformed into a race car. On the weekends, St. James would put numbers on the sides of her car then take them off as she drove to and from work during the week.

    It didn’t matter that it was the “cheapest, smallest, slowest, ugliest production car that was probably ever made,” as St. James put it. It gave her a career-defining moment that she encouraged the girls to find.

    “There’s a moment in which you will do something and say, ‘This is me. This is so me,’” St. James said. “That’s exactly how I felt when I got behind the wheel of that Pinto.”

    St. James also encouraged the girls to keep their doors open, explaining that you never know what the doors will lead to.

    One of those girls was Purdue Polytechnic sophomore Jacy Thomas, who thought, “Might as well go and see what it’s all about,” when deciding to come to the event. Thomas has become more interested in STEM this year but never thought about its application to motor sports.

    Now, she’s excited to look into another potential career path.

    “I didn’t even consider motor sports. I never thought about all the behind-the-scenes stuff,” Thomas said. “You see what’s on the track, but you don’t think about everything that comes into consideration for the car and STEM and things like that. It was really exciting.”

    Since developing the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation non-profit in 1994, St. James, who is also on the board of directors for Fuel the Female, has been an advocate for developing up-and-coming women in racing. This was one of the last pieces of advice she left with the girls:

    “If there is a way you could continue to give back to others and continue to help other people, it’s the most powerful thing you could do.”

    It’s what St. James has been doing for years and what Hargitt continues to do today.

    “We’re proving that females can be successful in this male-dominated world,” Hargitt said. “Soon, we won’t be in a male-dominated world, we’ll just be a world.”

    Support our journalism

    Become an IndyStar subscriber today to support stories like this one. Get unlimited digital access here!

    This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Fuel the Female hopes to inspire girls to STEM careers in motorsports

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