The next step
Sabré Cook working with Lyn St. James as she works her way up racing ladder
Sabré Cook, the first female to win a Superkarts!USA Pro Tour event and season points title, is at a point where she’s asking, “What’s next?” as she speeds toward a professional racing career.
The answer will come with the help of someone with superior knowledge about being a talented woman racing at the highest levels of a sport dominated by men: former IndyCar driver Lyn St. James, who took interest in Cook and agreed to work with her.
St. James is one of seven women who have qualified for the Indianapolis 500 and became the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award. She lives in Phoenix and visits the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in the Phoenix metro area on occasion.
St. James visited with Bondurant Chief Instructor Alan Rudolph about Cook and saw her race in the SKUSA SpringNationals back in April.
“I knew her racing credentials were good,” St. James said of Cook. “She is an impressive young lady.”
St. James isn’t alone in taking notice of the young woman who is racing this weekend in the SKUSA SummerNationals at Grand Junction Motor Speedway. Cook and another teenage female driver recently were featured in an ESPN.com article.
Cook said she began seriously thinking about racing professionally at age 13.
“I started seeing this as a possibility of turning this into a career when I won my first TAG World Championship in 2007,” she said.
As Cook got better and better, her father, Stacey, began asking around if someone could help her develop. They are thrilled St. James emerged to manage her.
“Working with Lyn St. James, I have someone pointing me in the right direction,” Sabré said. “It’s hard in motorsports. There’s no set system or structured way to progress. Plus, it’s tough with the economy. I know a lot of phenomenal kart drivers, but their families can’t support it.”
St. James had a driving school for everyone, but it mainly focused on women. Current NASCAR driver Danica Patrick visited the program twice, St. James said.
“I worked with (Danica) from the time she was 14,” St. James said. “It was more as a mentor and provide expertise while I was competing.”
The program was invitation-only and not for profit, but it wasn’t sustainable and was discontinued last year.
St. James, though, remains hungry to work with young, aspiring female drivers like Sabré Cook. She is the first driver St. James is managing.
“I hate it when you see talent and it doesn’t reach its potential,” St. James said. “I lived a frustrating life trying to race. I try to let the young families know what they need to do. I felt it was a huge void. I spent the entire ‘80s and ‘90s watching so many drivers with talent, but were clueless what to do beyond that.”
Cook is focused on competing in the SKUSA Pro Tour S1 series this year, but she is beginning to work with St. James on making the next step up to racing cars.
“We’re focusing on 2014,” St. James said. “We’re still evaluating what to test next.”
They did meet in Florida during the final week of June to test open-wheel formula cars that can reach speeds of 175 mph.
“She seemed very comfortable. The team was impressed. Everybody was pleased,” St. James said.
She added, “Sabré has loads of experience in karting and has progressed well. Now, the next step is getting into cars.”
Trying a variety of race cars will expose Cook to her options, and she’ll get a sense of what she likes the most after driving them.
Given her success in karts, open-wheel racing appears to be a promising option. Successful open-wheel drivers advance to the IndyCar Racing Series, including the Indianapolis 500.
“(The open-wheel cars) were the closest ones to karts I’ve driven,” Sabré said. “It was more responsive.”
While St. James can provide advice and expertise, becoming a professional driver is a major investment that can’t be done without sponsors.
“Sabré‘s budget for next year is $300,000 to race what Lyn feels she needs to do next year,” Stacey Cook said. “We just need one shot at it.”
St. James can’t sponsor Sabré, but with her help the Cooks are hoping the sponsors come in.
“Everybody said the biggest hurdle is money, and it certainly is a big hurdle,” St. James said. “Racing, even at the grass roots like karting, you have to figure out how to get the funding.
“There is so much more (to it). You focus on the things you can control. If you work hard on those things, you’ll be in the right place at the right time.”
St. James said other things go into becoming a successful driver besides the funds, and she feels Sabré can work on other aspects to achieve that goal.
“If you compete, eight to 15 times a year, most of those events three to four days at the most, what do you do the rest of the time?” St. James said. “How do you prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally?
“If you’re a basketball or baseball player, you’re on the court or field every day. Skills are right there. In racing, it’s not possible. A lot of these kids aren’t legal driving age. There are ways you can train in the gym. There are computer simulator programs that help you focus on skills that relate to racing. We spend days going over that stuff.
“There is training you better do on a daily basis, when it comes to competition, you’re ready.”
Cook is trying to do this while being a full-time college student. The Fruita Monument High School graduate is studying mechanical engineering at Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
“One concern I have, she’s trying to accomplish too much,” St. James said. “With college and racing, that’s a lot on your plate. She has to be focused. It doesn’t mean she can’t handle both, but I’m not sure she’s grasped that. We’ll take that one step at a time. I’m not predicting that won’t be possible.
“It takes someone willing to do work, with talent and desire. I want to help that and change the landscape (of auto racing) a bit. Auto racing is one of the few things left where there is no female categories. I look forward to working (more) with Sabré.”
Stacey, who once raced motocross, is confident Sabré can do it.
“I’m totally confident she has the ability, the drive, the intelligence,” Stacey said. “She’s got a lot of the tools.”