By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
Sitting side-by-side on stage Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, Lyn St. James and Hailie Deegan represented two significant eras in auto racing competition.
St. James was the first woman to earn an IMSA GT-class solo victory in 1985 and won three times competing in a Ford Mustang for Jack Roush that season. This weekend, Deegan will make her IMSA debut driving the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge four-hour race – the car designed with a tribute livery to St. James’ 1985 car.
In her IMSA sportscar career as a Ford driver, St. James earned six wins including a pair of Rolex 24 class victories.
“Meeting Lyn, someone who has had such a historical presence in the sport and done so much in the past and just to pick your brain on everything and everything you know especially – and not just being a racer but being a girl in racing,’’ Deegan said, smiling at St. James.
“And also being just a true racer at heart and having pure talent like she has. I think it’s definitely cool to go back and go through scenarios we can relate on.’’
Deegan, 18, who was recently announced as a Ford Performance development program driver, will team with 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender Chase Briscoe in the four-hour IMSA race Friday – a day before the annual Rolex 24 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener on the Daytona International Speedway road course.
Briscoe, 25, who won the 2019 Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Honors, drives for Stewart-Haas Racing and has competed in this Michelin Pilot Challenge event three times previously. Another up-and-coming NASCAR star, Austin Cindric, will be driving a second car for the Multimatic team.
As with Deegan, Briscoe spoke about how proud he was to honor St. James with their car in Friday’s race.
“It’s humbling for sure, anytime you think of being able to recognize clearly an icon of motorsports it’s a huge deal,’’ Briscoe said. “To be a part of that is awesome.
“To be able to try to help Hailie in her first start is neat for me to come back full circle. I think it’s my third year doing [this race]. Austin Cindric was kind of that guy for me and now I’m able to try and to help Hailie.
“Hopefully we can have the same results Lyn had in 1985 and get that car back to victory lane.”
For her part, St. James said she was truly honored for the team to use a paint scheme acknowledging her efforts. She has been a long-time advocate for women in racing and spent more than a decade as an advisor to Ford Motor Company.
“It’s awesome to be sitting here and remembered,’’ St. James said, adding, “It was great to meet Hailie, I’ve followed her career even before she was doing some things last year (in the NASCAR K&N Series) and I knew that she was a rising star. I knew Chase and remember him from back when he was doing sprint car stuff.
“I follow the young drivers and what they’re doing. It’s just great to be in their presence and to be able to hang with them.’’
Deegan will compete fulltime in the ARCA Menards Series, which opens its season Feb. 8 on the Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile high banks and is planning to compete more Michelin Pilot Challenge races throughout 2020.
The BMW Endurance Challenge begins at 1 p.m. Friday and can be streamed live exclusively on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold in the United States. International viewers can stream the race on IMSA.tv and the IMSA App. IMSA Radio also has live coverage on RadioLeMans.com. The race will be broadcast on NBCSN on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. EST.