Families traveling during the holiday season now have a special treat just off I-20 in Alabama. The Ford Thunderbird that made history with a record speed of 212.577 mph around Talladega Superspeedway in 1988 with driver Lyn St. James behind the wheel, is now on display at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
During the final day of a two-day run at history on October 11, 1988, St. James, in the Ford prepared by two-time Talladega winner Bill Elliott and his family-run team at the time, surpassed her own closed-course women’s speed record that she set at the 2.66-mile venue three years earlier. In ‘85, she became the first woman to surpass 200 mph on a closed course in a Ford Mustang Probe GTP Prototype (204.233 mph).
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located just outside of Talladega Superspeedway’s fourth turn, is open daily from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. CT (will be closed Christmas and New Year’s Day). It is the home to countless historic vehicles from various worlds of racing that include: stock cars, open wheel, NHRA, road racing, modified, motorcycle and much more. Tours of both the Hall of Fame as well as Talladega Superspeedway are offered. For more information, log onto www.motorsportshalloffame.com.
The record-breaking 1989 Thunderbird is the newest addition to the collection. It is a special car built on a NASCAR chassis by Ernie Elliott, Bill’s brother. Instead of using a NASCAR 5.7 liter engine, the car was given a 377 CID V8 engine and an ultra-low ride height. Any changes to the rest of the vehicle, which included its rear roof, rear spoiler and frontal area, were made to “only look stock” and achieve aerodynamics that would minimize drag and maximize speed. The car was built specifically to set speed records at Talladega.
All told, St. James and her team set or broke 21 FIA international and national speed records, including 16 that could be held either by men or women. St. James made the record attempt in hopes of earning a NASCAR ride but it never materialized and she went into Indycar. She would also win two 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring races in her career.
While her career turned a different direction than she initially planned, her achievements at Alabama’s acclaimed superspeedway will always hold a distinguished place in her heart. And, the car that carried her to speeds like no other, is now in the appropriate place.