Lynx Racing co-founder Jackie Doty dies at 71

Jackie Doty, one of the most influential open-wheel team owners over the last four decades, died suddenly at her home in Texas on August 25. She was 71 years old.

In partnership with Peggy Haas, Doty founded Lynx Racing in 1990 by supporting a local Formula Atlantic driver named Jeff Barker. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, their story was rather remarkable: While sitting on the hill and watching a race at Laguna Seca, the friends grew tired of spectating and wondered aloud as to what it would take to be down in the paddock below, running a team of their own. Their imagination and determination would soon change countless lives in the sport they loved.

“She was the Thelma to my Louise,” Haas told RACER. “We were friends for 36 years. We met when she was racing and beating my ex-husband in the Jim Russell Series, and when I got rid of him, we went racing together on our own.”

Motivated by their shared mission to provide funding and training to create North America’s next-generation stars, Doty and Haas went on to build an in-house version of the Road To Indy well before the RTI existed. With personal wealth fueling Lynx Racing’s operations, Doty and Haas became transformational figures as they, along with team manager Steve Cameron and his crew chief brother Ricky Cameron and race engineer Jim Griffith, found young American and Canadian prodigies – often plucking drivers straight from karting – to represent the program and give them fully-funded opportunities that were rarely offered on the open-wheel ladder.

“She had the idea to start the team and help kids with talent, but no money,” Haas said. “That was the concept, and that’s where it all started, with Jackie.”

After working with a few different teams, it was the decision by Doty and Haas to place Lynx Racing’s operation in the hands of the Camerons in 1996 that led to its immediate rise as a TAC title contender. With years of experience either driving or running Atlantic cars, the New Zealanders brought the knowledge and crew to complement the oversight and infrastructure Doty and Haas had developed.

“We had everything change when we hooked up with the Cameron brothers, because we were about to quit” Haas said. “Jackie said two things: ‘The only way we’ll go ahead is with Steve and Ricky, and the only driver we’re interested in is Patrick Carpentier.’ We made those changes, and that’s when everything really took off.”

Using the Star Mazda series (known today at Indy Pro 2000) and the Toyota Atlantic Championship as their primary proving grounds, Doty and Haas propelled Carpentier to the CART IndyCar Series after the French-Canadian won the 1996 TAC title with Lynx. Alex Barron was next, capturing the 1997 TAC championship in a Lynx 1-2 finish with teammate Memo Gidley; the pair would follow Carpentier to CART, and later, all three would continue driving in the Indy Racing League.

The arrival of team manager Steve Cameron (center, with Doty), helped turn Lynx into a powerhouse.

Buddy Rice was the most successful Lynx graduate, winning the 2004 Indy 500 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. And there were more, including Richie Hearn, Michael Valiante, David Rutledge, and Jeret Schroeder. IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship GT Daytona title winner Bryan Sellers, whose longstanding career continues today, was one of the last drivers to prosper from the benevolence of Doty and Haas.

“That was a big catalyst for me,” Rice said. “It’s not like my family had money to go spend to get me up to those levels. And without having Jackie and Peggy help all of us young drivers out there that needed that help, and by believing in us and giving us the opportunities, we wouldn’t have made it.”

The Sonoma Raceway-based team also invested heavily in Sara Senske, one of the more promising women drivers of her era, who competed in Star Mazda and a Lynx-sponsored Barber Dodge Pro Series entry.

“Working with these carefully-chosen young drivers who have such extraordinary potential is very fulfilling for us,” Doty said in 1999. “It’s a complex process that involves helping them recognize and overcome the variety of physical, emotional, and mental challenges that stand between the fast young dreamers they are in the beginning and the champions they have the potential to become.”

Steve Cameron marveled at the wide-ranging talents and competitive spark Doty and Haas brought to open-wheel racing at a time when women were rarely present in meaningful roles in the sport.

“They were groundbreaking back when they formed Lynx,” he said. “It was a female-owned team, female-managed, and they were very active in all aspects of the program. They were the only ones there. Jackie’s biggest contribution, other than helping to run the team, was keeping you motivated to take on this quest. She really worked a lot with the drivers and the team to steer us through the good days and bad days. She was really, really good at keeping everything level, keeping everything on a steady platform.”

Through its final season in 2004, Lynx was unrivaled in TAC, producing 37 wins, 32 poles, and two championships while also helping a number of other drivers, many who paid to race alongside the future stars and learn within Lynx’s academy-style program.

“The biggest thing was not only Jackie originally approaching Peggy to help young drivers, but the impact and the amount of people that they were able to help, and how successful all those groups were,” Rice said. “They have a large group of people that worked there, grew up there, the engineers or data guys or mechanics, the truck drivers, and 90 percent of them went on to other teams and were extremely successful after leaving Lynx.

“That was a huge thing that they need to be recognized for, and I think that it’s huge. I bet everybody who wore a Lynx Racing shirt at some point would say the same thing about Jackie and Peggy because it was big for all of us. “What Jackie and Peggy were able to do, and how they ran everything? I mean, honestly, there’s nothing like it right now.”

2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice was Lynx’s most successful graduate.

As a former driver who made her biggest impact as a team owner, Doty also formed part of a rich TAC quintet comprised of five women racers who played important ownership or managerial roles in the series. In concert with Haas, Doty was joined by TAC series leader and promoter Vicki O’Connor, DSTP Motorsports TAC team owner Dede Rodgers, whose outfit shared a technical and operation alliance with Lynx, and Pam Griffith, who ran DSTP.

“She was a legend,” O’Connor said. “What Jackie and Peggy did over 14 years was legendary, and it will never be duplicated. They built a dominant team and hired the right people, hired the right drivers, and there was nothing like them before or since. Jackie was the quieter one, but she was so compassionate, generous, and had such great intuition. Any little thing that was off with one of her employees, or that she saw in the team, and she’d sense it, she’d feel it. And then she was right there to fix it and make it better.

“She and Peggy were always treated with respect, because they demanded it with the quality of their team and what they achieved. They were the leaders for women in racing while they had Lynx.”

With Rice’s Indy 500 win as a crowning achievement for they institution they built, Haas recalls their reaction to his victory and the visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the following year as a guest of Rice as one of their finer moments.

“I remember Jackie was in Texas, I was at home, we were on the phone together, and watching Buddy cross the finish line together, and we were just absolutely crying and laughing,” she said. “And the next year, we were invited out there, and it was the only time we’d been to the Indy 500 in real life. And it was absolutely extraordinary. We were just so grateful, and to see Buddy and all other participants there who were our boys at some point with Lynx.

“We told the boys two years before we were going to stop that we would be ending things. And you know, Jackie and I, we made sure that everybody had a place to go before we left because that’s what we do. We wanted everything to be impeccable with how things were done with Lynx.”

A few years after they closed the racing team, Doty and Haas formed the non-profit Lynx Foundation where they remained active in providing educational scholarships and other forms of community support until Doty’s death.

In bidding farewell to her friend, Haas says Lynx Racing will always be celebrated for the drivers and crew it contributed to open-wheel racing, but moreover, she hopes people recognize the respect she and Doty earned as women racers.

And if they had endured gender-based discrimination during their time together as racing team owners, Doty, with a vocabulary that would have passed muster in the Navy, would have handled such things with one of her patented brassy responses.

“She and I were really fortunate the men we raced against never tried to play the ‘women card’ with us,” Haas said. “They treated us treated us like we were equals. And you know what, if they didn’t, Jackie would have told them to ‘**** off!’”