Sarah Fisher – A Class Act

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Part of the allure of the Indianapolis 500 is all of the speculation that goes with it. The “ifs”, “buts” and what ifs” are all part of the other eleven months of the year besides May. One of the intriguing things to speculate about Sarah Fisher Racing in 2008 is; what if Dollar General had come along at the beginning of the 2008 season? How might things have gone for the team, then?

If you’ll recall, Fisher had just started her own team in 2008. Fisher, her husband Andy O’Gara and father-in-law John O’Gara formed Sarah Fisher Racing, with Sarah as the driver. They had supposedly lined up a sponsor for Indy and other selected races. As the Month of May approached, the sponsor’s check had yet to arrive. They went ahead and moved forward with designing paint schemes, uniforms, accessories, etc. The sponsor – whose name I will not mention – never came through with the money. The company later claimed that there had never been a sponsor agreement and that SFR had actually misused their trademark.

The team went ahead anyway with their plans for Indy. Amid all of the financial distractions, Sarah was somehow able to qualify in the twenty-second starting spot, although she was pulled in several directions in her roles as car owner and driver. Fisher scurried around and was finally able to secure sponsorship for the race through text4cars.com and Catalyst PDG—not necessarily household names, but they allowed the team to pay some bills. Things were tight, but if they could make it through the race unscathed with a good paying finish—they’d be OK.

Things did not go smoothly. Sarah overcame a couple of hiccups and was avoiding trouble, just past the halfway point. Then, exiting turn three, she got caught up in Tony Kanaan’s spin. Fisher had no place to go — she hit Kanaan’s car and they were both out of the race. Although Sarah was physically fine, the pressures of the month finally caught up with her. She broke down in the ambulance, so much so that Kanaan had to calm her down on their way to the infield care center. After briefly getting things somewhat under control, Fisher lost it on her televised interview and sobbed hysterically before the cameras and millions of viewers. She had a torn up racecar, through no fault of her own – she had risked everything and was now faced with mounting debt while settling for the prize money of a thirtieth place finish. Things looked about as bleak as they possibly could.

But after the initial shock and disappointment of May had worn off, she regrouped. Instead of whining about her plight, she moved on and got back to work. To their credit, Kanaan’s team at AGR helped Sarah out with parts to help rebuild her crashed Dallara. Things were starting to look up. Within two months of Indy, she had secured a sponsorship package with Dollar General Corporation, based here in Nashville. They agreed to sponsor her effort at Kentucky and the season finale at Chicago.

She performed respectably and Dollar General eventually agreed to sponsor SFR for six races in 2009, including Indy. Getting back to speculating — had Dollar General been on-board at Indy, I wonder if she would have had such a rough time of it in May. Would she have been so far back to have Kanaan put her another lap down and then spin in front of her? Like all speculation…we’ll never know.

In their first outing of 2009 at Kansas, the team showed up in a beautifully painted black and yellow transporter. Every item associated with the team was perfectly adorned in the Dollar General livery. SFR presented themselves as professionally as Penske, AGR and Ganassi. They may have been small, but everything was first class.

In fact, the term “first class”, pretty much describes Sarah Fisher. Sarah has been a class act ever since she arrived at the Speedway. She was still nineteen when she showed up at Indy in 2000, driving for an under funded Derrrick Walker team. She qualified well enough, but was an early out…finishing thirty-first. In fact, Fisher has never finished well at the Speedway, for whatever reason. Her best finish was eighteenth in the rain-shortened 2007 race, however she holds most records for female drivers at Indy.

Fisher is the youngest woman to ever qualify at Indy. Sarah is also the fastest woman to ever qualify at Indy at a speed of 229.439 mph in 2002, when she had her best starting position of ninth. She has qualified for more Indy 500’s (8) than any other woman. Fisher was also the first woman to ever earn a pole position in a major racing series, setting the track record at Kentucky while doing so. In addition, Sarah was the first woman to place third and then second in a major series. Of the five women in history that have driven in the Indianapolis 500, Sarah was the third to do so. The others were Janet Guthrie in 1977, Lyn St. James in 1992, Danica Patrick in 2005 and Milka Duno in 2007

Fisher came up through the ranks that the Speedway legends of the 50’s and 60’s did – racing on dirt and driving midgets and sprint cars. She won the 1995 Dirt Track Racing Round-Up Rookie of the Year award. She also drove in World of Outlaws and for a while held the track record at Winchester Speedway. This is the type of background that will endear a driver to the many Hoosiers that attend the Indianapolis 500 each year.

Since arriving at the Speedway, Fisher has struggled with low-budget teams, yet she has always handled herself with class and dignity without complaining once. This demeanor has earned her the admiration of true race fans. Sarah Fisher is not a novelty act, a sex kitten, nor a hard-core feminist. What she is…is an aspiring businessperson, an excellent driver who has been saddled with poor to mediocre equipment throughout her career, and most of all…a genuinely nice person who carries herself very well.

The types of fans that Sarah Fisher brings are true fans…not just curiosity seekers. She has built her fan base the right way and they remain loyal to her. Will she ever win the Indianapolis 500? Probably not – and it’s highly doubtful that she will ever win ANY IndyCar race. But Sarah Fisher is building her own team the way she has built her reputation. She has done it the RIGHT way.

George Phillips

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