Sarah Fisher Made The Right Call

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Long ago, I committed to maintain a steady Monday, Wednesday & Friday schedule in order to avoid the dreaded “blogger burnout”. It has worked out pretty well, except when news breaks two days before my next scheduled post. Such was the case this past Monday, when Sarah Fisher Racing held their press conference announcing two major stories – Sarah Fisher was retiring from driving, while Ed Carpenter would assume her duties in the No. 67 Dollar General Dallara.

This is old news by now, but I’ve always maintained that this is not a news site. There are plenty of excellent mainstream sites as well as IndyCar blog sites to go for the latest news. I merely reflect and give my opinion regarding the news in the IZOD IndyCar Series and hope that someone might actually read it. They don’t necessarily have to agree with it, so long as it makes them think.

I will admit that I never saw this one coming. I knew that Sarah would be announcing her team’s plans for 2011 on Monday. I suspected that Sarah may be stepping out of the cockpit, but it never dawned on me that Ed Carpenter would get the call to fill her seat at the team that bears her name. It makes sense, though – a lot of sense.

Aside from the fact that Ed will be back in a bright yellow car, this makes sense for a lot of reasons. Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher are both cut from the same cloth. They are two of the few drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series to come out of the USAC ranks. Both have shown flashes on ovals as both have struggled mightily on road courses. The two of them have toiled on under-funded teams throughout the majority of their career in IndyCars. Most importantly – both drivers are blessed with a very knowledgeable and loyal fan base.

Dollar General’s corporate headquarters are based here in Nashville. While their stores are perceived as sort of no-frills, they are a very well-run company. They are good corporate citizens here in Nashville and they have a reputation as a no-nonsense, respectable company. Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter both fit that mold. Ed Carpenter has that straight-forward, no-nonsense presence about him that will allow him to fit right in with the corporate structure at Dollar General.

Another surprise from Monday was that Sarah Fisher was retiring from driving, altogether. I thought she would continue to run the Indianapolis 500. I would imagine that it’s hard for a driver to get that place out of their system. But Sarah is going cold-turkey. As much as I have enjoyed watching Sarah’s career over the last few years – I think she is doing the right thing.

For whatever reason, Sarah’s career plateaued after her first few years in the series. She became the first woman to win a pole in a major North American racing series, when she won the pole at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 with a speed of 221.390 mph – which is still the track record. At age 19, she became the youngest woman to ever race in the Indianapolis 500 in 2000. But things never went very far past there.

She had full or partial season stints at Walker Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing before going with Kelley racing for a one-off appearance in the 2004 Indy 500.Sarah then faded into obscurity for a while when she had an ill-fated run in the NASCAR West Series in 2004 and 2005. She returned to Dreyer &Reinbold for the last two oval races of the 2006 season. She ran with Dreyer & Reinbold full-time in 2007, before striking out on her own in 2008.

After sponsorship struggles left Sarah Fisher Racing high and dry for the Indy 500, they still managed to make the race on a shoestring budget. After securing sponsorship through Dollar General, they were able to return to the track at Kentucky and Chicago. They expanded their program for 2009, making six of the ten ovals. For 2010, they expanded to a two-car team with Jay Howard serving as a sometimes teammate – although a team gamble caused him to miss the 2010 Indy 500.

When Graham Rahal found himself without a ride for 2010, Sarah offered him the chance to drive her car. The results were disappointing. In fact, 2010 was pretty much a disappointing year for Sarah Fisher Racing. Weaknesses in their program were exposed when Rahal couldn’t get the car originally assigned to Jay Howard up to speed at Kentucky. Rahal would finish twentieth at Kentucky while Sarah finished twenty-second.

One driver that did not struggle at Kentucky was Ed Carpenter. Although relegated to part-time status and running in only a handful of races for 2010, Ed Carpenter put his Fuzzy’s Vodka Panther Racing Dallara on the pole and finished second for the second consecutive year. Ed Carpenter has shown that given the right equipment, he can perform well on ovals. His problem has been his teams. He started out with PDM Racing for the last three races of the 2003 season. Then, 2004 found him on a dysfunctional Cheever Racing team that was in the late stages of its eventual demise. Then when no other rides materialized in 2005; his step-father, Tony George, bought the assets of Kelley Racing and built a new team around Ed.

Regardless of your feelings for Tony George, most were saddened when TG had to shutter Vision Racing before the start of the 2010 season. Many good people, including Ed Carpenter, were sent to the unemployment line. Ed was able to find sponsorship to take to Panther Racing to join teammate Dan Wheldon for a few races, including the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Now comes the announcement that he is joining forces with Sarah Fisher. This may not be the fastest team on the grid for next season, but they will undoubtedly be one of the most popular. Longtime race fans appreciate the stories of both of these drivers. They have come up through the Midwest sprint car ranks and that doesn’t go unnoticed by many of the sport’s hard-core base.

If there is any dark cloud over this announcement, it’s that it’s only for nine races. Oddly enough, there are a few road courses thrown into their mix of tracks – obviously owing to the wishes of Dollar General to appear in those markets. Hopefully, additional funding can be found to at least allow the team to run all of the ovals as well as the selected road/street courses. Given a full run at the ovals, I think Ed could compete for a top-five spot for the AJ Foyt oval trophy next year.

Although Sarah Fisher Racing had a disappointing 2010 season – they have grown their team carefully and deliberately. I’m sure they know far more about what they are doing, than I do. Growing their team slowly has been the business model since 2008. They probably have bigger plans for 2012.

It’s hard to question many of the moves that Sarah has made with her team, over the past few years. One thing is for sure; Sarah Fisher will do things her way – the right way.

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “Sarah Fisher Made The Right Call”

  1. “Oddly enough, there are a few road courses thrown into their mix of tracks – obviously owing to the wishes of Dollar General to appear in those markets.”

    Hi George,
    As far as I know, they have to run at least one road event to obtain money from the TEAM programme. An all-oval run might see them obtain only partial funds.
    Good post again.

  2. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Am happy to see this union between Ms. Fisher and Mr. Carpenter. As you say, both are well liked by the fans, hard working class acts. However I fear that the lack of suitable financing and the associated engineering and BB polishing capability that comes with the financing, that this will prevent SFR from mounting any more than a mid-pack effort.

  3. I think in a lot of ways, 2011 might be the grounds for setting up a successful 2012 for SFR. I don’t expect the team to win any races, but stranger things have happened. If they can show improvement over last year and snag some Top 10s, that’ll be a great start. This will be a team plenty of us will be pulling for.

    Also, depending on whether or not Sarah is pregnant, I suspect she might give it one last shot at Indy this year. If not, that’s fine, too; she seems at peace, and I think she’s going to be an awesome full-time owner.

  4. I think “mid-pack” seems optimistic. Her cars were real slow last year weren’t they? And Ed is slow on the road courses. And it’s a part-time program with only one car so no help from a teammate.

  5. The Lapper Says:

    Rome wasn’t built in a day and so is the situation with Sarah Fisher Racing. Sarah works as hard as anyone and the more success she brings the better she will get. Sponsors are starting to notice and the payoff will be money for speed and added quality. I like her, I think she is smart and I am glad that she is a part of the series.

  6. TIM NOTHHELFER Says:

    I wonder if Ed will bring any of his hardware or personnel to the effort. I believe this alone will be the key to Ed’s results……he has been a leader in sessions and races in the past two years in his own car. SFR has been fallen to the rear in every race it has competed in, and once that happens it is one pit stop after another…..
    Is there a flaw in the chassis or set up the team has been unable to identify to correct or adjust around? Certainly the very limited amount of testing allowed has hurt this team. This is a huge gamble for Ed.

  7. George, I think you will enjoy the book I wrote about the Indianapolis 500, including the time I spent with Vision Racing at the 500 last May. Included is the story from TG about how and why he founded Vision Racing, the meaning of the name and the No. 20. The book can be found here: http://stores.lulu.com/chaswest.

    Thanks for the great post, follow me if you wish @texasindy.

  8. I wouldn’t expect anything to change in 2011 for this team. A successful year would be just to qualify for Indy. If Rahal couldn’t make the car go fast, what is Carpenter going to do.

    2012? There is a reason to be optimistic. Some team is going to do what Ross Brawn’s did in 2009 in F1. Be the first to figure out the magic formula and jump out to a big point lead early.

  9. While I’ve never cared for Ed too much (not sure why), I will proudly root for him next year mostly because he’s driving for Sarah. I hope he can, at least, score a few podiums even a win.

    I wish Sarah the best as a team owner. I don’t think she’ll race at Indy. Instead, I think we’ll hear about a mini-racer on the way for her and Andy. :)

    I congratulate Mrs. Fisher on a great career and for continuing to pave the way for other female drivers.

  10. Chris Lukens Says:

    SFR has always suffered from an engineering staff that is not quite up snuff. However last year she was saddled with that “FlexiFlyer” tub from Dallara. Even young Rahal said that the car just would not respond to changes in the setup.
    As far as Sarah and Walker Racing. I have always thought that Walker had more allegiance to CART than he did to the IRL, therefore his objective was to let Sarah , and by extension the IRL, fail.

  11. I certainly hope Sarah can find enough additional sponsorship to allow them to come here to Milwaukee next summer.

  12. Savage Henry Says:

    TIM NOTHHELFER touched on this above, but I’m going to take it a little farther. The first thing that popped into my head when I heard Ed was going to be racing for Sarah was, “Where does this leave Vision?” At Indy, Ed had a top-5 in 2008 and top-10 in 2009. In a one-off effort, he was one of 2 non-Death Sar drivers in the Fast 9 in 2010 and was running really well in the race until pit troubles sent him to the back of the field. All of this with Vision Racing.

    Vision Racing is now shuttered and I bet that they have a bunch of top-flight equipment laying around (which is going to be obsolete after this year) and a proven book on how to go fast at Indianapolis. Could Vision be a silent partner in the scenario? Ed has some connections there, I hear.

    Yes, this is somewhat conspiracy-theoryish but its December and there’s going to be 4 solid months until any racing happens. That said, I have to think that there’s more to this story. Why wouldn’t Vision put some of its about-to-be obsolete knowledge and resources toward this? Wasn’t Ed their reason for existing in the first place?

  13. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    One key to the situation with both Vision Racing and with Ed driving extra races my be the team at Fuzzy’s Vodka. They have been a fantastic sponsor for Ed and for Vision Racing, as a glance at their Facebook page will attest. If Fuzzy’s stays with Vision, then they’ll probably be able to work up a program for the 500. If they throw their sponsorship hat into the ring with Ed’s SFR entry, it could give him an opportunity to run more races or perhaps fund a second car for a race or two. Again, Fuzzy’s seemed like a great sponsor for Ed, and Vision/Panther, and I was more than happy to throw $30 into a bottle of the stuff this summer.

  14. I’m amazed. I thought for sure she’d hang on for the 500, even though being a one-shot driver means you’ll just be lapped traffic. Putting Ed Carpenter in a car full time and taking herself out seems like a very smart move.

    If Carpenter wins this year, I’ll start calling her Sarah Penske.

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