More in Indianapolis 500:
Sarah Fisher is one of the most famous female racecar drivers, having become the youngest woman to start at Indy (19 years old, in 2000), the first woman racer to finish top three in an Indy car race (Kentucky, ’01), a result she improved on within weeks with a runner-up finish at Homestead, and the first woman to take pole for an Indy car race (Kentucky ’02).
Last Sunday, she qualified for her eighth Indy 500, and, for the second consecutive year, she did it in her own car, having created Sarah Fisher Racing in January 2008.
RACER caught up with her on Wednesday, before four more days (weather permitting) of practice at the Brickyard…
RACER: Congratulations for what you’ve achieved so far. Were you surprised to get in on the second day? Looking at the names you’re going to be lining up ahead of, it’s pretty impressive – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alex Tagliani, Robert Doornbos…
SARAH FISHER: We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be here. We were actually targeting for day one, but we didn’t have the pace. Day two was better and at that point we just wanted to get it in the show and be done with it. It worked out good for us.
R: I can understand your being ambitious, considering where you qualified in Kansas (11th). That must have been encouraging.
SF: Yeah, it was very encouraging. I think there’s definitely a lot of potential here and we just have to keep working hard. It’s an everyday process, you know – different things that we find that can be better. The energizing part about this is that there isn’t one person on the team who won’t stay late to try and advance us one way or another. That’s a good experience.
R: In terms of how competitive your car is relative to the opposition, how does this year compare to your previous Indy 500 attempts?
SF: I think it’s a good racecar. Last year, we were up to third at one point, we had a really good car. I think this one is going to be better than that one. Of course, I’m a little biased toward this car because it’s my own team, but when you have a little influence on the way things are built, with my husband being the team manager and all, I think this is my best shot at it.
R: When you’re packing up at the end of raceday on the 24th, what will you consider a reasonable result? What would be enough to send you home happy?
SF: For us, I think a top 10. A top-10 finish for our little team would be a win in itself. We would be ecstatic about that…
R: That’s a good point, actually. How many people are there in Sarah Fisher Racing?
SF: Full time, I believe there’s only eight, including [husband] Andy and I. And it’s not like I pay myself very much! After all, it is a start-up company, you know?
R: When you’re wanting to completely focus on being a driver, how hard is it to not get distracted by what you see going on as a team owner? Do you keep wanting to step in and say, “Don’t do it this way,” “Do it this way,” because you’re the team boss as well?
SF: I think that’s where having my husband as team manager really helps, because we talk about the team and its efforts and how we want to do things. We talk about it all the time. There’s really no defining when we go home and stop talking about it because we both love it so much. It doesn’t bother us that it’s always on our mind; we enjoy that. So, as a driver, I can shut off because I have Andy there and we already sort of know what each other’s opinions are on different things. That leaves me comfortable to concentrate on just being a driver.
R: How did you get your schedule expanded? The world outside tells tells us we’re in the middle of an economic crisis, yet Dollar General is stepping up its commitment to you. Was that a bolt out of the blue or had you been working on them to increase their backing?
SF: We have been working on them. We went in to the off-season last year in Chicago talking to them about doing a full season – just running numbers by them and trying to get it to make sense. They had a good year and they really like what we’re doing, and they wanted to see some more, so after we had announced it, they came back with more.
R: Would you be happy going back to street and road courses?
SF: I would love to do that. With the new paddle shift system I think I would really enjoy it. People forget I never shifted a car into second until I was 19 years old! So, this was quite a learning experience for me.
R: So if Dollar General said, “OK, for 2010 we’re going to double what we’re paying you this year,” would you want to run a full season for yourself or would you continue doing the number of races you’re doing now but expand to a two-car team?
SF: Well, we would probably do all we could with that money to fulfill the potential of one car before we’d run a two-car team, whether that’s a full season or whatever that entails. There are just a slew of options out there for what Dollar General would want to do. I think we need to start with doing all the ovals first; we have to take baby steps. As long as we can grow each year, then we’ll be happy with that.
R: I guess also that it’s quite hard to make a commitment to buy another chassis when you know that possibly by the end of 2010 or for sure by the end of 2011 that the current Dallara is going to be completely obsolete.
SF: It is tough, yes, but at the same time there are lots of options there, too. It’s not just having to put up one big number and buying a chassis; there are options to help with that. There hasn’t been an announcement about “what, when and how,” so we’ll just keep racing. We can’t stop racing just because a new car is coming out in 18 months or two and a half years, you know?
R: It’s hard enough to get a ride when you don’t have money to bring to a team, but you built your own team. I suppose you could say that you just created a ride of your own, but if Dollar General were going to sponsor you, wouldn’t the easier option have been to step into someone else’s car? Why did you bring on this world of pain?
SF: You might think that would be the case, but one of Dollar General’s main reasons for backing me is because they’re seeing a young woman as an entrepreneur as well as an athlete. They see their customer base as similar to that in some ways and they really embrace the hard-working American girl living the American dream. If I weren’t a team owner, I probably wouldn’t have Dollar General support: there wouldn’t be that choice there just to bring money to another team.
Anyway, the bottom line is that I wanted to be a car owner from even before I had the money to do it, because I wanted to work with certain people. People are what make an organization. To be able to work with the people I want to work with is what builds our team, which builds our brand, which builds our value. It’s a little Catch-22 – you have to get started and you have to build up in order to keep bringing back partners.
R: So what's next this week? How much running have you done so far in race trim and running in traffic this year?
SF: Not as much as I want to…only a little bit on day one.
R: So, are you going to be out there pounding the track during the next four days?
SF: As soon as it stops raining, yes! We might get washed out tomorrow morning, but maybe toward the end of tomorrow the track will be dry. Right now I’m just watching the rain and paying the bills…