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Sarah Fisher Takes Leap Forward

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 7 2010

Graham Rahal and his team owner/seat sharer, Sarah Fisher. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Scary? Ah, yes, you could say that sinking everything you own and then a whole lot more into something that is as high-risk/low-potential-for-success as an auto racing team is scary.

But Sarah Fisher believes in her rock. The rock which she found during a trip in Brown County, Indiana. The one which is inscribed with these words: “Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.”

The leap still may come in an ugly, inglorious end for Fisher and Sarah Fisher Racing – as it has for so many people and race teams – but as the 2010 IndyCar season gears up for the third race of the season this weekend, work on those wings is yielding some darn good lift.

Fisher’s 3-year-old team entered the current season with two cars and funding for nine races – which is up from one car and six races a year ago. Originally a three-employee team, it is now up to 18.

And on Tuesday, SFR announced that it was adding another race to its schedule as it will put Graham Rahal – who gave the team its best-ever finish of ninth two weeks ago in St. Petersburg – into a third road race this season; the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

During a telephone interview on Tuesday, a busy but proud Fisher described the St. Pete experience as “stellar”.

Fisher knows about stars. For a half decade, she was the brightest the Indy Racing League had. Her appeal was manifest not only by being voted the series’ most popular driver four times in a row, but by the long lines of fans who showed up to get her signature at autograph sessions.

On the track, she also had her successes. She was the first women to win a pole in the series, qualified for eight Indianapolis 500s and earned nine top-10 finishes as a driver.

But rather than getting easier, life as a driver got more difficult for Fisher and her career matured. She found out that no amount of horsepower can overcome petty attitudes.

“Chauvinism” in the sport, Fisher said, slowed her forward movement, and, it “Set me off.”

“It was awful. It almost made me quit.”

Rather than quit or even deal with with it head on, she decided to sidestep it. Along with husband/veteran wrench guy Andy O’Gara, Fisher decided to start her own team.

“I want to have more influence on my own career,” Fisher said. “Yep, we jumped off the mountain and here we are.”

Sarah Fisher Racing took to the track twice in 2008 and then six times in 2009. Fisher did the driving…and chased money…and kept the books…and authored press guides…and did lots of smiling.

She did it all for a variety of reasons; reasons of money, habit and control.

“I was never very good at delegating,” she says. “I am getting better at it now, though.”

Guess so. She took the ultimate step in delegating earlier this year when she hired road-racing phenom but suddenly unemployed Rahal to drive at St. Pete and this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala.

It just made sense to give up the seat for those races, Fisher said.

“Road racing is not my forte,” she said.

And as a team owner, she felt she owed it to team sponsor Dollar General to do the right thing.

“It was kind of tough at first,” Fisher said. “To watch the car with Dollar General on the sides go by, was tough. But Graham deserves the opportunity.”

He proved that at St. Pete. Proved it so decisively to sponsors Dollar General and Direct Supply that the Long Beach race has been added for him.

For Fisher, who will be back in her car at Kansas Speedway at the end of April, the team’s first top-10 finish represents another successful adjustment to the wings her team is constructing on the way down the mountainside.

“Graham had been very excited about the potential of putting this together from the start of his time with the team. I am proud of where we have been able to go in such a short period of time. Certainly the idea of growing a program past the set budget was a difficult task for everyone involved, but knowing Graham will do a great job on and off the track makes every effort worth it.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 7 2010
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