An interview with Brent Sherman and Sarah Fisher
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
MODERATOR: Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have a couple of guests joining us today.
We're starting the call with Firestone Indy Lights driver Brent Sherman. And in a few minutes we'll be joined by IndyCar Series driver Sarah Fisher.
Brent is a rookie driving for Panther Racing. He finished third in the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami. He was eighth last weekend in Kansas. Previously he competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as making six starts in the Sprint Cup Series in 2006.
Brent, with your background, tell us first a little bit how the season is going overall and really kind of how you found the transition from the heavier stock cars to the Firestone Indy Lights cars.
BRENT SHERMAN: I have to say so far so good. Or so average. I really didn't know what to expect. The cars obviously drive much differently. I maybe take a little bit of race craft from the bigger cars and use some of that knowledge on the ovals. It's always nice to get on an oval that you've been to before, regardless of what you're driving.
But I think that a lot of it is how I work with my engineer. Really, it's kind of the same thing in any series, you have to work well with your team. And we got off to a great start. And I knew that the road course and the street courses were going to be a little bit of a challenge because I haven't done them very often or in the last couple of years, anyway.
They have two or three in the Nationwide Series. So I knew I was going to have a pretty steep learning curve there and it showed a little bit at St. Pete. But I think that I'm working well with my team. And I think that we're going to improve on the road courses and hopefully maybe get a win on one of the ovals. I think I have a better shot at winning on the oval than on a road course or street course.
But I think being in the top 10 in points right off the bat is pretty good. I would have liked a better finish in Kansas. But I mean it isn't bad and we kept it clean. I guess I'm fairly pleased with how it's gone so far.
MODERATOR: Good, the next oval, obviously is the biggest one - next stop for Indy Lights is Indianapolis. What will it mean to you to be able to run at Indianapolis?
BRENT SHERMAN: It will be pretty sweet. I've been across the street at O'Reilly Raceway Park many times just knowing what's going on over at the big track, whether it be the Brickyard or the Indy 500, it's obviously a special place.
So it's pretty exciting. I'd love to be running the Indy 500. Maybe we'll be doing it next year. I have to pay my dues in the Indy Light Series. If we can find success there, maybe next year I can work my way up to trying to qualify for the Indy 500. But, obviously, yes, this race is probably the biggest on the schedule and it would be pretty huge to win that race. So we're going to do everything we can to try to win the thing.
MODERATOR: You mentioned moving forward and maybe next year getting the opportunity to run the 500 or IndyCar Series program. You did have the opportunity on Monday to stay at Kansas and test an IndyCar Series car, as part of the bonus testing program that took place. What was it like to get that opportunity to drive the IndyCar Series car?
BRENT SHERMAN: It was really good. It is a great program. I didn't really know what to expect, obviously.
And it was nice to be able to get some laps in the Indy Lights car and then turn around the next day and have it still fresh in my head. And it was -- I'd have to say for me it went better than expected. We were up to speed fairly quickly on the first run, and I didn't know how much feedback I'd be able to give to the team and how much I'd really actually be able to help them.
But they dialed some downforce in and we were able to take some of that away and really get a feel for what the car wanted and what the car needed to handle better. And we made some changes. And so it was good. It was more than just running around there getting, them giving me laps. It was we were actually able to make some changes and I was able to feel, get a really good feel for what the car was like.
And I had no idea what to expect and I'd have to say from my aspect, I thought it went fairly well and that it was success. So it just made me want more. So now after I got out of the car I called (team owner) John Barnes and said, 'Look, I'm ready for the 500 this year, let's do it.' So I didn't get a comment back. So I'm assuming that's a no.
MODERATOR: A good piece of news over the weekend obviously was the National Guard expanding its sponsorship at Panther Racing to include your car in the Firestone tindy lights as well, and you have a background in the military, in the Air Force for a number of years. Tell us a bit about the sponsorship program and now your opportunity to represent the National Guard.
BRENT SHERMAN: It's unbelievable. I've been in contact with many of the different military branches and to finally be able to represent the National Guard, it's pretty huge for me. And just being prior military, I kind of have a feeling for what they do for the country and to be able to represent them is pretty huge for me. I'm excited to do all the appearances.
And it gives us some identity. I haven't really had a long-term sponsor. So I'm hoping that maybe we can grow the relationship and I'm looking forward to hopefully winning some races for them and maybe moving into the IndyCar Series in the future. I really don't know what it's going to lead to. But it's obviously a good thing, and at first they weren't sure that they wanted to make a move into the Indy Light Series. But fortunately we had some good runs and I was able to meet some people and they thought it was a good idea, and it's great for Panther. It's great for me and hopefully it will be great for National Guard.
And actually I think Delphi may be coming on board also. So it's an unbelievable opportunity for me. So I just want to make sure I try to capitalize on it.
Q: Get kind of sort of a reverse trend going from the open wheel from NASCAR to open wheel in Indy Lights. Do you have a comment on your decision to do this and what do you feel like the big difference is between the sanctions?
BRENT SHERMAN: It really -- I had an opportunity to run for a couple of -- I'd say mediocre to maybe above-average Truck Series teams this year. A couple of different opportunities there. And then the Indy Lights program. I just felt like the biggest thing that drove my decision was the ability to win races.
Unfortunately, I didn't get into a great situation or a long-term situation on the NASCAR side of things. And I think that really hurt me. I kind of jumped around from team to team. I never really was with an organization that had the ability to win races. And they knew that. And I knew that. And it's just tough going to the racetrack knowing that you really don't have a shot at winning. And that was the biggest decision.
As far as the difference in the cars. I knew it was going to be a little bit different. But race car drivers, you know, one of the things, in my opinion, that makes a good race car driver is the ability to adapt. I've driven many different cars, so I just felt like with my experience in the past running in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, I felt I would be able to make the switch and hopefully I'll find some success.
Really, the major deciding factor was the ability to sign with Panther, a team of that caliber, and the ability to win races. So that's really what made the decision for me.
Q: As an Air Force veteran, I was fortunate to recently interview some of the Thunderbirds and obviously I had to ask them a comparison between riding in a jet and a race car. Did you ever get the opportunity to ride in a jet, or I'm sure you probably talked to some people who have who weren't jet pilots or whatever, can you comment on what the difference is?
BRENT SHERMAN: I was able to run with the Thunderbirds and it was unbelievable. But I'd have to say that the IndyCar is nothing like a fighter jet. We pulled 9.2 Gs and I about passed out and we didn't even sustain it for more than maybe three seconds or two seconds.
What they do is really, really amazing. You know, obviously we pulled probably I think maybe three, four Gs I think the IndyCars do. And it's sustained for a good amount of time. But I gotta tell you, nine Gs is pretty amazing. So obviously both are exciting. I'm not saying one is more exciting than the other. But I'd have to say the performance of a fighter jet is pretty amazing.
Q: One last comment on that, is I asked that question to Jimmy Johnson about that and he said he would not get anything whatsoever where he wasn't in control. Do you have a comment on that?
BRENT SHERMAN: Yeah, that's interesting. I guess it's just a trust thing. Obviously, these guys are -- all they do is train year-round. So I felt pretty safe. I can understand his point. But there is no way I was going to turn down a ride in a Thunderbird I don't care who is flying it, you know.
Q: I have a question about your sponsorship with the National Guard. How active are you in the promotion? You're making appearances with the car; is that right?
BRENT SHERMAN: You know what, we just put them on at the racetrack in Kansas, and we're just now finalizing everything. I believe that we've already got something going on in Indy for, over the Indy race weekend. So I believe I'm going to be fairly active with appearances. And I hope to be. Because a lot of their program is activation and entertaining and bringing troops out to the racetrack. So I'm hoping that they use me as much as they can. And I look forward to representing them not only on the racetrack but off. So I'm not sure exactly what extent it's going to be. But I'm assuming it's going to be -- they're going to try to use me as much as they can.
Q: Do you foresee something like a post-season USO tour where you might even go overseas with the promotion?
BRENT SHERMAN: I don't know. That's a good question. But I would love to. That would be a good experience. I've been overseas a bunch in the Air Force and it's been a while. So I kind of know what it's like over there. And I wouldn't mind going and visiting as a race car driver rather than an active duty soldier.
Q: Usually when I talk to Indy Lights drivers, it's a young person coming out of karts and road and street racing technique going to ovals. That's where their trepidation lies. You're doing the reverse. How are you progressing getting your road and street course technique where you want it to be?
BRENT SHERMAN: I definitely had some rust in St. Pete. But I think we qualified 12th out of 25. So I was middle of the pack. And I guess I wasn't extremely pleased with that. But I wasn't -- I thought I could pick up some spots in the race. Unfortunately, I didn't. But the street course was a pretty tough event to start with on the road racing side of things, just because of the technical aspect of a street course is unbelievable. I mean you're missing walls by inches and you have to make sure that every apex is pretty much perfect to get a good lap and to get a good fast lap in.
So I think I started with probably the most difficult track or one of the most difficult tracks on the schedule. I'm hoping that luckily I've been to the rest of the tracks previously. So I'm hoping that some of the knowledge I've gained in the past in my career will help me a little bit anyway. But, yeah, there's some great, great road racers in the series. And I don't know where I'm going to stack up at some of these other places. But the goal is to be consistent and to finish races and to run hopefully in the top 10 every weekend. So we'll just plug along. And you never know, really. I'm hoping that I can be right up there with the front runners by the end of the season on some of the road courses.
Q: There's a race out here at Sonoma that you have some familiarity with the track. Are you looking forward to coming back to Infineon?
BRENT SHERMAN: Most definitely. That's where I started. I haven't been there for a long time. And I was just about actually to go with BAM to the Cup race out there and was looking forward to that, and we ended up parting ways.
So, yeah, that place is obviously special for me. That's obviously where I started my career and look forward to seeing some familiar faces out there. From what I understand some of the instructors that taught me how to drive a race car are still out there. So, yeah, it should be exciting.
Q: Yes they are. And you're a rookie in a series where you're up against a lot of kids that really are still kids. They're still teenagers. And you've been around for a while. Do you think that your age and maturity gives you an advantage as a rookie?
BRENT SHERMAN: I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that out. I hate to think that in my old age I'm losing the edge. But I don't know. I think that age and maturity does help at times on the racetrack. But obviously some of these kids are fast and some of them are able to balance maturity and aggressiveness very well.
So I don't know if it helps or hurt me. I try to stay in shape and I am constantly in the gym because that's obviously something I don't want to happen. I don't want to feel like I'm out of shape out there, because I know some of these kids are, I don't know, seems like it's easier for them to be in shape than when you start getting my age. You know, everything catches up, all the pizza catches up to you, I think, a little bit quicker.
But I don't know if it helps or hurts me. I just keep my head down and try to stay focused on what I'm doing. But it wouldn't hurt if I was ten years younger, that's for sure.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for the time, Brent.
We're joined now by IndyCar Series driver and team owner Sarah Fisher. Sarah made her IndyCar Series debut in 1999 with Pelfrey Racing. Since then she's made 67 starts, including six Indianapolis 500s. She's returning to the series in 2008 in time for the Indianapolis 500, this time as a driver and co-owner of Sarah Fisher Racing.
Tell us what it's been like the last couple of months getting ready for the Indy 500, not only looking to it as a driver this year but now also taking on that added responsibility in the role of team owner.
SARAH FISHER: It certainly has been busy. The last month has kicked up quite a bit, as we prepare to move into the Speedway, the end of this week. You know, there's been a lot going on, and just trying to chase everything so that we've got all of our ends tied up before we get on track on Tuesday. You know, it just takes time. And the good thing for me is that I don't do the day-to-day operations around here. So I come in and make a couple of decisions and that's about it.
MODERATOR: That's good. That transitions into my next question. Do you get the sense that through the month of May you'll be able to kind of relax and concentrate on the driving part, or do you think it's going to be kind of hectic and pulled in a lot of different directions in that team owner role?
SARAH FISHER: I'm not really too sure yet. It's hard to say until you experience it. But for sure the driving part of it will be the relaxing part for me that we've worked so hard to make happen. So I'm definitely going to enjoy myself and make sure that happens. And my biggest problem that I have is I don't delegate well enough. I try to do everything myself. And I've got some really great people around me that I've got to learn to delegate to and help us get through the month.
MODERATOR: The IndyCar Series is obviously very competitive this season with the increased car count, 25, 26 regular competitors out there. How does that affect your goal kind of coming in as a start-up team or your thought process as far as qualifying goes on the first weekend, the second weekend, what's the approach?
SARAH FISHER: Well, I for sure think that the second day is the day we need to get into the show. The first day is really tough. We're not a top-11 team right now, and I think that would be a real high expectation to ask for from a team that just built a car. We're finishing up wiring looms and hard lines that we're building for the very first time. So it's difficult to expect that.
But for sure I think we can put it in the show on the second day of the first weekend.
MODERATOR: Good. Long-term, past Indianapolis, I know there's been speculation since the announcement of the team that you guys will be competing. Is there any further news on the outlook for the season and beyond for Sarah Fisher Racing?
SARAH FISHER: We plan on competing at Kentucky in Chicago. Still working out the details on who is going to be on the side pod and all that stuff that goes along with it. But we'll be at Kentucky in Chicago, and we're excited to start with the three races. It gives us sort of a springboard into 2009, which looks actually a lot better than 2008 for us.
But for sure we're appreciative to have these three races to build upon for the future. Because it's not -- we're not planning on just a one- or two-year wonder. We want to build Sarah Fisher Racing into a big team that's around for many years to come. As a start-up year we're working real hard to make sure everything is a smooth transition.
Q: The media spotlight -- about the media spotlight being on females and racing, and recently when females won, as Danica won in Indy cars and Ashley Force recently won this weekend at NHRA, you hear words like "finally." And I think that sometimes their efforts and their results, good results, actually in the first couple of years, are overlooked. Do you have a comment on that?
SARAH FISHER: I don't know, necessarily, if the results have been overlooked. I mean I had a lot of firsts in IndyCar Series with the first pole, the first podium. And we received a bit of media surrounding that. So I don't know that that was overlooked. I mean I surely feel progressive and I think it's one first after the other. And the next first for us I'm sure there will be a significant amount of attention to that.
Q: And probably which you really touched on, the other part was I was going to say is that there's more interest when a female does win. So obviously that helps the situation. But going into the future, do you think there will be a time when there's, say, a much larger percentage of female racers?
SARAH FISHER: I think so. I think you can sort of tell by the Indy Lights program and the two girls that are in there right now. It takes starting at a really young age. You can't pick up race car driving overnight. The fact that girls are out there, start six or seven years ago, at 10 years old or whatever, they're starting to get to the age where an opportunity is possible. And I just hope that they've matured as drivers and can take that opportunity.
Q: You mentioned the training as a young person. Jeff Burton recently this week, in Talladega, he mentioned that kids don't get the opportunity to learn how to drive race cars. He said his daughter was, or his son, he got them into the line for $29 but couldn't get them into a car for lots of money. Your comment on that, should there be a program for young people that should be maybe helped out by the sanctions?
SARAH FISHER: Well, I don't know. It would be hard to do that, because then who do you pick. Right? There's a lot of kids that I think have the talent that don't necessarily have the opportunity because they don't come from families that have a lot of money. But when I grew up racing, which was all I can be familiar with, is we didn't have a lot of money either. But we scrimped and we saved to race. I didn't go buy new clothes as a kid. We went to the thrift stores.
So it's a matter of having the priority of what you want and what your goals are in life to make it happen.
Q: Kind of following along that theme, with the Danica win, does that make you kind of reflect and ponder what-ifs, like what if you had been able to pull off the win at Homestead, how your career might have gone differently?
SARAH FISHER: Yeah, you always think about what-ifs, but you have to focus and you have to say to yourself, okay, what can we do to make that happen, what can I do today to better my team, to better my driving, to better everyone around me, so that we can put ourselves in a position to do that. And never being in that position before, it's difficult to have the answer for it. But we're trying to put together the right financing and the right people so that we're in a situation ourselves to make that happen. And then we'll experience it.
Q: When your situation like you were talking about with starting a new team, what are the balances between having yourself involved with it as the driver? Is it in some ways easier to get sponsorship as a woman or in some ways tougher? Do you find it kind of like a balancing act?
SARAH FISHER: Somewhat, yeah. Fortunately for me I don't run the day-to-day operations side of things. So as far as dealing with some of the questions that are insignificant big picture-wise, I don't have to answer them. So it's all about managing the time that I have and making sure that this time is slotted for being a race car driver and this time is slotted for being an owner. And so far it's been successful. I'm not stressed out and pulling my hair out yet. So I think as far as getting ready for it is the most significant time frame that you have to work with. And from here on out it's all about being a driver.
Q: One more thing. Do you look back and do you find in retrospect there's anything you wish you had done differently early in your career? Anything big? I mean a major turning point.
SARAH FISHER: I don't know, necessarily. You always look back and you think to yourself what if I had done this or that. But I try not to waste too much time doing that. Because I need to spend my time focused on what we have in front of us. And what we need to do to go forward. And what's going to happen tomorrow and how can we make it better. Otherwise, if I spend all my time thinking about the past and what I should have done, then I wouldn't make the future a positive situation.
Q: Sarah, you're making some more history here as an owner/driver of your team, hopefully. You know, you spent some time here in Sacramento a few years ago when you were trying to get into NASCAR. And we had several young women who are trying to take that same route. What is your advice to young drivers in these programs and starting out at tracks around the country?
SARAH FISHER: It's tough. The best advice is really whatever sponsorship you have, whatever backers you have, you need to treat them really well. And try to get them to stick with you. Keeping going forward and your big plans. And to have a five-year plan. This is where you want to be in five years and here's the ways that you're going to go achieve that, because otherwise it makes it difficult to sell.
Q: Do you think that is it your success and Danica's success and Ashley Force and other women, that it's becoming easier to sell a female driver to sponsors?
SARAH FISHER: I wouldn't say that it was any easier, I would definitely say there's more attention surrounding it. So when you talk about what's happening, people are more familiar with the big picture and can listen better, I suppose. But it doesn't always seal the deal.
MODERATOR: Sarah, thanks again for joining us this afternoon.