Fisher to lead big Richmond parade; Indy Racing drivers up for honors.

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002 -- Sarah Fisher, voted by fans as the Most Popular Driver in the Indy Racing League for the last two seasons, will serve as the grand marshal for the 19th annual Richmond Christmas Parade on Dec. 7 in Richmond, Va.

The Ukrop's/Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond Christmas Parade draws more than 200,000 people of all ages. The parade serves as the official start of the holiday season in Richmond and will include marching bands, balloon floats of cartoon characters Rocky, Bullwinkle and Garfield, and, of course, an appearance by Santa Claus.

Past grand marshals have included singer Kenny Rogers and actor Blair Underwood of "L.A. Law."

Fisher made history in the 2002 IRL season when she became the first woman to win a pole position in major open-wheel racing by capturing the top starting spot for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway. She drove the No. 23 Team Smart Blade entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the 2002 season.

She will join the rest of the stars from the IRL for the third annual SunTrust Indy Challenge on Saturday, June 28 for a night race at Richmond International Raceway.

"Sarah's popularity goes well beyond the racetrack, and we are thrilled that she will be the grand marshal for the Richmond Christmas Parade," said Doug Fritz, president of Richmond International Raceway. "Sarah is a great ambassador for the Indy Racing League, and we are proud to host her and the 'Stars and Cars' of the Indy 500 each June for the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway."

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Indy Racing drivers nominated for honors: Four Indy Racing drivers are nominees for the 2002 Auto Racing All-America team selected by the members of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.

Two-time Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr., two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and IRL standout Gil de Ferran are among the six nominees for first-team honors in the Open Wheel Racing category. Inaugural Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series champion A.J. Foyt is one of six nominees in the At Large category.

Two drivers from each of six categories of racing are selected for first-team All-America honors. The first-team member who receives the most ballots overall, regardless of category, will earn the Jerry Titus Award, presented annually to the Driver of the Year.

CART champion Cristiano da Matta, Indianapolis 500 MBNA Pole winner Bruno Junqueira and CART standout Patrick Carpentier join Hornish, Castroneves and de Ferran as Open Wheel nominees.

Winners will be named at the annual AAWRBA banquet in January.

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No time off: Buddy Rice, who just signed a contract to drive full time next season for Red Bull Cheever Racing, isn't taking it easy during this offseason.

Rice, from Phoenix, competed in five races for Red Bull Cheever in 2002. He finished in the top 10 four times, including a best finish of second in his series debut at Michigan.

The 2003 pact with team owner-driver Eddie Cheever Jr. is Rice's first full-time deal since he won the Toyota Atlantic championship in 2000, so he's taking little time off this winter.

"Basically, I've taken a year-and-a-half vacation, which I didn't want to take," Rice said. "So I'm not going to take this offseason very light at all. So I'll make sure that when I step into the first race at Homestead that I'm ready and I'm prepared. I won't be doing too many vacations.

"Eddie and I have some things planned for both some sponsorship things, and some other things that we're going to be working on, so I'm looking forward to that. So those will be like mini-vacations, but I don't plan on taking a whole lot. I've got a lot of stuff happening here still at home, and the only thing is I can sleep a lot easier right now over this winter knowing that my stuff is set for the next two years. So in that aspect I'll be a bit more relaxed, and I'll just be able to focus on training more instead of focusing on trying to get a ride."

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Hot laps: Jason Priestley recently returned to his home in California for the first time since suffering serious injuries to his feet and back during an Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series crash Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway. Priestley continues a rigorous rehabilitation routine but otherwise has recovered from the injuries, according to a statement from Kelley Racing, his team in the Infiniti Pro Series -- Penske Racing will be featured prominently on a float in the holiday parade this weekend in Reading, Pa., site of the company's headquarters. The float features a race car pulling a sleigh -- Two-time IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. will ride in a classic Chevrolet Corvair during a holiday parade Nov. 30 in Toledo, Ohio. Hornish is participating in the parade on behalf of the Shriners charitable group, of which he and his father are members.

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