INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Oct. 6, 2000 -- It all started for Sarah Fisher a year ago at Texas Motor Speedway. Only 11 days past her 19th birthday and just four months beyond her high school graduation, she became only the fifth woman ever to...
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Oct. 6, 2000 -- It all started for Sarah Fisher a year ago at Texas Motor Speedway. Only 11 days past her 19th birthday and just four months beyond her high school graduation, she became only the fifth woman ever to drive an Indy-style car in a race. On Oct. 15, Fisher returns to Texas Motor Speedway to complete the cycle and compete in the Excite 500. And she comes back to the scene of her debut for her ninth career start on the wings of a record-setting performance at Kentucky Speedway. Fisher's third-place finish in The Belterra Resort Indy 300 - only 7.749 seconds behind winner Buddy Lazier - is the highest a female driver has ever placed in an Indy-style race. Also, she started fourth in her Walker Racing Cummins Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, equaling the qualifying mark set by Janet Guthrie for the Pocono 500 on June 24, 1979. Fisher, who turned 20 on Oct. 4, has come a long way in a short time since she qualified 17th, ran 66 laps and finished 25th at Texas last October driving a Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone for Team Pelfrey. "It was a well-earned position, I thought, and I'm very proud of it," Fisher said of her Kentucky run. "Our biggest goal this year, or at least for me, has been to learn the amount of patience that it takes, that it requires, to drive one of these things." Pelfrey provided her initial opportunity, but Derrick Walker saw Fisher's potential and decided during the offseason to gamble on starting a new Indy Racing League team with Fisher in the driver's seat for the entire 2000 season. Cummins Diesel, of Columbus, Ind., agreed with Walker's vision and provided primary funding for the team. Walker introduced Fisher as his driver at the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 in January at Walt Disney World Speedway. Fisher made her debut with the team at the next race, the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 in March at Phoenix. "We were initially going to run the Indianapolis 500, and we really were looking around at finding a suitable driver and Sarah's name came up," Walker said. "I met with Sarah and her father, and I was just impressed by her focus, her dedication to racing." From there, it evolved into a multiyear program of campaigning a young talent who Walker sees growing into a first-class, winning driver in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Fisher is ecstatic about the opportunity Walker presented to drive in Indy Racing cars. "He's also given me the opportunity to continue racing them as I make my rookie mistakes," she said. "He's been a big supporter of that. He keeps me going, keeps me racing, and he really believes in me. So to be able to drive for an owner that really believes in his driver and will support what they do is a very big opportunity for any rookie driver coming up. "I guess I just was one of the lucky kids." Fisher is part of a standout rookie contingent this season. Brazilian Airton Dare leads the first-year crew with 124 points and is 15th in the overall standings. Jeret Schroeder is 17th with 122 points, followed by Sam Hornish Jr. in 19th with 107 and Fisher in 20th with 105. Dare had a second-place finish at Pikes Peak, Schroeder a fourth at Las Vegas, Hornish a third at Vegas and Fisher a third at Kentucky. The story of women who have driven Indy-style cars is short and sweet. Actually, it began 36 years ago at Indy, but not in the 500. At a Goodyear tire testing session, Andy Granatelli put Paula Murphy, one of the best female drivers of her era, into one of his Novi's and sent her out for a spin. "It was more of a publicity stunt, but it was a big thrill," said Murphy, now 72 but still working as a procurement agent for the Boeing Co. in southern California. "It was cold. Besides being fast, I was nervous. All the (male) drivers were betting I wouldn't be able to work the shift. I went around Turn 1 and Turn 2, and I tried to shift. I had to use two hands. "It was not a thing I wanted to do. I never liked open-wheel cars. I did three laps, one more than I was supposed to. They had the throttle blocked." On Sept. 30, Granatelli presented an award to Murphy when she was inducted into the Land Speed Hall of Fame. Murphy drove a number of land-speed cars for Granatelli at the Bonneville Salt Flats and topped 300 mph in an Art Arfons car. "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't have let her race at Indianapolis," Granatelli said. "It was too dangerous. The Novi scared a lot of guys. She was a very brave woman." Murphy watched Fisher's performance at Kentucky on television and was impressed. Murphy also saw Fisher race in person in the Indianapolis 500 last May. "She's very promising," Murphy said. The first woman to drive an Indy-style car in a race was not Janet Guthrie, as many suspect. Arlene Hiss, then wife of 1972 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year Mike Hiss, drove the Copper State Racing Eagle in the Phoenix 150 on March 14, 1976. She qualified 21st and finished 28th, completing 128 laps and earning $1,580. She was 19 days past her 35th birthday. She never drove in another race. Guthrie, born March 7, 1938, made her Indy car debut driving for Rolla Vollstedt in the Trenton 200 on May 2, 1976, qualifying 14th and placing 15th, falling out after 79 laps. She failed to qualify at Indy later that month, but on June 27 made the Pocono 500 field. In 1977, she made history by becoming the first woman to qualify at Indy, getting the 26th starting spot and the 29th finishing position, running 27 laps. In her career, Guthrie made 11 starts, with a best finish of fifth in her final race on Aug. 12, 1979, the Milwaukee 200. She started eighth. Her career earnings were $84,608. The next female open-wheel driver was South African Desire Wilson, who set a woman's speed record of 191.042 mph on the third lap of a qualifying run at Indianapolis in 1982 but pulled off with one of her six engine failures that month. She never made it into the Indianapolis 500 but did compete in 11 Indy-style races. A 10th-place finish in the Cleveland 500K on a steamy hot Aug. 3, 1983, in her debut turned out to be her best. Wilson's final race was Oct. 12, 1986, in the 300K race at Laguna Seca, Calif. Born Nov. 26, 1953, she won $102,765 during her career. There was another six-year gap before Lyn St. James came to Indy in 1992. After switching to a Dick Simon car, she qualified at 220.150 mph. She started 27th and finished 11th after running 193 laps. St. James, who was 45, was named the Bank One Rookie of the Year. She has now driven in seven Indianapolis 500s, including this year. Her best career Indy-style finish was eighth in the inaugural Indy Racing League event in January 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway. Sarah Fisher can pass all of these women in career starts in the fifth Indy Racing Northern Light Series event next season. And she won't even be 21.
EXCITE 500 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Excite 500 starts at 1 p.m. (CDT) Oct. 15. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon Oct. 14. Practice sessions start at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Oct. 13, and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Oct. 14.
*** On the air: The Excite 500 will be televised on a same-day delayed basis on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 2 p.m. IRRN will broadcast a qualifying summary show at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14. The area IRRN affiliate is WBAP-AM 820, Arlington, Texas. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com. Live streaming video of all practice sessions will be available at www.LiveOnTheNet.com .
*** Tickets: Tickets for the Excite 500 are available by calling Texas Motor Speedway at (817) 215-8500, through Ticketmaster outlets or at Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com . Ticket information is available at www.texasmotorspeedway.com .