IRL: Sarah Fisher on the pole in Kentucky

Sarah Fisher showed the boys of the Indy Racing League the fastest way to circle Kentucky Speedway today as she notched her first career pole with a track-record speed of 221.390 mph. She will lead 24 men to the green flag in tomorrow's Belterra...

Sarah Fisher showed the boys of the Indy Racing League the fastest way to circle Kentucky Speedway today as she notched her first career pole with a track-record speed of 221.390 mph. She will lead 24 men to the green flag in tomorrow's Belterra Casino Indy 300. She becomes the first woman to ever hold a pole position in an open-wheel racecar in North America.

Billy Boat will start on the outside pole as a result of his 221.364 mph run. Both Fisher and Boat eclipsed Scott Goodyear's previous track record qualifying speed of 219.191 mph set in 2000.

"All I can say, is 'I got beat by the girl the least'!," Boat laughed. Boat and Fisher were the only two drivers to break the 221 mph mark.

A pair of Brazilians, Felipe Giaffone and Helio Castroneves will make up the second row in tomorrow's starting grid. Current IRL points leader Gil de Ferran, Castroneves' Marlboro Team Penske teammate, will start from the 10th position. Last year's IRL champion Sam Hornish, Jr. will start fifth. Tomas Scheckter, the current rookie points leader and winner of the most recent IRL race at Michigan International Speedway, starts behind sixteen other cars.

Fisher, a 21 year-old Commercial Point, Ohio native, feels fortunate to have the opportunity to just be competing in the IRL at this point of the season. "It's been a really long year for us," she said. "We didn't have a job at the beginning of the season. I think I've got my confidence back, and that's a big part of it, because when you lose your confidence, you lose belief in yourself and in what the car has the ability to do. [But now] we've got it back. It's a great opportunity to be able to come back to this league."

Fisher had trouble finding a sponsor last winter, but subbed in for an injured Robbie Buhl at Nazareth Speedway in April. She continued to drive so well for him that when he came back to health, Team Smart Blade enquired about sponsoring Fisher and Buhl's single-car team became a duo. "It's been great up to now," Fisher said of the arrangement, "and hopefully we keep doing more."

Buhl qualified his own Dreyer & Reinbold Racing sled in 20th position with a speed of 216.022 mph. "We've obviously got some work to do [with our car]," Buhl said. "Our testing here paid dividends, and our team is ecstatic over Sarah's success."

The Dreyer & Reinbold team tested at Kentucky on Wednesday and Fisher consistently drove her #23 car among the leaders in official practices on Friday and early Saturday. In the 2000 race in Kentucky, she earned her second-best career starts and finish, starting from the fourth position and reaching the checkered flag in the third position. She recorded her best overall career finish with a second-placing at Homestead-Miami early in the 2001 season.

"I don't know what it is," Fisher said of her general success so far at Kentucky. "I think it just fits my driving style to a T." In last year's Kentucky race, she had gearbox problems and finished 19th. "I've never been this excited to race and come to the racetrack and get in the car," she said after receiving her shiny pole award. "It's amazing how much fun you have when things are going right."

But she remains focused on what this pole position means during this Kentucky race weekend. "It's just Saturday; it's not Sunday yet," she said. "I don't want to get too overexcited because we have a real big job to do tomorrow."

Buddy Lazier, the two time defending champion at Kentucky Speedway, could probably give her a tip or two about racing at the track, but would likely be a bit hesitant. Lazier looks to score a three-peat this weekend at Kentucky, but he will have to move his way up in the field from his qualifying position at ninth. He has had a lackluster year so far, but his history here bodes positively for him. "We're looking to turn it around," he said, "and there's no better place to do it than here. We'd love to three-peat."

Regarding her status as the only woman who regularly competes in IRL competition, Fisher is unconcerned. "Being a woman in racing is nothing I've ever really looked at seriously," she said. "I've always just been a driver. To be able to be just a driver to competitors like Billy (Boat) and Robbie (Buhl) - that's all that matters in my heart."

Boat, who has won nine career poles, saw much more significance in this being the driver Sarah Fisher first pole position. "I think the first pole you win is probably the most memorable because you work so hard to get there. There are times that the front row seems so far away." Both Boat and Fisher have had their share of recent ups and downs. "You appreciate what it takes and the hard work it takes to get there even more after you've struggled for a little while."

Twenty-five cars will start the Belterra Casino Indy 300 tomorrow, but many folks will be following the race a bit more closely to see if Fisher can follow up her pole position with the first victory by a woman in Indy racing history. With the attitude that she has, she may just do it.

"Every race we've just been getting [the car] a little bit further and a little bit further," she said. "We've just gotten it to the point where it's just really fast and easy to drive. When it's easy to drive, it's fun." The track record at Kentucky Speedway and twenty-four men saw today what happens when Sarah Fisher is having fun driving her racecar.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Billy Boat , Scott Goodyear , Helio Castroneves , Sam Hornis
Teams Team Penske , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing