IRL: Sarah Fisher's Talent Reels in Ride With Walker

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2000 -- Sarah Fisher, at 19 years, 129 days, is younger than 20-year-old European driving phenom Jenson Button, who'll be the freshest face in Formula One this year. Also, she's a female. But age and...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2000 -- Sarah Fisher, at 19 years, 129 days, is younger than 20-year-old European driving phenom Jenson Button, who'll be the freshest face in Formula One this year. Also, she's a female. But age and gender mean nothing to the latest full-season addition to the Northern Light Indy Racing Series. Neither is it important to Derrick Walker. Walker is the car owner who signed Fisher to drive his Cummins-Mead Carbonless Paper Riley & Scott/Aurora/Firestone machine in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series this season. Their first race together will be the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway after initial testing Feb. 21-22 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Feb. 25-26 at Phoenix. "My approach (on the gender issue) has been to ignore it up to now," said Fisher, who graduated seventh in her class from high school last June in Commercial Point, Ohio. "I'm doing that now. "The reason I'm here is because I have a certain talent. There's no way was it influenced by being a woman." Walker is the first car owner to run teams in both Indy Racing and CART at the same time. He agrees with his new driver, a winner five times in midgets last racing season. He calls her a rising star of the future. "When I look at Sarah, I don't look at her as a female, but as a driver, a rookie driver," he said. Actually, she already has one Indy Racing start under her belt. She made her debut 13 days past her Oct. 4 birthday driving the Team Pelfrey Dallara/Aurora/Firestone car in the Mall.com 500 last fall at Texas Motor Speedway. She qualified 17th and ran well until a broken timing chain forced her out after 66 laps in 25th place. Walker, based in Indianapolis, made the business decision late last summer to add an Indy Racing team to his stable. Since it would be a new team, he chose to build with a rookie and when he began getting good vibes about Fisher's skills he turned his attention in her direction. They talked before her debut at Texas, and he followed with three months of planning and negotiations before officially revealing Fisher as his driver just an hour before the start of the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. Fisher said she was very relieved when all of the contractual details were finalized and she became a part of Walker's operation. "I'm 110 percent ready to go," she said. Walker certainly has an eye for talent. In 1995, he brought 24-year-old Christian Fittipaldi into American open-wheel racing as a newcomer out of Brazil. Fittipaldi drove to second place in the Indy 500, winning the prestigious Bank One Rookie of the Year Award. Mexican driver Michel Jourdain Jr. was 19 plus 289 days old in 1996 when he started the Indy 500 driving for Team Scandia. Fisher, if she qualifies, will be 19 and 248 days old on Race Day May 28. Troy Ruttman would remain the youngest-ever Indy 500 starter since he was only 81 days past his 19th birthday when he drove to 12th place in his first Indy 500 in 1949. Fisher is a mature 19-year-old. She credits her parents with providing her family values. "Education is very important," she said. "Being able to present yourself well is very, very important, too." Although both she and Walker pay little attention to her age, Fisher does have the advantage of youth as she steps up to the major-league racing level. That hasn't been the case for previous female racers. Janet Guthrie was 39 when she broke the gender barrier at Indy in 1977, and Lyn St. James was 45 when she was named Bank One Rookie of the Year in 1992 at Indy. Desire Wilson passed her rookie test in 1982 at age 28 but never made the race. "Whether it's a man or a woman, we don't think it makes any difference when it comes to being a successful race driver," Walker said about Fisher's age. "If you can get them early enough, then you can bring them up to speed the right way so they get the right opportunities. Then you find if you have a good driver or a not-so-good driver. Whether it's a man or a woman, it really doesn't matter. It happens to be a girl this time. "Yeah, age is a big factor. It will help a lot." Fisher admits that her goal is winning the Indianapolis 500. "I don't know how soon or when I can do that," she said. Fisher learned quickly at Texas that gender does mean much media attention. And she understands that coverage was small compared to what it will be at Indy. So one thing she plans to bring to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May is a motorhome where she can "sneak away" when the pressure gets too intense. When Fisher stepped into the pressure cooker at Texas, she did so with aplomb, particularly on the track. Competing against some of the biggest names in the sport didn't cause her to back off the throttle. In fact, during some of the early practices she was one of the fastest drivers. "I'm not intimidated," she said. "I'm in awe racing with such great race drivers as Eddie Cheever. There's a lot of good drivers out there. I hope to be better than them." Incidentally, Button, who will race in the United States Grand Prix on Sept. 24 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the second Williams-BMW car, will be 58 days past his 20th birthday when he makes his F1 debut in the Australian Grand Prix on March 12.

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Eddie Cheever , Christian Fittipaldi , Lyn St. James , Janet Guthrie , Desiré Wilson , Michel Jourdain
Teams Williams