IRL: Indy500: Sarah Fisher/Derrick Walker press conference, part I

Host: Mike King Guests: Sarah Fisher Derrick Walker Mike King: Good afternoon. Welcome to the WorldComplex Center and the trackside conference room. We are transcribing this press conference once again. So we would ask that before you ask your...

Mike King

Sarah Fisher
Derrick Walker

Mike King: Good afternoon. Welcome to the WorldComplex Center and the trackside conference room. We are transcribing this press conference once again. So we would ask that before you ask your question, let me get you a microphone so that our transcriptionist who's wearing headsets will be able to hear you. I want to say welcome this afternoon for Sarah Fisher, getting set to start her second Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Sarah, if I'm not mistaken, you've had 13 starts in the Indy Racing Northern Lights series up to this point; is that correct?

Sarah Fisher: That's correct.

King: Two of her last five outings have resulted in podium finishes: A third at Kentucky last year, the next-to-last race of the season; and a second at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the second race of the season this year. Her car owner, Derrick Walker, great to see you again. Derrick, I'm curious, how many drivers have you worked with either as a member of another team or your own team here at the Speedway?

Derrick Walker: Ask me another. (Laughter) One of the advantages of getting in the fifties is you forget a lot. So it's probably if you count how many hairs I've lost, you'd probably say it's a lot. But I think this is about the 21st year I've been here at the 500.

King: Needless to say you've worked with some great ones over the years and looks like you've got another great one as well. Let's start with comments first from you, Sarah. Your second 500, your maturity level as a driver in this series and at this track, how much has it changed in the course of one year?

Fisher: Unbelievable. I mean last year - last year I didn't really know what to expect out of Indy. I came here kind of blank. It was only what, my third race, I believe, in an Indy Car. And it made it really tough for me because I didn't know what to expect and I was still on a very steep learning curve. I'm still learning today but it's not as steep as it was last year obviously. So I've learned an extreme amount in the race car. I feel much more confident in the race car. I'm a lot more excited about Indy, too. Because last year there was much more pressure and so much more emphasis on us media-wise and fan-wise, that I really couldn't stop and enjoy the tradition of Indy. This year it's a lot different because I'm allowed to kind of step back and really see, wow, I'm still only 20 years old and racing at this awesome race. It is the greatest spectacle in racing and to be a big part of that is awesome. To have made some progressive steps, I mean as a team we've grown unbelievable. We've got the backing from Kroger and all of the P&G brands that are on board, so that's made our experience even better this year at Indy. So not only do I feel like I have a lot more confidence, I've got an awesome team. We've been working together a long time and we've got a little bit more backing this year. So it's making this year's 500 a lot more enjoyable for me.

King: Sarah is set to start on the outside of Row 5. She qualified the Walker Racing Kroger Dallara at 222.548 miles an hour. Derrick, some comments from you I guess about the month of May and just in general as far as your team is concerned.

Walker: Well, I'd certainly like to add to Sarah's comments. Her salary has gone up quite a bit in a year, too. So a number of changes have happened in her life. (Laughter) She would disagree with me, of course. No, as Sarah says, it's been kind a transformation over the short period of a year. This has been a growing program for us in the IRL. We started with a clean sheet of paper and have been working at building a stronger program; and this year, this effort in the Indy 500 has perhaps been the most organized that I can remember for a long time. The team worked flawlessly in terms of tracking the temperature of the track and what the car needed to be. And we just kept working away on our focus to get the car as best we could and keep improving on a steady basis. Then when it came time to stand up and be counted, the right decisions were made and the car was good enough and we were fortunate enough to get two shots at it. Which, you know, when you look at the qualifying sequence, you're always trying to gauge where is the bottom of the pack, where is the pace going to be? Because if you don't pull one out of the hat, then you want to know, can you waive this one and let it stand and hope that it stays in. And the speeds typically increased as they always do, but I think this year they jumped up quite a bit more and it just shows you how close and competitive this series is. So having a second attempt to come back at the car and put it back in line and have another shot at it, the engineers, because of the data and the tracking of the way the track temperature affected conditions, we were able to make just one or two tweaks and that put the car right in the ballpark for Sarah to get it in in a strong position; and then the rest was history. So I'm very, very pleased with our progress so far overall as a program and our efforts here in May.

King: OK, let's get questions.

Sarah, you talked yourself about the fan and media excitement last year and how it was almost overwhelming, I guess. Now a year later with the experience and having been here and so forth, is there less focus on the gender issue and more focus on the racing issue?

Fisher: Absolutely, yes. Last year was completely because of my gender. I don't think it really had to do with any racing talent at all. Because I didn't have a chance to prove it yet. I mean, I had only had three races and, you know, because I was such an odd entity, they were going to pay a little bit more attention to me. So it was overwhelming for me being so young and unaware really, kind of new to the world, first job out of high school kind of situation. And this year I've been able to enjoy it so much more. I mean the year that it's been is unbelievable. I mean I started out, you know, not knowing hardly anything about this, you know, the IRL and how much emphasis it would have on me, how much exposure it would be, how to budget as much time as I had. And it's grown tremendous. Now I feel really confident. I'm out there coaching Casey Mears in my backup car, which I couldn't believe that. That was something that, you know, I was proud of as myself being a driver to be able to help a rookie driver coming along, something that I was proud of as well. So it's been a great year for me; and we're hoping to continue with the success that we've had and make it grow just as much if not more.

King: Derrick, on that could you talk a little bit about the transformation and Sarah being accepted simply as a race car driver?

Walker: Yeah. I mean, for us who have closely worked with Sarah right from the beginning, it was less of a surprise to us that Sarah has this talent that is, in time, going to surface and show what she can really do. There was a certain novelty factor about Sarah being a girl and 20-year-old and everything, but I think that has moved on. Now it's focused on the competitive level and that's really our goal as a team, is to keep focusing on making the best decisions and have the best equipment so that she can learn everything she needs to learn about how to be a better race driver and to execute that plan. So we just keep getting better the more and more races. It seems like we've had years and years together, but, you know, as you said in your opening statements, we're only, you know, 13 races - or Sarah's only 13 races into a career in the IRL. And to be back in here at the Indy 500 as strong as she did, I think it's encouraging. But it's one that we didn't really have any doubt was there, it's just a matter of getting the right opportunity and the right kind of financial support to be able to execute the plan and give her the miles in the car that she needs.

Sarah, along the same lines. Last year it seemed like it was all about breaking barriers for yourself. Do you think you succeeded in doing that amongst your peers and being accepted as a driver? Was there a moment when you sensed that, you know, you're one of the guys?

Fisher: As far as gaining the respect of my peers, I think I had that almost close to the beginning. You know, I think that there's definitely a lot of respect right now. I mean I can't think of any driver that doesn't talk to me or say hi or, you know, respect racing with me out on the racetrack. I mean, even Eliseo respects me now. (Laughter) What's better than that?

Walker: Wow.

Fisher: Wow. I have a lot of respect from the drivers, at least that I feel. And, you know, I don't know really if there was ever a moment in time where they didn't respect me, because I think they give the same amount of cautiousness to every rookie that comes along regardless of how old they are or what their gender is or if they're a monkey or human. So I believe that now I've got a lot of respect and that's what's important to me.

Sarah, could you talk a little about - you race with a certain group of drivers and now you come here you've got six new drivers from CART, one NASCAR driver, people you may not have run against. Do you change your driving to race with them? Do you sit back and watch them a little more to see how they drive? Can you just talk a little bit about that?

Fisher: Certainly when I'm going to approach one of the newer drivers, whether it's Gil or Helio or Tony, I'm going to be a little more cautious around them just because I haven't raced with them. That's not saying they don't have any talent or skill. I mean, those three drivers in themselves are awesome. I'd love to be just like any one of them - well, maybe. (Laughter)

Walker: Give or take.

Fisher: You know, I'm going to be approaching it, yeah, a little bit more cautious. But I will be able to trust them because I know that their experience level is very capable of doing this. You know, I'll be able to trust them but I'm certainly going to be a little bit more cautious around them just because I don't know their driving style.

Kind of following up on that. Scott Sharp says he expects this to be one of the most competitive Indy 500s in recent memory. There is the combination of the IRL rules which kind of level the playing field, then you throw six or seven new drivers that increase the talent level. Do you guys, both of you, expect that to be real competitive on Sunday?

Walker: Yes, it is going to be more competitive for two reasons; and you mentioned one of them, the IRL rules. I think what it really does is there are so much of the car that is frozen and can't be changed. So that means that puts more onus on the team itself in optimizing the car and optimizing the car in the conditions. And the driver plays a bigger part, I think, in the IRL formula. The other thing the IRL formula does is it allows availability of components, the bulk of the components that everybody has got to race, and they're available. So it does in some respects appear to be leveling the playing field. But, you know, the best are always the best regardless of what equipment you give them. So I don't think it necessarily changes the competition. It makes it easier in some respects. It makes it harder and makes a closer field which is what you're going to see. It will be a very interesting race because you have quite an array of teams and capability and probably strategies. So how it's all going to play out will be quite interesting to watch. But it will be quite a pace, I'm sure. There won't be too much time to pace yourself. You're going to have to run with the pack or be left behind.

Fisher: I think I'll agree with that. I think it's going to be very competitive. You know, you've got some talent out there that we have not seen before. I think especially with the package that the IRL has and the closeness of the cars and being locked up, as Derrick says, it really makes the drivers stand out a little bit more because we have a little bit more emphasis on what goes on with the race program. We have a little bit more control over that depending on each driver to driver. The talents that are out there now are unbelievable. I mean, it is the closest field in Indy so far, if not ever, I think. So we've already shown that it's going to be tremendously close. So it is going to be very competitive and I'm looking forward to it.

On a personal level rather than a political one, is there a sense that there is a desire of both IRL drivers and CART drivers to outdo the other in this race especially given what happened last year? In other words, is there a rivalry on a personal level?

Walker: I don't think so. I think when - one of the good things about racing is when we all get on the same patch of ground, we forget our political affiliations and you're out there to beat the next guy; and the next guy could be an IRL guy, could be a CART guy. You're about the race and I think that's one of the things that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway brings to open-wheel racing. It's this sort of neutral territory where we can all race and just get on with the racing. So I think there's probably no element of that in anybody's mind when they're here. They're just thinking about how the heck are they going to get through all these 32 cars and be the winner. At least that's my opinion. What do you think?

Fisher: I believe so. I agree with you completely. I mean, I'm going to treat Michael the same as I treat Greg.

Walker: You will take great satisfaction of beating some of those CART boys, won't you?

Fisher: I'm already ahead of a couple of them. (Laughter)

Walker: Make sure you stay that way, too.

Fisher: No pressure.


> part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Casey Mears , Scott Sharp