IRL: Indy500: Sarah Fisher/Derrick Walker press conference part II

Host: Mike King Guests: Sarah Fisher Derrick Walker Part II King: Given the level playing field that you've talked about with the availability of components, does it put any more pressure or does it jack the over-the-wall guys up any more to...

Host:
Mike King

Guests:
Sarah Fisher
Derrick Walker

Part II

King: Given the level playing field that you've talked about with the availability of components, does it put any more pressure or does it jack the over-the-wall guys up any more to know what a role - I guess what an increased role or increased importance their role plays in determining the winner of this race?

Walker: Well, any time you have limitations, it means the team - a race team never stops - hope none of my employees are listening - but a race team never stops trying to spend money on how to go faster. It's a natural tendency to always want to go better and be better. If you put a lot of restrictions on a competition, it doesn't necessarily mean everybody sits back and says I'm only going to go 221, because there are - you know, I can't change the car. You're going to have to find other ways to optimize your package. And the emphasis of everything working a hundred percent on the day is more acute because there isn't one area that's more dominant because you've got to have the car be consistent for the race, you've got to do great pit stops, you've got to make the right choices on the track and in the pits. Everything has got to work just right. When you kind of close the competition down and make it tighter, that means every single thing has to work just as well as any other because there's not one inflated area. You've not got any huge power advantage over somebody else, for example, and can just motor around this place like the Penskes did when they had their different engine formula. That was a huge advantage that you could have screwed up in the pit stop every lap and the engine would have brought you back because there was such an imbalance in power. No disrespect to Penske, I think they executed that rather well. But that's an example, an extreme example where when you have differences as big as that was, it changes the whole game. Whereas this formula, your teamwork is as important as the driver decisions, as the strategy, as the engine power and the car grip throughout the race.

Sarah, as I read about your background, your long career in your 20 years, it seems like you've spent most of the time with your dad and mom growing up and under their direction, under their wing. I was just wondering, having moved here to Indy and going to Butler and working with Derrick, how has that impacted you personally in terms of career and how you feel being away from home and what kind of adjustments are you going through?

Fisher: That was a huge adjustment last year. Big, big, big adjustment, especially for me and my parents. My parents, it was huge for, too. Because I'm an only child, I'm the daughter of the house and so I moved out and it was huge for my parents because it wasn't like I was going off to college. I was going to the college of racing. It wasn't, you know, guaranteed in this field and you're going to come out and do this and everything is going to be just fine. I moved to Indianapolis and to a big city. Wasn't going to college and I'm racing and there was a huge adjustment for both of us. But now that I've had a year out of the house - you know, I live by myself, I support myself and I go to school. I'm living a great life. And I feel like because of that year, in one year I've matured from 19 years old to 35 in one year, you know. I can pay bills and take care of myself. My parents are just as proud of that as they are of what I've accomplished because I'm out on my own, living on my own and taking care of things. So I think I've gotten to the point now where I've matured way older than I think I am. But it's been a wonderful experience for me. My parents are still just as supportive as they have been in the past.

Sarah, I know there's been a lot of focus on safety this year with some of the things that have happened in racing. How long have you been wearing the HANS? And can you discuss your reasons for why you wear it? And also, for both you and Derrick, do you think IRL should make it mandatory as an oval, high-speed oval series that every driver should have to wear it?

Fisher: I've been wearing the HANS since the Texas race of last year. So I've had plenty of time to become comfortable with the device. I think it's very safe. I think Tyce didn't have it on when he crashed the other day, and I think if he would have had it on he would have felt a little bit better getting out of the car. I mean, I talked to him yesterday on the phone and he's not feeling as great as he should be. You know, it pulled something in his back, I think. I'm not really sure, I'm not going to discuss what his injuries are. But certainly I wear the device because it's an added safety feature. It doesn't hinder or feel uncomfortable at all. I mean, it's a very comfortable device and it protects your neck and your shoulders and your back very well. So any device that has that kind of a safety feature to it and doesn't hinder or make you feel uncomfortable, I think is very appropriate and should be worn by everybody.

Walker: From what I know of the device, I would say, yes, it should be mandatory. But, you know, safety is a strange thing. It's part of an evolution. It's not something that's black or white, it's a continual rubbing at the package and trying to improve on it. Sometimes, you know, what you think is the panacea of fixes right now, five years from now will be superseded with something that's even better or perceived to be the panacea. So it's never a foregone conclusion. The HANS device is a personal choice by the drivers, but I think we know enough about it that we could say that we haven't got any disadvantages with it yet that we can see that we shouldn't use it. So I prefer to see it mandatory. It is certainly mandatory for every driver in my team, that's for sure. Including you. I'll buy it for you. (Laughter)

Sarah, have you thought much about where you would be today if a gentleman like Derrick hadn't stepped forward and took a gamble on you at the young age? And, also, is he a fatherly figure? Is he demanding? What's he like as a team manager?

Walker: There's that father question again. (Laughter)

Fisher: Could you please leave? (Laughter) I think about it every single day, to be honest with you, or at least every other day. Where I was at when Derrick called me, I certainly wouldn't want to be in that position right now. I think where I'm at right now, I'm a very, very lucky kid and there's slim to none that get this opportunity that I have. It's very unusual and I'm very appreciative for everything that this man has done. He is a fatherly figure, but he is demanding, too. It's not just a step in the park. It's not just a jog in the park. It's still a job that I've got to do. I still have to produce the results that everybody else does or I'm not doing a good enough job for him. He's put a lot into this team, he really cares about this program; and we both do. We both do as a team. I mean, we've developed together in the IRL and, for all I know, we both really enjoy it. To be able to have that kind of a communication and that kind of a relationship between an owner and a driver is great. Because you're going to keep growing together and you're going to keep doing the things that are going to eventually produce the results that you're going to need. So I'm having an awesome time and it's really, really a good deal. Very, very fortunate.

King: Dick, did you want Derrick to respond to that as well?

Yeah.

Walker: She said it all. No, I mean Sarah and I have a strong friendship and a mutual respect for each other. But at the end of the day, it's still a racing business and we've still got to perform; and we push each other to make the program better. I think the relationship we have is - I'll stay away from the daughter/son comparison but I think as partners, we're involved in the IRL and we're both doing it for ourselves and for this program that we're involved in. So there's a partnership. You know, we can provide a lot of things from the team aspect and she can bring a lot as a driver to our team. So there's a reason to do this over and above being just friends. So it works really well. One of the things I have learned in a very short year, that I thoroughly enjoy working with young drivers. Sarah is certainly the youngest driver I've ever worked with and it's a lot of fun because there's this innocent enthusiasm for the sport and that gets everybody going. I think all the team is infected by her enthusiasm and her, you know, balance, if you like, about the business. So it works really well. It's a great chemistry and those are the kind of things you need to take what resources you have and make them into something bigger and better.

Sarah, when you kind of look at some of the people who are in this race like an Andretti and an Unser, do you think about that? You know, "I'm trying to beat an Andretti and an Unser," or do you just have to block it out of your mind when you get there and start racing?

Fisher: You have to block it out. I've been racing against Junior and Cheever - I mean, Eddie Cheever is a great driver, too. So is Buddy Lazier. They're all very excellent, very talented people. And, you know, we're very, very lucky to have Michael come and join us and have Gil and Helio and Tony, all of these drivers that are coming up against us. We're lucky to have them and it's a great feeling to know that they want to come and participate. But certainly when I get on the track, they're just another car. It's just like racing against family like I've done before. I treat everybody equally and, you know, you're trying to beat them. When you step back and look at it, it's kind of neat to say, "Hey, I'm starting in front of Michael." (Laughter) It's kind of neat. But it goes away because you've got to have so much focus when you're out there. You can't be saying, "Hey, I'm next to Michael." Not at all, no. You know, Michael's the same driver to me as Airton Dare. I'm going to treat them both the same. But it is certainly great to be racing against them and it's all a part of being at the greatest spectacle in racing.

My question is similar, but different. When I look back on the history of ladies in racing, there's Janet Guthrie who actually finished a race, if not two; Desire Wilson who was here in my time, although she never qualified a car; of course, we know about Lyn St. James; and there's actually one more gal if anyone wants to throw that in. I can't remember who she was. But along those lines, what do you bring to the table in terms of talent and resources? And I'm going to think really positive here. When you win this 500, what do you have that either they built upon or that -- what advantages do you have that you think are going to get you through this and get you farther than they were able to go?

Fisher: I think first and foremost, I started when I was 5. The other ladies that have tried to get into the race and have tried to do well at Indy didn't start until they were older. You know, I started racing 15 years ago. I've had a lot of experience and I've learned an awful lot. Besides that, I think I'm very competitive. I come from a background that is just as competitive, and I've learned a lot about racing. You know, my biggest thing is to win races. That's the only thing that drives me. I think that's what it's going to take to win one. Obviously, you have to have the drive and you have to have the resources and backing from a great team such as I do in order to make it happen.

Sarah, so much hype, so much attention on last year, I can't fathom the disappointment you had to feel on race day. Reflect on that and tie that in with now, whether there's just an inner determination just to do better and that sort of thing.

Fisher: Well, last year, like I said earlier, was only what, my third, fourth race in an Indy Car. So I didn't have as much experience as I do now. Even though now I still only have 13 races, I have an awful lot more experience and a lot more comfort level within the race car and trust in the race car and what it's going to do. My feeling in a race car is developed and what I think is tremendous. I can be a lot more descriptive when I need to be now. I feel a lot more comfortable within it. So as a driver, my comfort level from car to driver has grown. My comfort level around racing other cars and getting close has grown. And I think that from that stage to this stage I've become more patient and aggressive at the same time. And I just feel more comfortable, you know. Only having three races and climbing into the Indy 500 is a lot. That's a lot of pressure and that's a lot to expect out of a driver, I guess you could say. It's like being thrown to the wolves. Now I have a lot of comfort and a lot of trust in my team; and I think that with the patience that I've gained and the experience that I've gained over the last year, I'm expecting a lot from myself this year. I think we've got to finish the race, that's number one. I think if we finish the race here at Indy, we're going to be in a good position because we've shown that we've got awesome strategy and we're thinking that as long as we can finish this race, we'll be in a good condition at the end.

Derrick, as an owner in both the IRL and CART and you've been here for a couple of years now, do you see this trickling of the CART teams back in here as being the way it's going to continue to be, that Ganassi comes one year and then Ganassi and Penske the next and maybe somebody else would come next year; or do you foresee eventually a lot of the CART teams are going to just come here because they see what's going on with the teams that are here?

Walker: I definitely see an increase in that trend, yes. I mean, anybody who's a racer would be foolish to tell you that they don't want to be here racing at the Indianapolis 500. I think one of the big milestones that could accelerate that process would be the choice of engines that the CART series might choose. If they have a similar like formula to IRL, then I think you can pretty well be certain that come around somewhere around the year 2005, racing will look quite a bit different than it is now. And I think you could say it could be quite a bit more positive outlook for it if one or two things fall into place. That doesn't necessarily mean that everybody is going to be racing back together in one formula. I think the die is set there, that the two series is probably for several years yet going to continue to be. I think they're going to have to manage how they coexist together better; and I think there is every likelihood they will. It's in their best interests if they do. And I think you will see a lot more participation in both series by more competitors. So I think that will be a positive outcome in the next few years if the right decisions are made and if the right people make them. I think the trend is definitely going that way for sure.

Just following that up. As far as the engine formula in CART, I've talked to a lot of people pro and con about this. What's your personal feeling? Do you think that there is likely to be an engine formula that will allow the kind of crossover that you're talking about?

Walker: Well, this is my personal opinion, so don't take that as being the company line. I think it has to be a similar formula. If open-wheel racing - and I say open-wheel racing, not CART, not IRL, but open wheel racing even if there's two series and they coexist and one is slightly different to the other, I think for the benefit of open wheel racing they need to have a similar like formula engine. The reason I think they do is because it's about value. If somebody in either organization can increase the value of the series to the extent that they don't need each other in some form or they don't need their engine manufacturers or their teams or their sponsors, if somebody can show me how that can be done and increase the value to the level where it needs to be to make open wheel attractive to the people that put the money into it, then probably it doesn't need to consider a similar engine. But I think we could greatly accelerate the appeal of open wheel racing if we could choose a similar formula; and that would make a lot of things happen that could make racing better, I think, in the long run. But it's only a personal opinion.

King: OK, we need to wrap up the conference portion. Derrick and Sarah will be available for about ten minutes for one-on-ones, then have another commitment. But before you go, Sarah, I'm curious about one thing. Did you ever anticipate the day that you would roll into Indianapolis and see your face on so many billboards?

Fisher: Oh, my goodness, I can't go into any restaurant normally dressed without being noticed. "Are you Ms. Fisher? Are you Sarah? Hey, can I have your autograph?" It's great, though. To be able to have that kind of face-to-face recognition dressed normally as a normal person in the public is great. Not only for Walker Racing and myself, but for the IRL, too. That's one of the things that I think we're working towards, is creating that fan base, creating that base where people will recognize you like they recognize Jeff Gordon. It's only starting here in Indy and hopefully we can keep expanding that nationwide.

King: Sarah, good luck to you on Sunday. Derrick, obviously good luck to you.

Walker: Could I just make one comment?

King: Sure.

Walker: First of all, thanks for coming for our press conference. I appreciate you coming. I would just like to make one comment to Rick Galles and thank him for allowing us to take a shot with Casey Mears the other day in qualifying. We appreciate his support on that. We came close, but we appreciate that.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Eddie Cheever , Casey Mears , Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Lyn St. James , Janet Guthrie , Desiré Wilson