IRL: Indy500: Sarah Fisher press conference

Derrick Walker: Kind of our biggest challenge is, apart from getting into the race, was just managing the Month of May, with not only other programs, but with your interest in Sarah, and so we asked for your help and we have to say so far you've...

Derrick Walker: Kind of our biggest challenge is, apart from getting into the race, was just managing the Month of May, with not only other programs, but with your interest in Sarah, and so we asked for your help and we have to say so far you've helped us a lot in giving her as much time to concentrate on qualifying as she needed and attend these sort of impromptu conferences just to kind of give you an insight and give her some space between race time and qualifying. So, with that, I will just say just briefly, our program is on target, other than the fact that the weather has taken some of the time away that we would, perhaps, be working on a race setup. We are running the kind of speeds that we needed to for as much track time as we've had on the racetrack this time and we're hoping for some dry weather just to get a little bit more speed out of it so we can feel comfortable with what the weather conditions might be as we go into this weekend. So, without any more speeches from me, why don't I throw it out to questions and we'll try to answer the questions you guys have.

Q: Sarah, even though Vegas didn't end up, you know, the way you wanted it to, you got up to the front and you were doing a pretty good job staying up there until you had your spin. Did that kind of really boost your confidence a little bit as the race coming here?

Sarah Fisher: Sure it did. I think it would boost anyone's confidence. I think it just shows that Derrick is, number one, a really good spotter and that helped out tremendously . . .

Derrick Walker: I'll pay you later.

Sarah Fisher: . . . and then our team is really pulling together and there's sparks flying now and that we're trying to get it going, and I think the relationship is really starting to form between myself and the team and we're starting to rock and roll.

Q: Sarah, yesterday you talked about 220 being a barrier. Was that a certain number that you needed to go above to be really comfortable?

Sarah Fisher: I think for myself, yes. I wanted to be able to do that. I think that's going to be somewhere that we need to be able to run consistently in order to be comfortable going into Saturday.

Q: Have you made much . . . I know that it really bothers you when people refer to you as, you know, use your gender when they refer to you. Have you made a lot of progress in that regard, in terms of, you want to be thought of as a race driver -- you don't want to be thought of as a female race driver, but a race driver. Do you feel you've made progress in that regard since you've been here at Indy?

Sarah Fisher: A little bit, yeah, but not as much as I'd like because you still brought it up.

Q: Perfect response.

Sarah Fisher: Typical driver, right? No, I think it's neat, but the status that I'm at, I think it's neat for young kids alone, whether they are male or female because of my age, that it's neat to give them someone to look up to because, you know, being so young, it gives them something to look forward to for themselves. It gives them maybe a chance that they may be able to get in the seat.

Q: Sarah, this is history, but could you talk a little bit about when it seemed a viable option for you to be at Indianapolis and when it seemed like a realistic goal for you and Derrick, if you would, talk a little bit about the first time you saw her and what you saw in her that makes you want to be with her here.

Sarah Fisher: Well, the first time I wanted to be at Indy was when I was 10 or 12, but the first time I thought it was accomplishable, I think, was the first time I sat in an Indy car at Vegas last year when I took my rookie test, because I felt really comfortable at that time and I felt that I knew that this was what I wanted to do and it was something that I could accomplish, given enough time and practice and with the help of Derrick, I've been able to do that and we're here.

Derrick Walker: Well, first all, let me just say one thing I omitted to say earlier, on my extreme left is Rob Edwards who is, when he has his real job, is our team manager. He also happens to be a track engineer, which he's been with us for many years and he's engineered cars in the past for us, so anything to do with the program technically and how it's evolved and a lot of people ask me, "How can we run two programs and you're in Japan and you' re supposed to be at the Speedway," or whatever. Well, Rob's the answer for that because he's been able to run the program as if I wasn't there. He can run the program with his eyes closed and so we've been able to separate our responsibilities and work where we need to when the time comes, so I omitted that when we started our little press conference. In answer to your question, I originally wanted to start this program and use a rookie and build it because we were in a new series and we wanted to build it from the ground up and it made a lot of sense to look for a rookie to do that with and it had to be an American. And I owe Kent Liffick at the Speedway for really bringing her name to me as, "Had I ever considered Sarah Fisher?" So, Kent has just walked in to take a bow, actually, to get credit for bringing her name to my attention and then when I met Sarah, I was impressed by her focus, what she stood for, what she was trying to do. I was very impressed by her dedication and the racing part, there was enough people around me to tell me that they'd seen her drive and that she could drive, so I didn't actually look at her driving. I was making inroads into trying to develop a relationship with her long before we saw her actually race. In fact, the first time I saw her actually race, other than on a video, was when she drove our car in a test at Vegas, so it kind of unfolded that way, but it really started with an American rookie as the criteria and it just, dare we say it, it just happened to be a girl. Sorry, I didn't mean to say it. It's a mistake, I didn't say that.

Q: Derrick, over the years, you've worked with some fine drivers at Penske, Porsche, your own. Can you compare Sarah's driving style to anyone else that you've worked with?

Derrick Walker: Yeah, I would, actually. Maybe he was a little older when I first saw him, but he was a rookie and that was Rick Mears. I think she's got similar styles and that being a very good feel for the car and very smooth, so I think that was very evident in Rick. In fact, I told her a story after our little incident in Phoenix, was that when Rick Mears used to go there, he used to crash just about every time when we first went there at Penske's when he was a rookie and then he just finally figured it out and when he came back for the race, he turned out to be the master of that place for a long, long time. So, I think she's got a lot of similarities to Rick.

Q: Rob, a lot of people seem to, you know, probably assume that it's been awhile since you've been at Indy, but you actually ran a team here in '96, so you were part of that effort that year, weren't you?

Rob Edwards: Yeah, that's correct. When Derrick was at Michigan for the U.S. 500 in '96, I was here running Mike Groff in the program we had then.

Q: Question for both Sarah and Derrick -- two different questions though. Sarah, your reaction from people when they find out what you do for a living, especially, sitting on a plane, somebody asks. And Derrick, just how good, I mean 19's 19, how good can she be?

Sarah Fisher: Reaction, well, a lot of people are surprised and they laugh. I don't even know if they believe me at first because they look at me and they see two things -- I look like I just got my driver's license and I'm a girl. So, it's a bit of laughter, but I think once people get to know me and once they read about me, they know that I am taking this seriously, and it's definitely not just a media stunt.

Derrick Walker: Rob, put your hands over her ears, will you, I don't want to get her too big-headed about it, but . . . I think Sarah has a lot of potential. She's at the right age and she's got a good opportunity in being in the IRL to learn her craft. She's made a good step into open-wheel racing in the IRL series, so there's a perfect opportunity to get into the series and grow. I think it really depends . . . the challenge, in part, is hers and ours because no race driver is a race driver by themselves. They have to have the right mechanism around them to be able to do what they need to do, and when you've got somebody at Sarah's age, then there's a lot of experience that they need to experience to actually build their confidence and knowledge. So, it's as much her challenge as it is ours to give her the wheels and the right support to give her an opportunity to go do what she can do, but I wouldn't have hired her if I didn't think she could do it. We're not in this business to have fun. We like to have it when it comes, but in reality, it's a business and winning is what it's all about, so we're both going to survive on the results that we create together as a team and as a driver, so I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think she could do it.

Q: Question for Rob and then if I may, follow up with a question for Sarah. Rob, so much of this business is communication between the engineer and the driver. Sarah, being youthful and having a limited amount of experience, how much feedback do you get from her and have you seen a change in that just in from race to race to race?

Rob Edwards: I think as any driver and engineer work together, the longer you work together and the more you work together, the communication improves. I think probably because of the way that she and her father worked on the cars that she drove before, she was used to talking about the cars in a technical sense and trying to relay how the car was behaving and what was happening with the car and talk about changes that needed to be made to it. So, I think that she had that very well instilled in her before we started working together. I think that with each test and with each race that we go through together, for sure the communication improves from there, but there was a good starting point when we kicked-off together.

Q: Sarah, I think everybody's impressed with how casual and how confident you are as you approach this. Is there anything about this sport that intimidates you or can you recall back to when you were a little girl, maybe rolling a go-kart? Anything that shook you up at all?

Sarah Fisher: Derrick Walker.

Derrick Walker: Good answer. That was a good answer.

Sarah Fisher: No, I think it wasn't intimidating, but certainly when I talked to him for the first time it was overwhelming and to have someone like Derrick . . . close your ears on this . . . call you and to talk to you, especially where I was at in the midget ranks and being a real rookie with my age and everything, it was really awesome, especially to be with his team and that was the only thing that was, it wasn't intimidating, but certainly it was an honor. I don't think there's anything that's really intimidating about the sport, but I do think it is a very competitive series and there's a lot of competitive drivers out there and it's certainly going to be tough to win.

Q: Derrick, Sarah and Rob, before we continue, we just want to welcome our viewers on the World Wide Web who are joining us on indyracing.com as this press conference is on indyracing.com live. We'll continue with two questions here and then two more over there.

Q:      Sarah, you got a little criticism for a crash from Salazar and have any
drivers said anything to you anywhere else?  Do you take the criticism well?

Sarah Fisher: I take criticism real well. You know, they just brought him out of the infield care center and he was a little upset, you know. He just crashed his car and I certainly didn't mean to spin out in front of him, because it was going to tear up my equipment as well. I was running second at the time and we were doing a really good job. I took it in a little deep, I had cold tires and I was in the marbles passing cars, so it all pointed to spin and it was a rookie mistake and I certainly didn't mean to do that. But, the other drivers that I've talked to are accepting of what I'm doing here and you know, I just flew on a plane with three other of them and they seem to be really happy that I'm here and I'm happy that they think that way.

Q: Sarah, I'd like for you to elaborate a little bit on your childhood memories. I think you said you were ten when you became infatuated with this sport and the reaction too from the home front when you announced what you wanted to do.

Sarah Fisher: As far as my childhood goes, in open-wheel racing, I've always been in an open-wheel car and I just thought that it demanded a lot of respect out of the drivers. You can't just take them in there and knock someone out of the way or your going to go flipping down the frontstretch and we don't do that here. I've always admired that amount of respect in open-wheel racing. What was your second question? The hometown issue? I've gotten a lot of e-mails from my high school friends at home and my parents are very supportive. They want to be here as much as they can and they're really supportive of what I'm doing. It's been their dream as well, because they've always known that I wanted to race in open-wheel racing, so it's a dream come true for them as well.

Q: Rob, when I was talking with Sarah the other day, she was talking about how important it's been to her to have moved here and be close to the shop and be able to have a relationship with the guys on the team and to build that relationship. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Rob Edwards: Well, I think the thing, there's so much that goes into being competitive at the race track now that for a driver to just be able to fly in on the weekend and spend time with the team and then fly off again after the race, doesn't really build and cover all the facets that you need to be competitive. You know, we were talking earlier about the communication between driver and engineer. Being able to sit down with Sarah at some point every day or every couple of days and talk about issues relating to the car or with my team manager hat on, other issues that are happening in relation to the team and her program, just helps everything to function a lot more smoothly and efficiently. You know, there's things that sitting down face-to-face with someone you achieve that you can't achieve by a fax or a phone call or e-mail, or whatever and so, for sure, it's probably helped to speed up the learning processes and the growing processes as everything has come together on the program.

Q: Sarah, have you been able to determine what type of fan response you've been getting, because out here when you walk through Gasoline Alley, I mean, what's the response been? You know, what is the prototypical Sarah Fisher fan?

Sarah Fisher: Lot's of screaming kids. No, I appreciate all of the fans that have come out here. It's great to see that the kinds of support we're getting is tremendous. There are a lot of fans out there, a lot of supporters and it varies. It's not only just kids that are chanting the name, it's older, older females, older women. It's even men, too. There's a lot of variance in our fan base and we certainly have a lot of them and hopefully we can keep them by being successful.

Q: So, you're starting to feel like a role model?

Sarah Fisher: Starting to feel like a role model? Yeah, in a way. I think I'm going to feel like a bigger role model when I accomplish something. I've just arrived. I haven't really done anything yet and you know, there's lots more to be done and I think I'm going to feel like a role model when something happens that I'm going to be noted for.

Q: Sarah, Derrick prefaced this little interview session with a remark about the media. There's obviously a lot of distractions. What do you do to regain focus, you know, when you turn off the outside world and get your race face on?

Sarah Fisher: I talk to Rob . . . and go to Pacer games. No, I've been to a couple of Pacer's games, it's really nice. I think last Saturday I went to a sprint car race at Terre Haute to see some of my old sprint car friends and talk to them to see what they're up to and they talk to me and ask me about the IRL and about Walker Racing and it's kind of neat to see your old friends like that. And they're very supportive and that's where a lot of friends come in handy because it gives you someone to go and talk to.

Q: (Inaudible)

Sarah Fisher: I don't really do anything. I think that's where I'm just a focused individual and I just have the ability to switch it off.

Q: Sarah, change of pace. We've received an e-mail this afternoon just prior to the press conference from jims@pbsi.net.com. Jim wants to know what driver did you idol growing up?

Sarah Fisher: Steve Kinser.

Q: And his other question was, what do you want to accomplish in racing?

Sarah Fisher: Win. I want to win the Indy 500. I don't know when and if I can do that, but that's certainly my goal.

Q: Sarah, I just wanted to ask you a question about the tragedy that unfolded at New Hampshire last week with Adam Petty. As a contemporary, did that give you pause for concern or did you step back and say that was someone that was my age?

Sarah Fisher: You know, it's really sad that happened. There's a lot of accidents that have happened this year. I think Todd Bodine in the truck that looked ten times worse than that and I think that when it's time for you to go, it's time for you to go and as a race car driver, you can't think about that. It is certainly sad that happened to him at such a young age because I think, like myself, he had potential too.

Q: Sarah, there's a very real possibility the oldest and youngest drivers in this field might be women. Have you had much communication with Lyn and is there any appreciation for her having helped pave the way and if I may also, could you recall, maybe single out a greatest learning experience in your racing years, maybe in a sprint car or go-kart, anything?

Sarah Fisher: Well, as far as Lyn goes, I think, yes, she helped kick the door open, but I want to blow it open. I want to win and I think that's maybe a little bit different attitude going about it. I want to win the Indy 500. That's my goal and you know, like I said, I don't know if I can do it this year, but I'm certainly going to try my hardest. As far as the most learning time, I think that you learn every time you go out and there's no real big learning experience that you have because you learn from everything. Every time you get to the track, you learn something new, but I certainly think that Las Vegas, the race there was definitely unique in that was the first time Derrick had spotted and I certainly learned a lot from him and gained a lot of confidence.

Q: So, following up our conversation of last Saturday on opening day, as you're fulfilling your dreams here at the Indy 500 and in IRL racing, can you speak a little bit to your educational interests and could we still maybe interest you in the good engineering school up in Lafayette?

Sarah Fisher: I haven't made a decision as to where I'm going, but I have made the decision that I still want to go to a university here somewhere in Indianapolis. That's the reason I moved to Indy is to be with the team and I'm not going to take that away this winter by moving off somewhere to go to college. I'm going to treat college kind of like a part-time job because racing is still my number one concern and college is going to be an additive to that this fall, but I still plan to major in mechanical engineering.

Q: Sarah, we'll take one more question from the indyracing.com web site. This is from Kevin Baker from Des Moines, Iowa. I hope I don't jinx you, but looks like you will have the speed to qualify for your first "500." How's it feel to do something that only two other women have done at IMS?

Sarah Fisher: Well, from a driver's standpoint and from a rookie standpoint, it certainly feels wonderful. I've been given a very unique opportunity, especially for my age, and it's something you really can't put into words, the opportunity that someone gives you to run the Indianapolis 500. It's very unique and it's very award-winning. I feel like this is something that I've always wanted to accomplish in my life and I'm finally here.

Q: Any more questions for Derrick, Rob or Sarah? Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

-IRLNS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Adam Petty , Todd Bodine , Sarah Fisher , Rick Mears , Steve Kinser