IRL: Rookie Sarah Fisher Zeroing in on Pit Stops

PHOENIX, Wednesday, March 15, 2000 -- Racing at speeds of 170 mph on the tough Phoenix International Raceway 1-mile oval doesn't bother Indy Racing Northern Light Series rookie Sarah Fisher. Neither does dicing with the likes of 1999 series...

PHOENIX, Wednesday, March 15, 2000 -- Racing at speeds of 170 mph on the tough Phoenix International Raceway 1-mile oval doesn't bother Indy Racing Northern Light Series rookie Sarah Fisher. Neither does dicing with the likes of 1999 series champion Greg Ray or two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr.

What concerns Fisher, 19, most about the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 is when her Walker Racing-Cummins Special Riley & Scott/Oldsmobile/Firestone car is stopped in the pits for the 12 seconds it takes to refuel and get new tires.

After all, she's made only one official pit stop in her career.

That came last October in the Mall.com 500 at Texas Motor Speedway when she made her Indy Racing debut before dropping out of the race after 66 laps with a broken timing gear. She drove for Team Pelfrey and remembers the stop was pretty dodgy. The start this weekend at Phoenix, her first with Walker Racing, also will be her first since her Texas debut.

"Definitely, pit stops," Fisher said when asked what she feels she must work on the most at Phoenix. "We did a couple in the parking lot (of team owner Derrick Walker's shop on the northwest side of Indianapolis)."

Fisher departed for Phoenix on March 15 and plans to practice on stops with the team in the Arizona warmth. It was cold in Indy, making it difficult to simulate the entering and exiting that are part of a pit stop.

"It is something we must focus on," she said.

Fisher emphasized that the Walker pit crew is an experienced group in which she has much confidence. Her confidence also is building due to the professionalism of the Walker team, which she joined in late January.

"Hey, if they mess up, well, I've messed up a lot, too," she said. The team manager and engineer is Rob Edwards. Ron Catt is the crew chief and changes the outside front tire. Working with him on the tire changing and refueling are: Paul Sheehan, outside rear; Keith Beck, inside rear; Craig Ramsey, inside front; Rich Howard, vent; and Steve Phillips, fueler.

One of those who won't be in her pit is her father, Dave. He and Sarah's mother, Reba, put Sarah in a quarter-midget when she was 5, and he shepherded her up through the kart, USAC midget and sprint ranks and now into the top echelon of open-wheel racing.

Her father was considered for two positions, but he has chosen to taken another approach.

"He wanted to sit back and enjoy himself," Sarah said. "He spent a lot of time and money (getting her to this level). He wants to sit back and enjoy what he has developed."

She added that if her father sees a mistake, he'll let her know about it.

A mistake by Fisher led to a crash during the "Test in the West" last month at PIR.

Fisher blamed the accident on her inexperience. She noted that in midgets and sprints, racing is wide open from the start. But with Indy Racing cars, cold tires must be heated before a driver can really punch the throttle.

"Cold tires can be extremely lethal," she said. "It was a rookie mistake. They say there are those (drivers) who have hit the wall and those who are going to hit the wall. I'm in the category of those who have hit the wall. Now I've got to get on with racing."

When Fisher crashed, she had the fourth best speed of the day.

Fisher is impressed with the entire Walker operation. She feels the team is going to be one of the best, with a well-kept shop, top equipment and experienced personnel. She added that the team is confident of success and is willing to put in the time needed to accomplish its goals.

At Texas, Fisher drove a Dallara. She's pleased with what she has learned about the Riley & Scott chassis thus far.

"This car is very good, very stable, and I'm happy with it," she said. "We have a weight problem we're dealing with, but it'll be a great car for the year."

Check out Fisher's Web site, www.sarahfisher.com, and you'll find e-mail notes from all over the U.S. and from fans as far away as Finland, Germany, Chile, Australia and New Zealand wishing her good luck. There even is another Sarah Fisher from New York City who sent congratulations.

But if ever there was a calm 19-year-old in the heart of a publicity maelstrom, it's Fisher. She answers questions quickly and precisely and doesn't back off on the tough ones.

"I think I put pressure on myself, not on the team," she said. "I'm certainly putting pressure on myself to do well.

"The pressure is the same as since I was 5. I've been a female my entire career, and I know how to focus on driving. With an Indy car, there is no room for error. When I'm in the car it's all racing."

That poise and focus has endeared Fisher to her fellow competitors and Indy Racing officials. She already has received help from Indianapolis 500 winners such as Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser and Eddie Cheever Jr., as well as Indy Racing stars Mark Dismore and Robby Unser.

"I don't have a lot of anxiety about going (to Phoenix)," she said. "To me, it's just another race. It's real natural. Maybe that's why I'm not as nervous as maybe I should be."

It's only the 40 seconds she may need for three pit stops that make her a bit antsy.

MCI WORLDCOM INDY 200 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 starts at 2 p.m. (MST) March 19. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 10:45 a.m. March 18.

Practice sessions start at 10:45 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. (MST) March 17, 8:15 a.m. March 18 and 9:15 a.m. March 19.

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On the air: The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EST) March 19. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 11 a.m. March 19 on ESPN2.

ESPN2 will televise pole qualifying at 5:30 p.m. (EST) March 18.

The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 3:30 p.m. (EST) March 19, followed by the live race broadcast at 4 p.m. IRRN will broadcast a qualifying show at 4 p.m. March 18. The area IRRN affiliate is KMVP-AM 860.

The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.

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Tickets: Tickets for the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 are available by calling (602) 252-2227.

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Autograph party: Many Indy Racing drivers will participate in the "Indy & NASCAR Speedfest Drivers Party" March 16 at the Arizona Center in Phoenix.

Indy Racing cars will be on display from 3-8 p.m., and drivers will sign free autographs from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The fun, family-oriented event will include prizes, contests and live remotes by area television and radio stations.

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Mark Dismore , Robby Unser , Steve Phillips , Johnny Rutherford , Al Unser