INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, April 9, 2000 -- The temperature hovered at 45 degrees Sunday morning when Sarah Fisher and Sam Hornish Jr. pulled onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track to begin rookie orientation for the Indianapolis 500. ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, April 9, 2000 -- The temperature hovered at 45 degrees Sunday morning when Sarah Fisher and Sam Hornish Jr. pulled onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track to begin rookie orientation for the Indianapolis 500. It was another big - but exciting - step in the careers of these racing youngsters whose lives have been intertwined since they began racing karts against each other as kids. For their parents - Dave and Reba Fisher and Jo Ellen and Sam Hornish Sr. - it was a day they never dreamed would happen when their children battled each other on tiny tracks in their native Ohio and elsewhere. Both fathers followed their kids around the karting circuit. They worked as chief mechanics while the mothers mostly stayed home; Reba Fisher teaching in southern Ohio and Jo Ellen Hornish running the family businesses in northwestern Ohio. But both sets of parents were in the pits Sunday as Sarah Fisher, 19, and Sam Hornish Jr., 20, started through the various speed phases that a new driver must complete to become eligible to make a qualifying attempt in next month's Indianapolis 500 time trials. Ironically, Fisher and Hornish were pitted next to each other. "Oh, terrified ... but excited," said Jo Ellen Hornish as she watched her son breeze through his opening segment. "I've always been a basket case. He's always been small for his age, and I thought when he got taller it would be easier. I was relaxed in Orlando (during her son's Indy Racing debut), a lot more than I thought I would be." Jo Ellen Hornish never wanted her son to become a race driver. But she knew it was fate. She and her husband sat in the stands at the 1979 Indianapolis 500, only 37 days before her son was born on July 2. In the next pit, Reba Fisher had a more laid-back outlook about her daughter's debut at the world's most famous racetrack. After all, it was her suggestion to buy a kart for her daughter when she was only 5. "I did go through the museum and see the cars from the early years," Reba Fisher said. "There's always some risk. I ran go-karts, and you don't think about anything other than the safety of the car you are driving. She's safer than I am at an intersection where I'm meeting strangers who I don't know anything about how they drive. "She's going the same way with good drivers who know what they're doing. I like to think she's safer than I am. I might be naïve." Sam Hornish Sr., who attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1951 with his father, Virgil, removed his headset and talked about how he bought his son a kart when he was 11 so the two of them would have a father-son bonding. They started racing on the dirt at Cridersville, Ohio, moved to the pavement at Lansing, Ohio, and then joined the World Karting Association. That's where Sarah Fisher and Sam Hornish Jr. first encountered each other. "Sam's shy, and I don't know if he'd want me to say this, but they used to fight like cats and dogs," Sam Hornish Sr. said. "This would be out behind the trailers. They'd threaten to take each other out. They were so competitive." Jo Ellen Hornish has a picture of the two of them. At that time Sarah Fisher was half-a-head taller. "They both were very good runners, capable of winning," said Dave Fisher. The parents never had time to become close friends because the action was so hectic at the track starting at 7:30 in the morning and never ceasing until evening. Dave Fisher thinks he and Sam Hornish Sr. spent as much time with their kids during their formative years as any parents in America. "We'd see each other working his tail off, trying to get his kart to run faster," Fisher said. "Now here we are with clean hands. "I think it is just wonderful that both of us are here. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Indy Racing League." Reba Fisher teaches computers in middle school, and she knows the effect that parents have on their children, depending on whether they are close or distant. "It is important that parents have a big impact on their kids," she said. "I can see it in the classroom." During one karting season, Sam Hornish Jr. used engines built by Dave Fisher. Sam Hornish Sr. jested that his son got Sarah Fisher's bad engines. "I never thought we'd ever be at Indy," Sam Hornish Sr. said. As Fisher and Hornish moved out of karting competition, they took different paths until this year. Hornish branched off to formula cars and made his Indy Racing Northern Light Series debut in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. Fisher turned to sprint cars and made her first Indy Racing start last October at Texas Motor Speedway. Veteran CART car owner Derrick Walker signed Fisher for the 2000 season in late January, and she and Hornish raced against each for the first time since their karting years on March 19 at Phoenix. Hornish drives for PDM Racing, and the car is sponsored by his family's company, Hornish Brothers Trucking. Fisher's sponsor is Cummins Diesel. The Hornishes and Fishers renewed old acquaintances in the Speedway garages last Thursday before practice began. "This is just a continuation," Reba Fisher said. "This is practice and the rookie test. The big day is when she qualifies. I 'll be speechless." And Sam Hornish Sr. will be in the same spot he was Sunday, taking it all in. "I was the one standing at the top of the grandstand," he said. "I wouldn't miss a thing." Sam and Jo Ellen Hornish and Dave and Reba Fisher haven't missed a thing since their children fired up their first racing engines when thoughts of the Indianapolis 500 were only a fantasy.
OPEN TEST NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Indianapolis 500 Open Test and Rookie Orientation Program will continue April 10-11.
Rookies will test from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. April 10-11, with veterans testing from 1:30-5:30 p.m. those days.
Fans welcome: Spectators are welcome to watch the Rookie Orientation Program and Open Test every day, free of charge. Seating will be available in the South Terrace bleachers on the inside of the track adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.