(Originally published 6/4/04 on another version of pressdog.com)
I've never met Sarah Fisher.
I've never communicated directly with Sarah Fisher and I do not want to date Sarah Fisher. I am old enough to be Sarah Fisher's father.
Which is part of the reason I root so hard for Sarah Fisher.
My favorite IndyCar driver (Sarah Fisher) started 19th and finished 21st at this year's Indy 500. And, at the ripe old age of 23, time may be running out for Sarah.
I spent my two-day pilgrimage to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year trying to figure out just why I root so hard for Sarah. Just why, if I could, I would will her to win.
After all, based on track performance, these have been some lean times for Sarah. She doesn't stay on the lead lap for long. She's never won. Her best-ever, second-place finish came back in 2001. It's been two years since she won the pole (was the fastest qualifier) at Kentucky and led late in the race at Michigan.
The Gods of Indy gave me an answer, of all places, inside the Indy Racing League merchandise tent on the sprawling track infield. There, at the Sarah Fisher apparel display, two extremely suburban-looking men showed me the light.
There I saw Suburban Bubba Number 1 point to a Sarah T-shirt and say (albeit softly), "Boooo" to which Suburban Bubba Number 2 responded, "She shouldn't even be here."
I don't have a thing for Sarah Fisher. But I do have a thing for anyone who "shouldn't even be here" kicking everyone's butt.
I'm a die-hard, frothing, freakish fan of the underdog. So nothing would excite me more than seeing a 5' 3," well mannered woman from Commercial Point, Ohio who "shouldn't even be here" rise up and beat all the well-financed, Ricco Suave IndyCar men at their own game.
A lot of IndyCar drivers will go 20 years and win only once or twice. But, after just three years in the league, every time Sarah doesn't win we hear a new round of "She sucks! She's only here because she's a woman. She's a PR stunt"-type stuff.
An extra wrinkle this year is Danica Patrick, The Next Great Female Driver (which Sarah was back when Lyn St. James was the lone female), who has added to the verbal pounding. Patrick will be driving at next year's Indy 500 after spending a few years in the Toyota Atlantic series, a sort of minor league racing circuit that drivers use to prepare themselves for the bigs.
A year or so ago, Patrick made a business decision to further her career by putting on a bunch of lip gloss and some very tight shorts, unbuttoning her shirt and draping herself across a car for an FHM magazine photo shoot.
Hey, it's a free country. It certainly elevated her profile. Ever since then, I've been expecting Patrick to pop up in the IRL. She surfaced last week with her mouth already in gear. In a story on rpm.espn.com, Patrick said:
During an appearance at Indy this week, she also took a shot at Fisher's lack of success and implied that it's stymied opportunities for other female racers.
"She's done some good things, but then there are some bad things,'' Patrick said. "Like, she struggles, I think, with the racing part of it.''
Fisher responded with a few obscenities and a challenge: "I'd like her to get in that ... car and see what she can do.''
People tend to think driving an Indy Car is like driving go-karts at the nearest amusement park -- the main concern is getting into the fastest kart. In reality, it's a combination of engineer, pit crew, mechanics and driver that wins. A great driver with a crap car on a bad team isn't going to win. A crap driver with a great car on a great team isn't going to win either. Where Sarah Fisher (or Danica Patrick or Buddy Rice or anyone else for that matter) falls in that continuum is subject to debate.
Speaking of Buddy Rice (the 2004 Indy 500 winner), he was canned just last year by another racing team for allegedly not having what it took to win. I heard the same stuff about Buddy that I've been hearing about Sarah. Buddy only got hired this season to fill in for an injured driver. The milk he drank in the Indy winner's circle May 30 must have tasted exceptionally sweet.
It's not like someone hired Fisher because she looks good in a racing suit. She's been racing since she was 5 and spanking people on the track for nearly that long. (Check the bio here.) In the IRL, Fisher has scored a second-, third- and fourth-place finish, won a pole (fastest qualifier) led races late and had some top-ten finishes all in four years of on-and-off racing. Not exactly crap, especially when compared objectively to the records of some other IRL drivers. Yet the "what has she done lately" stuff continues.
Personally, I think you really gotta love racing to go through all the hoops to get on the track and then put up with all the crap from "fans" once you're on the track.
Primarily there's the constant groveling for cash from sponsors. It costs millions just to put a mediocre car on the track. Without a corporate sugar daddy, you got very little chance of ever being first in line for the checkered. If I could write something that caused a sponsor to drop $10 million on Sarah's team, I'd do it for free. But it takes greater talent than mine to harvest that kind of coin.
As for Bubba 1 and 2, there are no passes handed out, so we know that Sarah Fisher earned her spot on the 2004 Indy 500 starting grid. You have to get a team, get a sponsor, get a car and go through qualifications to get in. She did all that, so deal with it.
And if Sarah can't find a team and sponsor, she won't race again and I'll have to deal with that. Male of female, that's the law of the racing jungle. I have nothing against Danica Patrick. If she qualifies to line up and race more power to her. I have a feeling she won't be talking so loudly after her first few IRL races, though.
If Sarah Fisher never races in the IRL again, she can still be proud of all she's done and all the little girls she's inspired, and the fact that she made it to the bigs without taking off her shirt or trashing on another driver. She can go back to beating men on the dirt tracks and I'll be happy to root for her there.
Meanwhile, my daughters will continue to wear their Sarah Fisher T-shirts while I encourage them to be whatever they want to be, even if the Bubbas of the world tell them they "shouldn't even be here."