Sarah Fisher started the 2002 Verizon IndyCar Series season where no driver wants to be: on the outside looking in.
For a time, it seemed that was where things would stay for Fisher – who burst onto the Indy car scene two years earlier when she became the youngest woman (19 years old) to start in the Indianapolis 500 and youngest woman to record a podium finish (third at Kentucky Speedway). Needless to say, she wasn’t cool with it sitting in idle.
Then Robbie Buhl of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing stuffed his car into the wall at Auto Club Speedway in California during qualifying and suffered a concussion that would sideline him from the next race in 2002, at Nazareth Speedway. In search of a sub, the team called Fisher.
Before Fisher could assume driving duties, she needed a custom seat made at the team’s shop. While she was there, something caught her eye: a kid on a go-kart, turning laps outside. Fisher, too, had driven karts as a kid, winning the World Karting Association Grand National Championships in 1991, ‘93 and ‘94.
Although she’d advanced to Indy cars, she remembered her years in karting with great fondness. The kid, she found out, was 9-year-old Kyle O’Gara. With Kyle was Andy O’Gara, his 18-year-old brother.
“She introduced herself and we talked go-karting and hung out and had fun for a little bit,” recalled Andy, whose dad, John, was the team manager. But that was the extent of their first meeting.
Fisher made the most of her opportunity with Dreyer& Reinbold, placing fourth at Nazareth. It inspired the team to put her in a car at the Indianapolis 500 and beyond. Although she finished a disappointing 24th at Indy, she led several laps at Michigan International Speedway.
Two weeks later, she captured the pole – the first woman ever to do so in an Indy car – at Kentucky Speedway. She didn’t just win the pole, she set the track record that still stands today. Fisher finished the season 18th in the points, despite competing in just 10 of 15 races, and for the second consecutive year was voted the series’ most popular driver by fans.
Something else happened. Sarah and Andy, who, eager to follow his father’s racing path, had landed a spot on Sarah’s pit crew, became friends. They started hanging out on weekends off, usually at go-kart races in support of Kyle.
“For me,” Sarah said, the karting connection was “how the friendship really started. More than anything, it was Kyle and the karting side that was really interesting to me.”
That’s not to say she wasn’t attracted to Andy. He, too, felt a spark, but neither acted on their feelings initially. They worked together and wanted to keep things professional, not to mention their hectic schedules. “There wasn’t,” Andy said, “a lot of in-between time.”
Eventually things slowed down and they went on their first official date. Dinner and a movie: “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” “Yeah,” said Andy, “I got dragged into that.”
They went on a few more dates, but working together at Dreyer & Reinbold again in 2003, tried to keep it light – and failed. Sarah and Andy became a couple. Not even a pit accident at Auto Club Speedway, in which Sarah “ran over” Andy (then her inside front tire changer and later her chief mechanic) would separate them.
“He didn’t break anything, thank God,” Sarah told The New York Times. In fact, he managed to still change the tire.
In 2005, Andy proposed, popping the question on Sarah’s 25th birthday. In 2007, the pair exchanged vows at St. Roch Catholic Church in Indianapolis, wed by the same priest who had baptized Andy and married his Irish-Catholic parents. To the delight of their 500-plus guests, including Lyn St. James, Ed Carpenter and Tony George, the organist played “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Sarah retired from driving after the 2010 season to focus fully on the team she and Andy started two years earlier. They made a mutual decision to wait until she stopped driving to start a family.
Daughter Zoe arrived in September 2011 and son Danny followed in June 2014. Both kids, said Andy, have karts at home and “absolutely love it.” But there’s no pressure on either child to pursue racing professionally.
At present, Sarah and Andy no longer have ownership in a Verizon IndyCar Series team but they still have their hands full. Not only are they parents to two young children, but they’ve recently launched a new business: Speedway Indoor Karting that opened in April.
That’s not all. Sarah was named this season to pilot the pace car for most of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series races. They haven’t ruled out the possibility of returning to team ownership, either.
But, of course, one can’t help but wonder: Does Sarah miss racing herself? Sometimes, but mostly not. “I’m cool with it,” she said.