She drove Indy cars for 11 years, earned two podiums, was the first woman to win a pole position for an Indy car race, made nine Indianapolis 500 starts and became one of the most popular drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
But Sarah Fisher eventually decided it was time to concentrate with husband/mechanic Andy O’Gara on having a family and running their own race team. That’s why she walked away from driving in 2010.
Fisher, 36, returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the weekend, now a happy mother of two. Daughter Zoey is 5, and son Daniel is 3. And although her days as a driver, as well as a series owner, are in her rear-view mirror, Fisher showed she can still go fast in the Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am race.
The fastest woman in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history teamed up with Kirk Blaha to win the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational’s signature event in a No. 3 black 1969 Chevrolet Corvette against a field of 32 other former Indy 500 starters, as well as NASCAR legends Bill Elliott and Ray Evernham.
She had never been a part of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) event in its three previous visits to IMS. But the woman who has always placed a lot of emphasis on family found a familiar connection with her teammate, with whom she had been matched by SVRA President Tony Parella. Blaha’s father, Rick, owns the winning car.
“Tony thought it would be a pretty good team, and the Blaha family has been such a nice family to me,” Fisher said. “It kind of reminded me of what our Indy car team was all about. They all work together, they keep it in the family, they spend what they can and put together a great product on track.
“They drive the cars, they work on the cars, and all of the family works together, even Kirk’s wife. It’s pretty cool to see and pretty cool to be a part of. It reminds me of what I came from.”
IMS historian Donald Davidson said in the post-race interview he was unaware of any woman ever before winning an event at IMS.
The most obvious obstacle to this pairing was that Fisher stands 5-foot-2, while her linebacker-sized teammate is a foot taller. The race required a five-minute pit stop, which meant a quick transition for Blaha’s team to make the car comfortable for Fisher when they switched during the race.
Fisher joked that the pairing “certainly wasn’t because of our size.”
Blaha was confident they could pull it off.
“We knew there’d be a pretty big size differential,” he said. “I’m just a big guy, so it would have been a size differential with any driver. We came prepared with a lot of dense foam, soft foam. When we first kind of met face to face (Friday) to set up the car, she rolled up her sleeves and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s try this and try that.’
“It took us probably an hour, but we got to a point where she was finally comfortable getting in the car, and it worked out well. We came prepared to make up the difference in the seat padding.”
The team worked so smoothly together, Blaha said the race didn’t seem to last the predetermined 50 minutes.
“It felt like five minutes,” he said. “It went quick. I started the race and we had a good pit strategy, to go out and bring the car in at a certain time in the event. We just lucked out. A full-course yellow came out, we were able to cool the tires and cool the brakes on the car, do a driver change and get back out there.”
Fisher and O’Gara also ran a Verizon IndyCar Series team. She became the first female owner-driver in 2008. Ed Carpenter gave the team its only win in 2011. Renamed that year as Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, the partnership with Kansas businessman Wink Hartman lasted through 2014. The team merged with Carpenter’s own team in 2015 to form CFH Racing before Fisher and O’Gara stepped away from ownership last year.
These days, Fisher remains involved by driving the pace car at all Verizon IndyCar Series events. She and O’Gara also run Speedway Indoor Karting, which opened last year just around the corner from IMS on Speedway’s revitalized Main Street. They hosted an SVRA charity event Thursday night.
“It’s all about having fun,” Fisher said. “For me, to come out (Friday), get fitted into this giant seat, to have a welcoming family that just enjoyed being here and enjoyed being a part of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we just had a ball. We had fun together. That’s what the karting track is all about, too. We had fun Thursday night.”
Fisher will be behind the wheel of the pace car again this week when the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Road America in Wisconsin for the KOHLER Grand Prix. The 55-lap race on the beloved 4.014-mile permanent road course airs live at 12:30 p.m. ET June 25 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.