Every high school has a demure girl who can matter-of-factly
answer any question the physics teacher poses. Every time
there's a group project, she ends up doing all the work. You
never see her out on weekends--even though she's kinda cute. Her
wheels are terminally unhip, usually a 10-year-old Chevy
Cavalier with a bumper sticker that reads HONK IF YOUR FAVORITE
NUMBER IS PLANCK'S CONSTANT.
At Teays High in Commercial Point, Ohio, just south of Columbus,
that girl was Sarah Fisher, although her preferred mode of
transportation was a race car. The reason she never hit the
weekend party circuit: She was always off competing at some track
in Oklahoma or New Jersey. "High school was kind of weird," says
Fisher, who graduated seventh in her class of 178 last June.
"There weren't a whole lot of cliques that I stuck to, not a lot
of race car drivers in high school. But I didn't care, because I
had a lot of friends in racing. I don't regret not going to the
prom or doing any of the girlie things in high school. I was
doing what I wanted."
Still, Fisher figured that the end of high school would mean the
beginning of a more normal existence. She enrolled at Ohio State
with plans to major in mechanical engineering. But her racing
resume, which includes three World Karting Association Grand
National Championships and five wins on the Midget circuit in
1999, was just as impressive as her academic record. Fisher got
a one-time offer from car owner Dale Pelfrey to run in last
October's IRL race at Texas Motor Speedway (she started 17th and
finished 25th after her timing chain broke), so she put Ohio
State on hold for the year. The hold became indefinite when
Derrick Walker, who won the Indianapolis 500 five times as Roger
Penske's vice president of racing, hired her to drive for his
fledgling IRL operation this season. They skipped the first
race, in Orlando in January, but plan to run for the remainder
of the season, including the Indy 500. Last month Fisher
finished 13th out of 27 drivers at the Indy 200 in Phoenix.
Fisher began driving at age five, when her parents, Dave and
Reba, each of whom did a little racing, bought her a go-kart. She
loved the competition and the speed, but she also loved the
science. Her mom, who drove a go-kart, and her dad, who competed
in go-kart and sprint cars, were her crew, and since Dave spent a
lot of his time working at his fabrication shop, where he makes
hydraulic presses for large machinery, in Commercial Point, Sarah
often found herself there too. "It forced me to work on the cars,
to put engines in and mount tires, the whole rigmarole," she
When Walker decided late last year to add an IRL car to his CART
team, he wanted a young U.S. driver who could win races while
appealing to fans and sponsors. Fisher was ideal. "She can drive,
she's 19 and she's a woman," says Walker. "What a combination."
The 5'2" Fisher spends much of her time working out and hanging
around the shop, which confounds the guys who work on her car,
most of whom aren't used to such a hands-on driver.
"They don't want the drivers to work on the cars," says Fisher.
"That's what they have six guys to do. But they're letting me
hang out. Recently they let me tape carbon-fiber covers for the
tethers that keep the wheels on the car. That made my day."
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG