Sarah Fisher’s Speedway

Sarah Fisher’s Speedway

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EDIOTR’S NOTE: One of the larger — and newer — buildings on Speedway’s Main Street is the headquarters of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Fisher, who retired from racing in 2010 after a quarter-century behind the wheel, became the youngest woman to start the Indy 500 when she qualified for the race in 2000. She’s also the first woman to stand on an IndyCar podium, the first female to take a pole position in open-wheel racing, and the first woman to run an entire season with IndyCar.

Now Sarah splits operational duties for her team with her husband Andy O’Gara, a former member of her pit crew. This season’s IndyCar driver for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s team is Josef Newgarden, who runs with one of Sarah’s old car numbers, 67.

Originally from Columbus, Oh., Sarah has made Indy her home, and she’s a fixture in the town of Speedway. As the city renovates the commercial districts adjacent to the track, new businesses are springing up, including everything from Main Street Yoga to Daredevil Brewing (they’ll be moving from Shelbyville when the new brewery wraps construction). We asked Sarah — who’s currently expecting her second child — to give us both a bit of her backstory and a tour of some of her favorite haunts in the “Racing Capital of the World.”

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On her first 500

I started racing when I was five. I’ve been racing for 28 years or so; it just started as a hobby, racing quarter-midgets and sprint cars and midgets. Eventually, I had an opportunity to run in IndyCar; I did that for several years.

The first time I qualified for the Indianapolis 500, I was a 19 year-old-girl. It was pretty crazy; there was quite a bit of attention there. But what was happening on the track was what really impressed me. The cars were tremendous. They handled so very, very well. I can’t say how much it meant to me to be able to qualify for that race. It was probably the most incredible experience of my life up to that point.

The thing about the Speedway that people don’t understand is how that crowd affects you as a driver. Race day is so vastly different from practice. You’re focused on your guys, the team, your engineering throughout the month of May, but when the stands fill up on race day, the idea that so many people are in the venue is unbelievable. You think to yourself, “THIS many people care about this?” When I was 19, I was pretty naïve. To be one of those 33 drivers is something I’ll never forget.

When you get into the car, though, the crowd slips away. A driver zones in. You remember the lines that you ran in practice; you remember that last time you’d run on Carb Day.

On building a team

As I got older, and got married, I knew I had to make a decision.

My husband and I decided that the only way we were going to really have the proper control over our careers would be to have our own team. I drove for a couple of years as a team owner, but eventually, you’ve got to do one or the other. I couldn’t give my all to the team if I was wearing both hats. When I looked at the big picture, the team needed me to be more of a leader than a driver.

I think a lot of casual fans don’t realize how much training’s involved in IndyCar. Being able to transition from ovals to road courses and back again requires many, many hours at the wheel. Working with the engineers, the sponsors, trying to keep the money coming in while honing my skills in the cockpit — it was simply too much.

This way, I’m still involved in IndyCar but I can also devote enough time to being a mom. My husband and I have a little girl — Zoey, she’s two and a half — and a little boy on the way. I still refuse to drive a minivan, but I did have a discussion on Twitter about renting out my belly to a sponsor. Huggies was actually interested.

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On putting the headquarters of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing on Main Street in Speedway

The redevelopment that the town of Speedway’s undertaken has been a great opportunity for us. They’ve made a home for our fans outside of race weekend — that’s been incredible. As we were looking to grow and expand, my business partner, Wink Hartman, really wanted to explore that idea. There were pre-existing buildings elsewhere in Indy that were available, but he’s really dedicated to this team and its growth, and to be a part of that fan experience is something we just couldn’t pass up.

The proximity to the track compounds that wonderful fan experience. I love being just a few blocks away from IMS. We’re always there when they need help, and vice-versa. Our relationship with the track has almost become a secondary partnership in and of itself.

I want to see that fan experience build the crowds back up throughout the entire month — I want 500 qualifications to be as popular as they were in the 1970s. Being part of the Main Street redevelopment will hopefully bring some of that excitement back to the process.

The best thing about being on Main Street; we’re a small business among small businesses. We’ve grown, don’t get me wrong — we have 23 employees currently. I used to have to write the checks by hand, but we’ve got someone doing payroll now.

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On Lino’s

I’ve heard that there’s only two locations: Lino’s has a shop in Milan, Italy, and Indy. How does that happen? Here in the U.S., it’s part of the Dallara factory on Main, and that’s why I love it: the options that Lino’s offer are just amazing and they’re right next door. It’s authentic Italian espressos and coffees — just outstanding. A cup of coffee from Lino’s is one of the most elegant treats in the city.

They have food, too, and our team has a lot of meetings at Lino’s. They’re so nice, so very accommodating. It’s a little touch of Europe here on Main.

My favorite drink from Lino’s is a decaf caramel macchiato. The little boy that we’re expecting is definitely a candy eater, so right now, the sweeter the better. (And before you ask, his name is still under discussion.)

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On places the average joe never sees at the track

I have two favorite places in all those nooks and crannies: I was a spotter for a little bit during practice, and I loved being up in the nest on turn three. Up there in the corner, you can see so much.

As a driver, I’ve had a few chances to stand on the very, very top of the Pagoda — where the snipers sit — and that’s pretty impressive, let me tell you. The really high spots that give you the sense of size of the track — they’re just amazing.

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On Yogulatte

We bought some for the team just the other day — it’s really, really good. I love boutique-style food shops like that; things that are just a little different from the usual fare you’d associate with a town like Speedway. Yogulatte has been a great addition to Main Street. They’ve got three locations, all in Indy. I love the fact that a place that just looks this cool decided Speedway needed yogurt! The team drops by pretty often, but it’s getting to be a tough walk for me – I’m pretty far along in my pregnancy! — so I’d love it if those folks would start thinking about delivering. HINT, HINT.

I order plain yogurt and just go wild with the toppings.

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On Dawson’s on Main

Dawson’s is a staple — it’s a backdoor meeting place for the people involved in IndyCar. It’s what Union Jack’s used to be, as near as I can tell, but that was before my time. It’s cozy, kind of dark, but so very homey. You’ll be in there with a sponsor, and suddenly a guy like Derek Walker, IndyCar’s president of operations, will just stroll in. Sometimes you’ll see teams wooing a driver over a table of food there. It’s a tremendous place to go if you’re fan of open-wheel racing: you never know who you’re going to see there.

And besides that, I’m such a regular that they practically have my food ready before I sit down. I’m usually there at lunchtime, and I always get a house salad with ranch — no sprouts! — and fajita chicken wraps. It’s simple stuff, but they’re so good. Every once in a while I’ll order something else — keep ’em on their toes, y’know?

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On remembering Tom Carnegie, the legendary IMS announcer

Tom was as much an icon to me as anything or anyone I encountered in my career. I always stopped by to say hello to Tom and give him a hug. He was like a grandfather to me, and it was wonderful to be able to get to know the guy. I was amazed by the fact that he was still at the track well into his 80s.

I’ll never forget when he was chatting with me over the IMS PA system — this was one of the last years that he was still calling the race from the pagoda — and he felt compelled to give me a kiss. It was so very cute.

Some of the other younger drivers and owners won’t ever get the chance to know Tom. I’m very, very glad I had that chance. s

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