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Motorsports

Fisher searching for full-time ride, renewed reputation

By wire services
Published May 29, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS - Sarah Fisher arrived in the pits to take a spin around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an old-style roadster, another of those incessant photo opportunities in the days leading up to the Indy 500.

But the car stalled before it got off the line.

Sort of like Fisher's career.

Feted when she arrived in the Indy Racing League as a teenager - and still the most popular driver on the circuit - Fisher has yet to do much behind the wheel. She will start her fifth straight 500 in a second machine provided by Kelley Racing but doesn't have a full-time ride this year.

"It's tough," she said. "I don't have a job."

Still only 23, Fisher hasn't lost hope that she'll get things back on track. But the frustration in her voice is unmistakable when she discusses her inability to line up a major sponsorship deal, or the direction the IRL has taken with an influx of foreign drivers and big-money car owners such as Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi.

"The opportunity isn't there anymore for the short-track driver," Fisher said. "Just look around."

Fisher has one pole and one second place, but only two other top-five finishes in 47 starts. She has failed to finish 21 races - sometimes because of faulty equipment, other times because of driving mistakes. She has wrecked out of the Indy 500 three times, finishing 24th the only time she made it to the checkered flag.

If Bobby Rahal has his way, Fisher may even lose her distinction as the only female IRL driver in 2005. Danica Patrick, currently driving in Toyota Atlantic, will be promoted to Rahal Letterman Racing if sponsorship can be secured.

Fisher takes umbrage with anyone who suggests she hasn't fulfilled her potential: "I am looking forward to that first win. That will eliminate what a lot of people are thinking."

INDY TIME SHIFT?: Jim Nabors always sings Back Home Again in Indiana. Mari Hulman George always yells, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" The celebration in Victory Lane always includes milk.

And the Indianapolis 500 always starts at 11 a.m. local time.

That might be changing, however.

In a bid to improve lagging ratings for the Indy 500, ABC is trying to get the track to change one of its revered traditions. Weather permitting, the race has started at 11 a.m. every year since 1963.

"We're trying to balance tradition with reality," said Loren Matthews, senior vice president of programming for ABC Sports.

On Tuesday, the network announced an extension of its TV deal with the Indy Racing League through 2009. As part of the deal, serious discussions will be held on the possibility of a later start time.

"There's nothing definite," said Ken Ungar, senior vice president of business affairs for the IRL. "But it's beyond just an idea."

Another television-friendly idea was met with less enthusiasm from Indy officials: running the 500 at night. That would require a massive lighting project track officials aren't ready to tackle or pay for.

The ratings for last year's race were less than half of what they were in 1995, the final year before a nasty split in open-wheel racing led to the formation of the IRL and a boycott by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), which had most of the top drivers and teams at the time.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]


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