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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Sarah Fisher builds IndyCar team creatively

April 7, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Sarah Fisher can’t drive road courses.

So what!?

Mark Cuban can’t hit a jump shot, and he’s still proven to be an effective, albeit at times obnoxious, NBA team owner.

What Fisher lacks in ability to navigate serpentine courses at break-neck speeds she makes up for in creativity, perspective—and ahhhh—yes that oh so rare commodity in sports—humility.

And as it turns out, those characteristics sell.

As the entire universe of open-wheel racing (at least as it pertains to the IndyCar Series) is struggling to approach profitability, Fisher ramps up her tiny team into an emerging power. OK, maybe that’s taking it a little too far. Time will tell.

But the point remains, this is a driver who founded her team because no one would give her a ride. She didn’t turn to her daddy for help and didn’t sit around crying on Twitter like some other drivers in this entitlement-obsessed series.

After testing earlier this year at Barber Motorsports Park, Sarah sat down and had a talk with herself. After coming to the difficult realization that she’s an oval girl who can’t go right, then left, then right again faster than much of anyone in the paddock besides Milka Duno, Fisher put her pride aside and picked up the phone and called Graham Rahal, who is a road race specialist.

After chatting with Rahal, who was rideless at the time, Fisher called her loyal sponsor, Dollar General.

Dollar General officials embraced the idea of Fisher racing the ovals and adding Rahal to steer the car on road courses. Initially, Fisher signed Rahal to a two-race deal. Yesterday, Fisher announced Rahal would race a third event for her team at Long Beach. It’s a high profile event, and Dollar General officials are thrilled with the exposure.

Remember how Fisher was ridiculed for signing with Dollar General at the same time Danica Patrick was making her first pitches as a GoDaddy Girl.

I’m guessing there are a few drivers who wouldn’t mind having that Dollar General sponsorship now. It’s one of the few in the sport showing any growth.

And this is why.

Because Sarah Fisher has grown up.

She realizes success in the sport, her success, isn’t all about her all the time. It’s about putting the sponsor first. It’s about being humble enough to admit that what she wants to do—and what her pride tells her to do—doesn’t always align with what’s good for her sponsors.

In the process, Fisher has learned something else; to be herself.

“You have to believe in the brand that you are,” Fisher told me recently. “I was the girl next door. It’s OK to be the person you are. It took me a while to figure that out.”

Yes indeed, Sarah, it is OK to be the person you are. In fact, being that person, I would argue has made the land of IndyCar a little better place to live.

And if the IndyCar Series can survive itself, Sarah being Sarah might make it a little more lucrative to be in open-wheel.

In my mind, it is Fisher who has become the role model for not only all other women racers in the sport to follow, but all racers.

“Our team has become experts at thinking out of the box,” Fisher said. “That’s what brought us to this point.”

Sarah Fisher will do a lot more for IndyCar and the women’s equality movement by becoming an owner on par with Roger Penske than a driver on par with Scott Dixon.

Going left, right and left in rapid succession takes talent, a rarity indeed.

But the ability to adapt and survive, rarer yet, especially in the land of IndyCar these days.

The ability to not only survive, but to grow … well the future of not only Fisher, but the entire series depends on it.
 

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