Auto Clip # 3




Sarah Fisher's pit stop inspires local girl scouts
By Rob Hoffman
News Sports Reporter 

Ann Arbor News, Sept 5, 2001

    Though the thought might make her parents shudder, 12-year-old Nicole Starling will be a licensed driver some time in the not too distant future.
    Maybe, before heading off to high school, she'll notice the tires in her car don't have enough air in them. Or the engine seems to coughing more than it should.
    What will she do?
    Perhaps she'll remember that day in 2001 when America's reigning queen of the speedways slowed down in Ann Arbor.
Sarah Fisher, the third woman ever to qualify for the Indy 500, was at the Briarwood Mall Firestone dealership Wednesday to discuss the importance of basic car care before Starling and about 30 other area Girl Scouts. The talk, part of a nationwide public relations tour that Fisher is doing in between races, allowed the scouts to fulfill one of their car-related projects.
    And it gave the 20-year-old Mia Hamm of auto driving the opportunity to impart the lessons of the day, which included reading the owner's manual, checking fluids regularly and  –  not unexpectedly, given her location – making sure tires are properly maintained.
    She pulled a dipstick out of a green Chevy Blazer, bent down to check the tire pressure with a gauge ("make sure the tires are cold") and stressed the importance of adhering to regular maintenance schedule. Her crew, for example, keeps a scrupulous log of when every part was last replaced in her vehicle.
    Oh, yeah. That thing.
    Once her brief car-care presentation was over, scouts and quite a few of their parents peppered Fisher with questions about her burgeoning career. As a rookie in 2000, Fisher qualified for the Indy 500 and became the youngest driver - male or female - to ever lead race laps in an Indy Racing Northern Light series event. She has finished as high as second in an Indy Racing League event.
    Have you ever crashed, asked one? "Oh yeah. When you're going backwards, it's really scary," Fisher replied, while also noting that today's open-wheel cars included plenty of safety features, including a six-point harness and a beanbag-like car interior to cushion drivers. "It's gotten to the point that if you crash, the most you get is a broken leg or arm."
    More information flowed as Fisher answered questions: Each engine lasts only about 600 miles, or about the duration of a racing weekend. She grew up in a racing family, starting in go-carts at the age of 5. She never met the late Dale Earnhardt, but has bumped into both Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte.
    She entered 13 races this year and plans to compete in 15 next year, while earning her mechanical engineering degree at Butler University. There's little time to think about anything but racing while she is on the track. And her team, Walker Racing, spends about $3-5 million a year to keep Fisher and another driver in their seats behind the steering wheel - which, incidentally, are much stiffer and harder to maneuver than ones in most passenger cars.
    As for Nicole, she was suitably impressed by the talk. Already mechanically inclined, having driven go-carts herself, the White Lake seventh-grader said Fisher is probably one of her favorite athletes - in part because of her success in the mostly male field.
    "It's really nice to have someone to look up to," she said.