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NASCAR Fisher set to race on Saturday



Published: Fri, July 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



She's racing in the NASCAR development program in California.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

IRWINDALE, Calif. -- A trip to the Smithsonian helped Sarah Fisher negotiate a potentially life-changing deal with one of the biggest names in NASCAR.

It began two years ago when she was invited to the grand opening of the Chevrolet wing at the museum in Washington, D.C., because she had one of the automaker's engines in her Indy car.

Fisher, the IRL's representative at the event, bumped into Richard Childress, who won six Cup series championships with the late Dale Earnhardt.

Childress was there for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, too. For more than two decades, his stock-car team has been building Chevys to race at Daytona.

The conversation turned to fast cars and 500-mile races. At the time, Fisher had made history at the Brickyard. In 2000, she became the third woman to qualify for the Indy 500.

Asked about career

Just before he was about to say good-bye, Childress asked Fisher if she had ever thought about a career in NASCAR.

"I was like 'Heck yeah,' " said Fisher, 24. "He is like a god in the sport. For him to even suggest that he would want me to drive for him ... How can you hold back on that one? And after that we began talking and working on things. A lot."

That is why she will be at Irwindale Speedway Saturday night driving a Monte Carlo for Bill McAnally Racing, a powerhouse in the Grand National West Series and Richard Childress Racing's NASCAR driver development program.

In the fall, Childress asked McAnally to take Fisher out to a track and see what she could do in a stock car. McAnally set up a test at Irwindale Speedway.

As soon as she stepped on the gas, McAnally could tell he was working with a special driver.

The biggest problem they had was making her feel comfortable in the seat.

"She amazed me," McAnally said. "She was so calm and smooth."

Started in October

She made her West Series debut in October at Phoenix International Raceway and finished 21st after completing 104 of 150 laps, dropping out because of a dead battery.

Heading into Saturday's race, Fisher is in 15th place in the driver standings.

On April 30, at Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway, a quarter-mile oval, she came in 12th and finished on the lead lap for the first time in her West Series career.

"She is learning quick. This is a different animal for her," said Steve Portenga, a West Series veteran and Fisher's teammate.

"There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, making this kind of switch. But good drivers like Sarah will find a way to do it."

Tested Busch car

On Tuesday, she tested a Busch car for RCR at Gateway International Raceway, a 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Ill.

McAnally said Childress has a sponsor in place, and if he can finish grooming her by the time the West Series season ends in October, she will drive in the Busch Series next year.

"We don't want to get her up there too early, though," McAnally said. "We want to make sure she is ready."

"I have learned so, so much from Bill in the short time I have been here," Fisher said.

Fisher, who graduated from Teays Valley High in Ashville, Ohio, isn't ready to say her Indy car career is over.

But she is going to leave it parked in the garage for now so she can concentrate on moving up the ladder in NASCAR.

She had offers from a couple of teams to drive in this year's Indy 500, but she turned them down.

She said she made a promise to Childress and NASCAR president Mike Helton she wouldn't do double duty.

"Indy cars will always hold a special place in my heart. But right now, I am 100 percent focused on NASCAR," Fisher said.




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