Friday, December 13, 2002
Racing's not just a weekend job
By Sarah Fisher
Special to ABC Sports Online
Although our IRL race weekends consist of two or three days, there is a lot more to it than just those on-track days. My work week definitely isn't your "typical" one. Here's what went on this past week leading up to our weekend in Nashville at the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway.
On Sunday evening, we flew to Chicago to get ready for two days with the Raybestos folks. Raybestos is a subsidiary of DANA Corporation and is one of my personal sponsors. Monday was my first visit to the headquarters in McHenry, Ill., and I got the opportunity to sit in on the quarterly company meeting and learned a lot about their goals in the coming months and years. I met with Larry Pavey, president of the Raybestos division, Tom O'Brien, VP of marketing, Larry Hoofnagle, director of marketing communications, and a lot of other really nice people. I'm really looking forward to growing the relationship between myself and Raybestos in the next few years, and helping them sell a lot of brakes.
We spent Tuesday doing a photo shoot for Raybestos that will be used in print advertising and to make stand-up cutouts for auto part stores. Maximum Marketing Services is the agency who put this together and they did a fantastic job of making sure everything went smoothly. My favorite part of the shoot was the photographer's dog, who was named Cheyenne. She was a very friendly, big dog and reminded me of my dog Albie -- she got a lot of extra attention that day.
Late Tuesday afternoon we hopped on a plane and flew to Detroit, where I attended a media luncheon for Michigan International Speedway to promote this Sunday's race (ABC, 3 p.m. ET). We had a really good turnout, and I did about 30 interviews, which is great considering that we were up against a press conference to announce the new Detroit Red Wings coach.
That evening we flew back to Indy to do laundry and re-pack and left at 7 a.m. the next morning to drive to Nashville. Our first stop was Firestone headquarters, where they were having their annual employee appreciation day. A lot of the IRL drivers came by and signed autographs and we did interviews there as well. Then I headed out to the Nashville racetrack and talked with my engineer Mark Weida and the guys about our weekend plans. Next it was back to the hotel to take a nap. I woke up in time for dinner and then chatted with the team for a while before bed.
Although it seemed like I'd put in a full week already, my actual job wouldn't start until Friday, our first day on the track. Nashville has a concrete surface, which makes it a little more slippery than your usual asphalt, and I really didn't like this track last year. However, a good car can swing your opinions around 180 degrees!
One of the things that made a big difference in how I felt on-track was something new we tried with my pedals. At our race in Kansas City my brain was saying I was flat, but the telemetry showed I wasn't. So Mark and Jason Lucas and I talked and the team ended up putting a false floor in the car, because my feet are a lot smaller than those of the other drivers in the series and are too small to reach the top of the pedal. So now the ball of my foot is higher on the pedal and in the same position as that of the other drivers. It made such a difference in the throttle of the car and you can get on the gas earlier. I can drive it harder since I can feel what my feet are doing.
So, with that change and a good solid car under me, we were able to qualify for the race in seventh place. We were the 10th car out to qualify and the track temperature was still quite hot at that time of the day (around 5:45 p.m). I think we would have ended up in the top three in the field if I'd drawn a later qualifying position, but we were happy enough to start seventh, my best start of the season.
On Race Day, we had a pretty good final practice session and when the green flag dropped at the start of the race, I was able to race with the rest of the field. The car was very comfortable and I was able to run good, consistent race laps right behind my teammate Robbie Buhl. All was going well up until Lap 18, when the car suddenly lost power. I radioed back to the pits and they told me to try and make it back in, which I was able to do. We shut the car down and they tried to figure out what was wrong with the car. One of the guys noticed fire coming out of the back and they took the engine cover off and it turned out we had dropped a valve, so our day was done. Ironically, Robbie's car caught on fire just two laps later, so it was a disappointing weekend for our Dreyer & Reinbold team.
But that's racing -- we feel we are making strides together quickly as a team and I'm looking forward to running at Michigan. I'll talk to you then, but in the meantime, I'm taking a couple of days off!
Car: No. 23|
Team: Allegra/Dreyer and Reinbold
Hometown: Commercial Point, Ohio
IRL starts: 27
Best finish: 2nd (Homestead, 4/8/01)