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Monday, January 24, 2011
Mario Andretti, Sarah Fisher reflect

By Sarah Fisher and Mario Andretti
Special to ESPN.com

Mario and Sarah
Mario Andretti and Sarah Fisher said they will never forget their goodwill tour.

Sarah Fisher and Mario Andretti were among the participants on the Indy 500 Centennial Tour -- on a 10-day goodwill trip to Europe and the Middle East with the goal of boosting the morale of more than 10,000 servicemen and women. The team also included fellow Indianapolis 500 winners Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr., plus Indy 500 veterans Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt and Firestone Indy Lights race winner Martin Plowman.

Sarah's diary: They told me at the beginning, that I would be sad to go home even though I would miss my spouse, family and friends. They were right. The past 10 days have been the most incredible experience I have been a part of. To say the least, I will be forever grateful for our military and their dedication to keeping us safe. Three troops were in the hallway at the airport as I was making my way to the Indianapolis gate, and I couldn't help notice the difference in my gratefulness toward them just seeing them on their way. Yes, this trip has changed my life.

Mario Andretti said during the whole tour that being in the military was the noblest profession. I couldn't agree more.

The impact of being a part of the Indianapolis 500 Centennial Tour in the Middle East, has made a massive difference in the respect and thankfulness for the men and women who serve on behalf of our country. You really think you get it, know what lies ahead for them, but when you see it up close and personal it delivers a new dimension of understanding.

I have been asked to identify my most favorite memory from the trip, and after thinking intensively about what that would be; I am left with a much broader perspective. The memory I have is landing in Balad, my heart racing, not knowing what it was going to be like as we donned our body armor and helmet. What was it going to look like when they lowered the rear door on the C130. Everyone on the tour was quiet. Surely I am not the only one who was a bit nervous. Knowing that we were going to be in pretty good hands, and still having my heart race, what do our troops feel like? It has to be a level of apprehension beyond the starting grid of the Indy 500. Every hand I shook this week, had shaken all on its own at some point during their own tour. The Indy 500 can be scary, intimidating, but not compared to the environment our soldiers voluntarily commit themselves to. Another big impression I have taken away is how youthful our service men and women are. This one female pilot of an F14, was in her early 20s. … New career choice for me? At 30, I would be the senior by many! She was only one of many females that are serving. Another pilot of the Mississippi C17, was on duty to take our wounded out of Iraq and on to home.

From seeing our wounded to those just deployed, each had a very important role within our experience. I can't wait to talk further to Captain Carol, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron Nine. Being in her position as the leader of the destroyers protecting the USS Abraham Lincoln carries a lot more responsibility than I will ever see. Meeting her was empowering.

The confidence in their teams was also another wide spread perspective. At 230 mph, I trust whole heartedly that my teammates will have my car 100 percent. The same applies to each soldier standing side by side in their mission. Learning about the F16 crew and what it takes to run that squadron in Balad, I was introduced to one of their "crew chiefs." His duties resembled our own crew chief identically. Although his name was on the aircraft, maybe we can make room on ours somewhere from here on out … Seeing the Joint Base of Balad, brought home the reality and seriousness of their surroundings.

I even met a soldier from Columbus whose interest in racing introduced him to my Uncle Charlie and the engine building techniques he was learning at school. A little bit of home was all he needed to have a great day.The heart and soul our American soldiers have towards the mission they have, will continue to be inspiring as I look at the coins given to me by various members of the squadrons and teams we visited. The hope and faith they carry are powerful weapons within themselves.

I was overwhelmed by the youth and the confidence they have in one another to get the job done. Its one thing to trust my team to tighten the wheel, but a whole different concept when at war. Standing side by side and knowing you can trust your neighbor with your life, we will never know the real nerves they carry.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank our airmen, soldiers, for taking the vow to protect our country, to protect our freedom and give me the hope that knows they will come home safe.


Mario's diary: I was asked by emcee Jack Arute during one of our question and answer presentations to the troops on this tour how I came from growing up in Italy dreaming of being a race driver and moving to the United States to winning the Indianapolis 500.

Perseverance. Plain and simple. And that's what we attempted to get across to the men and women we met on the tour to Germany, Bahrain, Iraq, Turkey, England and on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

The tour has been everything I had hoped for and more. Without exaggeration, every day was very special. Everywhere that we went we felt warmth, sincere hospitality and that our time was valued.

I've heard it said that people will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget the way you make them feel. I hope we on this tour made soldiers feel good about themselves, their work and that people back home haven't forgotten about them. Everybody seemed to get something positive out of it, and you can't hope for anything more.

I expected the men and women we met to be more down, that the morale wasn't going to be what it is. In Iraq, I thought it was good and that impressed me the most. Along the way, I detected -- in general -- that they really wanted to be there, and I thought that was important.

I always say how lucky I've been throughout my career. I've lived the American dream, and I have to credit the men and women who have fought for our freedom because I wouldn't have been able to do any of it if I wasn't free. Clearly, it has been a privilege to make this tour and cover so much ground in a short period of time. Every day was special. Every day I looked back and said it was a good day. Everything that we might have expected happened but even more. We got so many thank yous but it's just the opposite. We are the ones who have to say thank you. I think finally the military is appreciated by all of America, and rightfully so. I say it all the time and it's true that the military is the most noble of professions.

This entire experience has been extremely rewarding for me and I'm sure I speak for the others. Some of the things we have experienced you have to see to believe, and everybody has been so generous with their time.

There is so much of a parallel between the military and competing in the Indy 500. It's all about trying to be excellent and be right at the edge of the envelope all the time. Motor racing is such a team sport and so is the military. You have to work together and have that passion to get the desired results. When I have talked to the pilots, they say they wouldn't want to do anything else. It's the same way with a race car driver.

Personally, I feel that I haven't worked a day in my life because I always looked forward to getting back in that race car. Mechanics and support crews for planes feel that same thing in their own right because they're all racers. They all want to get it right. We win or lose together, but we fight to win.

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