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Fisher enjoying her double duty

IndyCar’s only female owner-driver has learned to balance hectic schedule.

Sarah Fisher smiles after after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis.

AP photo

NEW YORK — Sarah Fisher doesn’t sound all that excited about setting the record for most Indianapolis 500 starts by a female driver.

“I’m proud of that, don’t get me wrong,” she said earlier this week while promoting the race with other drivers in New York. “I think that’s really cool.”

But then it’s right back to talking about her team. Fisher is smashing boundaries in a much bigger way than just getting behind the wheel for the eighth time at the Brickyard.

She’s the only female owner-driver in the IndyCar Series — and that job title means she has to think like an owner who happens to drive, not the other way around.

Every decision has to be based on what’s best for Sarah Fisher Racing rather than what’s best for Sarah Fisher, the racer.

“Man, I respect anyone who owns their own team,” Danica Patrick said Thursday in Indianapolis. “When we were up in New York this week, she was talking about her per diem. I was like, ‘Man, you have to think about that?’ I can’t even fathom that. But you have to when you own the team.”

Fisher formed the team with her husband and crew chief, Andy O’Gara, last year. It turned out to be a rough time to start a small business. Her primary sponsor, a sports drink, pulled out of the deal just before the 2008 Indianapolis 500.

Dollar General stepped in last summer, and as the recession forces shoppers to value every penny, it’s proved to be an attractive sponsor. Fisher is running an abbreviated schedule of six events this year; she hopes to race all the ovals in 2010.

In this tough economy, in this tough sport, success is measured by moving forward — no matter how incrementally. Hire a new employee? Add another race? Those are major victories.

Fisher is only 28, but when she talks about her future, she sounds like someone much older. Or perhaps she just sounds like somebody who’s nine years removed from her first Indy 500 start.

“As you get older, your goals change,” she said. “Marrying Andy and seeing the qualities we both had together, it seemed only natural that that would be our next step. We dreamt it, we discussed, and we did it.”

Indianapolis 500 pole-winner Helio Castroneves said if he or teammate Ryan Briscoe couldn’t win Sunday, he’d like to see Fisher take the checkered flag because of the work she’s put in to build her own team.

She’s been working 14-hour days the last few months. Every decision could mean the difference between success and failure.

“Is it good? Is it bad? Regardless, it’s all ours,” Fisher said. “We’re responsible for it. That weighs a lot on your shoulders. It’s a little stressful at times. But at the end of the day, it’s more than worth it.”

Fisher’s long list of firsts includes becoming the first woman to capture an IndyCar pole when she set a track record qualifying time at Kentucky in 2002. Part of why the Indianapolis 500 record may not seem so huge is that she now has so many more precedents to set as an owner.

“It’s such a big thing to showcase for little girls growing up,” Fisher said. “It’s not so much just being the athlete but being someone who can go and take a business and grow it.”

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