Byline: Reggie Hayes
FORT WAYNE, Ind. _ Sarah Fisher, perennially the most popular driver in the Indy Racing League, will drive for Kelley Racing in the Indianapolis 500 this May, and probably most of the season.
Fort Wayne-based owner Tom Kelley signed Fisher to a deal Wednesday that would put her in the team's second car for the Indy 500 on May 30. Long-time driver Scott Sharp remains in the team's other car.
If sponsorship can be found, Fisher would drive most of the IRL season for Kelley, although the season opener at Homestead (Fla.) on Feb. 29 has been ruled out. The team is hoping to run Fisher the rest of the season, beginning with the Phoenix race on March 21, Kelley said.
"It's a different avenue for us," Kelley said. "She's young, she's extremely popular and she's shown some pretty good driving ability at times."
Kelley said the increased strength of the IRL will make it even more difficult to win races this year, but believes Fisher, like Sharp, has the ability to do so.
"It would be a very big thing, for the first woman to win an IRL race, or any race of any significance, really,'' Kelley said. "We're excited about that. It would really be something if we could get her that first win.
"Every driver who's ever driven for me has won a race, so we'll see what happens."
Fisher confirmed with the Indianapolis Star that she is joining the Kelley team, but declined to discuss specifics.
"We're close on a lot of things, but they're not nailed down yet," Fisher told the Star. "Rather than saying we're going to be in this many races, we're just going to say I'm driving for the team."
Kelley Racing has fielded two cars for most of its existence as an IRL team. Sharp has teamed with Mark Dismore and Al Unser Jr. in the past. The team also employed the late Tony Renna for a number of races in the 2002 season and Renna drove a third car for Kelley at Indy last season. Unser drove two seasons for Kelley, but his contract expired after last season and Kelley did no re-sign him.
Fisher, 23, drove for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing last season. She has competed in 47 IRL races, with a best finish of second at Homestead in 2001. While she has always been popular with fans, holding onto a regular sponsorship deal has been a struggle.
Kelley said he hopes to land a sponsorship deal for Fisher in the next couple weeks.
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(c) 2004, The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.).