When Sarah Fisher collided with Tony Kanaan at the 2008 Indianapolis 500, it appeared that all the hard work she, husband Andy O’Gara, and everyone else at Sarah Fisher Racing put in would go to waste. With original sponsors failing to supply the promised funding, they just barely made it into the field that year. Now with a destroyed chassis, their future appeared to be jeopardy.
Fortunately, Dollar General was soon signed as sponsor and partner, pumping new life into the entire organization. Their next race would come, coincidentally, at Kentucky Speedway in the Meijer Indy 300. Running 11th, a bearing failure on the final lap dropped Fisher to 15th, but they made their point. Given a little more time and a little more resources, they could make a lot of noise.
That same year, Ed Carpenter’s prowess on ovals came to the forefront. Then with Vision Racing, top fives at Homestead-Miami and Indianapolis, along with sixth place finishes at Twin Ring Motegi and Kentucky, showed just how much talent he possessed on the circle tracks. A year later, he nearly pulled off a stunning upset over Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, also at Kentucky.
Carpenter and Fisher, would join forces for 2011, with the latter stepping out of the car to solely focus on running the operation and to start a family, and the former handling the driving duties. A solid month at Indianapolis, the highlight of which an eighth place in qualifying, proved that they could contend. They just needed to catch the right breaks.
On Sunday, everything finally came together. An obviously fast car had the speed to run up front all day, and it did, scarcely running outside the top five. And, Carpenter applied a lesson he learned back in 2009.
His duel with Briscoe that year evidenced that the outside lane was the preferred spot in a run to the checkered flag. In battling with Dario Franchitti, Carpenter used that outside line to perfection, consistently nosing in front of Franchitti at the start/finish line every lap and doing so once more when it counted.
A popular victory, the crowd gave Carpenter, Fisher, and the entire team a roaring ovation afterward. “It felt way better than I ever thought it was going to feel,” said an elated Carpenter. “Dario raced me hard and clean. I knew we had the better car but in the second or third step. It was weird race because my visor was falling off in one of the steps and we had all sorts of stuff going on, the team made changes all day to the car…just an awesome day for the Dollar General, Angie's List, Fuzzy's Vodka and everyone involved.”
What’s more, Carpenter had to drive a portion of the race with one hand. A problem with his visor meant he had to hold it down with his left hand for a several laps and only steer the car with his right hand. “I wasn't going to let a visor coming off stop me from winning the race,” he said of the ordeal. “I drove 15 or 20 laps with one hand holding on to my helmet until a pit stop, so just so proud to be a part of this team and this organization. Andy, Sarah, and I can't thank my wife enough for supporting me all these years to get to this point, it's taken a long time to get our first win, but that's fine with me.”
Fisher was beside herself in victory lane, today being her first victory in any capacity since she came to INDYCAR back in 1999. “Just to see Ed drive his tail off is just so amazing,” said an emotional Fisher. “We figured out that next year, Dollar General is not coming back, so maybe they'll change their mind now. But, you know certainly it was just a great weekend. The guys all worked their tail off, I haven't been to the shop in three weeks. My baby girl is obviously good luck…I'm just so happy to be here.”
Not only is this a victory for them, but it is also a victory for USAC. Right or wrong, it has long been assumed that USAC racers, who anchored IndyCar racing for decades, aren’t qualified enough to race in the IndyCar of today. The belief is that an abundance of road and street courses puts them at a disadvantage.
However, none of that mattered on Sunday and nary a criticism will be heard. In easily one of the best feel-good stories in years, Carpenter and Fisher get a well-deserved moment in the sun.