IRL: Sex sells, but with luck, Fisher sails

Most Americans with a rooting interest in the Indianapolis 500 later today will be pulling for the wrong girl.

Instead of hoping that Danica Patrick wins the 500, folks should be pulling for Sarah Fisher. Not that she has any chance of winning. She doesn’t, unlike Patrick, who drives for one of the best teams in the IRL IndyCar Series and does a pretty good job of getting around the iconic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Yet Fisher is starting her eighth Indy race, more than any other woman. She has never driven for a team as good as the Andretti Green Racing squad that squeezes Patrick into and out of a firesuit, nor the Rahal-Letterman outfit that helped Patrick to a fourth-place finish in 2005 that catapulted her to stardom. For those of you who may have forgotten, Patrick finished fourth in spite of herself; she caused a couple of accidents that took out a handful of competitors.

But Fisher — who was the league’s perennial most popular driver until Patrick arrived on the scene — may be the sentimental choice among other drivers. Helio Castroneves said that if he or teammate Ryan Briscoe didn’t win the race, he was hopeful it would be Fisher. Don’t bet that he is alone.

Fisher also owns the team she drives for, which means she has far more responsibility than any other driver in the field for the 93rd running of the world’s greatest race. She is responsible for, among other things, her employees. There may not be a lot of them, but they have to eat, too.

Patrick, in a rare moment of humility, even said that she couldn’t imagine dealing with the responsibilities Fisher is carrying.

No, instead Patrick is thinking about her next marketing move, ways in which she can extend the “Danica!” brand. She is a star and she knows it. Too often, though, she acts like it.

The truly beautiful thing about Patrick, who starts 10th and is a Go Daddy Girl — and if you’ve ever seen a Super Bowl commercial you know what that means, was described by Associated Press columnist Jim Litke:  “I do the ads because I’m a driver. I’m in the magazines because I’m a driver,” she said Thursday during interview sessions at the Speedway. If looks could kill, her questioner would have been zapped on the spot. “I know what comes first.”

Patrick is wrong. She is not in the magazines because she is a driver. Patrick is in the magazines because she is a driver who will take off most of her clothes. For all the little girls who want to grow up to be like Danica, that’s got to leave an uneasy feeling in the stomach of parents.

Girls shouldn’t have to rely on batting their eyelashes and opening their blouses to get what they want out of life, and neither should racecar drivers. Patrick’s career, it seems, has been managed by a dirty old man. On one hand she wants to be a role model for girls while at the same time contribute to the immorality of boys. Pinup, anyone?

Every time Patrick appears in another “fashion magazine,” as she refers to them, she demeans the efforts of Fisher or any other female driver who follows in Patrick’s tire tracks. The way to get ahead is not by hard work, but by appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Maybe in that interview referred to by Litke, Patrick forgot that Sarah Fisher is a driver, too. One who did not sell out to get a little extra exposure in Maxim or Sports Illustrated. One who is also a car owner who has established that she is ready for adult responsibility. One who should be admired far more than she is by boys and girls, men and women alike.

If the IndyCar Series really wants a fantastic result for the benefit of the series — and a victory by a woman will do it — it will come from Fisher, who starts 21st. Wouldn’t that send E! and Sports Illustrated into a tizzy?

With any luck, Fisher’s little team will find an uncommon speed and sail to the finish.

When the green flag drops, my money is on Castroneves. But if history is made with a woman drinking milk, my heart will be with Sarah Fisher.

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