Sarah Fisher, a former NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver and nine-time Indianapolis 500 starter, was standing at the fence of Whiteland (Indiana) Raceway Park on a recent weekday afternoon, monitoring her two children zipping around the go-kart track she owns with her husband, Andy O’Gara.
In that moment, it was indiscernible if Fisher was coaching or parenting. Then her son, 7-year-old Danny, darted past a kart driven by an adult.
“I’m a coach when they’re out there by themselves,” she said without taking her eyes off the action. “When they’re around other people, particularly if I don’t know how those people drive, I’m definitely a parent.”
Fisher notes other instances when it’s difficult to determine the role she’s playing. Zoey, her 9-year-old daughter, enjoys driving the kart with a ponytail hanging out of her helmet, but she has other interests, too, particularly math and science. Fisher can envision the combined experiences leading Zoey to one day become a race engineer.
“It’s hard to say what she’ll do (in life) because she’s only 9,” Fisher said after helping Zoey pull on her racing gloves and add padding to her seat. “She likes this, but she wants me here as a parent. We just want to make sure karts are available and that she has fun.
“Now Danny, he clearly wants to be coached. To him, (karting) is serious business.”
Danny has the look of his father’s side of the family, where Andy grew up watching his father, John, manage INDYCAR teams as one of the sport’s top mechanics. As an adult, Andy helped groom the driving career of his younger brother, Kyle, who competed in two Indy Lights races in 2013 and still races midgets, sprints and USAC Silver Crown cars. Now, Andy coaches Danny as much as Sarah does.
Danny’s birthday was in late June. His request illustrated his focus.
“Racing is all Danny talks about,” Fisher said. “For his birthday, he wanted a Pato O’Ward diecast and a new steering wheel for his simulator.
“He’s fast for a 7-year-old. Zoey gets tired, but Danny will just go until he falls out of the seat.”
The O’Garas are racers to their core. Andy can wheel a kart, too, and their combined interest led to the building of Speedway Indoor Karting on Main Street south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Fisher made her “500” debut in 2000 as the youngest woman ever to earn a starting position. They also recently opened a similar facility in Daytona Beach, Florida, behind Turn 1 of Daytona International Speedway.
Three years ago, the O’Garas purchased Whiteland Raceway Park, which was in run-down condition, far from the beauty it must have had when it opened in Johnson County in 1958. Weeds had taken over much of the property.
The O’Garas have put considerable love into the 9.5 acres, building 46 new garages, a new scoring tower with a suite for functions and solving the drainage problem that long plagued the north part of the half-mile circuit. They hope to purchase the neighboring 25-acre farmland that would offer the parking lot that is desperately needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic hurt many businesses, but Fisher said Whiteland Raceway Park flourished as an outdoor escape with rental karts available. Rain or shine, karters continue to arrive throughout these summer days to practice – there is a nearly even mix of adults and children -- and there are close to two dozen weekends when official events are held. Zoey and Danny often compete in karts No. 67 – the number their mother began with -- and they are beginning to travel to compete in regional and national events.
Fisher values her role in connecting levels of the sport, particularly in Central Indiana. The indoor karting facilities introduce people to the sport, and when they’re ready to take the next step and own a kart, Whiteland Raceway Park is right-sized for them. All 46 garages are rented, and there’s a waiting list for an opening. Some karters will then go farther by investing in faster, larger karting facility such as New Castle (Indiana) Motorsports Park, owned by former INDYCAR driver Mark Dismore.
Fisher is proud that it’s not just drivers who hone their craft at these tracks, but mechanical skills are developed, too. She considers it some of the earliest, most important steps in the motorsports ladder.
That Fisher can serve as the celebrity face of the facilities is beneficial. After all, she remains one of only two women to have won an INDYCAR pole – Danica Patrick is the other – and her seven-year ownership of an INDYCAR team gave Josef Newgarden his first ride in the series in 2012. Fisher continues to stay involved in INDYCAR by driving the official pace car at selected events, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“Andy and I really had the most fun in go-karting,” Fisher said. “If we still didn’t enjoy it, we wouldn’t be here at 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.”
Fisher competed in 83 INDYCAR events over 11 seasons, finishing as high as second in a 2001 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Walker Motorsports. She won a pole for the 2002 race at Kentucky Speedway for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Andy O’Gara, a veteran INDYCAR mechanic, has led JR Hildebrand’s “500” program the past three years.