Monday, May 29, 2000

Women take each other out of 500

No love lost between Fisher, St. James

AP Sports Writer

Lyn St. James hits the wall as Sarah Fisher drives past.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        INDIANAPOLIS — There wasn't enough room for two women at Indy. Sarah Fisher and Lyn St. James, who gave the Indianapolis 500 its first two-woman field, wound up squeezing each other out of the race Sunday when they collided on lap 74.

        “With so much focus on the two women in the field, the last thing we needed was for that to happen,” said St. James, 53, who was racing at Indy for the seventh time. “Why in the heck did this have to happen?”

        Fisher, a 19-year-old rookie, struggled with mechanical problems but was driving a solid race when she came up to pass St. James in the first turn. Jaques Lazier slipped inside to make it three-wide going into the turn, a dangerous situation that proved unmanageble for the others.

        Fisher stuck a wheel in front of St. James, but the older driver clipped the teen-ager in the side. St. James slid into the concrete wall, while Fisher lost control of her car as well, skimming the wall in the short chute between the first and second turns.

        “It wasn't my fault,” Fisher said. “I was stuck in the middle. I was a sitting duck in this case. It's very disappointing.”

        She screamed into her radio, “I'll kill that son of a gun,” according to car owner Derrick Walker, who blamed Lazier — not St. James — for creating a hazardous situation.

        “Lyn was real, real slow,” Walker said. “It was like she had a boat anchor on her car. Sarah was closing so fast, she had to pass. ... Mr. Lazier made two-wide into three-wide going into the corner. There was no room for Sarah and she got squeezed by Lyn.”

        St. James, who was running two laps behind Fisher, implied that Fisher got a little too aggressive going into the corner.

        “I'm not going to say she made a mistake,” St. James said. “She put her car at risk. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's not a move I would have made.”

        Despite teaming up to make Indy history, it was clear the two women were not close.

        They had not talked since Fisher attended St. James' driving school four years ago. Fisher said she didn't learn much at the school and boasted that she would bring a new attitude to female drivers at the Brickyard, hinting that St. James and Janet Guthrie were merely satisfied to qualify and didn't race to win.

        Guthrie was the first woman to qualify for the 500, finishing no better than ninth from 1977-79. St. James, who qualified for the first time in 1992, has never placed higher than 11th.

        Fisher wound up 31st in the 33-car field, one spot ahead of St. James.

        “To me, this is such a positive to have two women in the field,” St. James said. “To have us involved in an incident like this just opens the door for all kinds of statements and criticism.”

        Still, Fisher made quite an impact in her Indy debut, drawing large crowds wherever she went. When she emerged from her garage, fans on a nearby balcony erupted in cheers.

        “We love you, Sarah!” one person screamed, enticing a weak smile and wave. “Good luck, Sarah!” another yelled.

        Two-time Indy winner Al Unser Jr. started just ahead of Fisher and wound up dueling a few times with her.

        “I thought Sarah did a great job around me,” Unser said. “She raced me hard and it was great fun running with her.”

        Fisher struggled with an engine problem that prevented her from reaching top speed, and her car kept stalling when she came to the pits. Her main goal was to finish her first 500-mile race.

        “She was really doing everything she needed to do,” Walker said. “She showed she was capable of running here and proved that she belonged. With a little more experience, she'll be knocking down the doors on this place.”

        Neither Fisher nor Walker found it ironic that the two women took out each other.

        “We're both just race car drivers,” Fisher said.

        St. James, who has fought to create more opportunities for women drivers, looked at the situation from a larger perspective.

        “It should be a positive,” she said. “We have two women in the race and more on the way. I hate to have something like this happen.”


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