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Fisher Diary: Racing in California
By Sarah Fisher
Special to ABC Sports Online

Throughout the IRL season, Sarah Fisher will write a diary for ABC Sports Online. Fisher has not found a sponsor yet, and is writing about her experiences off the track.

My Phoenix race weekend started out with training at Willow Springs Raceway in California. I was privileged to be invited to be a celebrity for the 2002 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Long Beach Grand Prix Charity race on April 13. Since I'm not yet racing in the IRL, I went to Willow Springs for two days for the training sessions that all the pros and celebrities take to learn about the Toyota Celica cars that will be used in the race.

The Fast Track driving school was taught by Dan McKeever, and the sessions were broken up into learning to drive the tricked-out Toyota Celicas on the approximately two-mile road course and then driving side-by-side to prepare everyone for their encounters during the race.

McKeever was in charge of the school, but he had three other instructors helping him out -- Cindy Lux, Danny McKeever and Bill were very helpful to everyone and made the atmosphere enjoyable. The information the celebrities needed to learn would be overwhelming otherwise, but the way it was presented made it seem simple and easy. Communication is extremely important in racing, which Toyota recognizes as it has some of the best teachers for this marquee event.

Dara Torres
Dara Torres will be racing side-by-side Sarah on April 13.
All of the celebrities who attended the school during my training days were very nice. There wasn't one person that didn't have pure intentions or considerate courtesy within the group. But, as always, there were a few people that bonded together during the weekend. Of them, I bonded most with Dara Torres (nine-time Olympic swimming medallist), Tom Rudnai (2001 winner and a Toyota dealer in L.A.) and Jacob Young (Lucky Spencer from General Hospital).

It was surprising that some of these people were already gearheads. For example, Jacob had raced motocross for nearly all of his high school life and was very eager to participate in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Patrick Stewart (Captain Pickard from Star Trek) was also a participant in the training and was really excited about the opportunity. I was really excited and awed that he knew who I was and kept complimenting my abilities throughout the weekend. My mom, who is a trekkie at heart, was even more excited when I phoned her to tell her of my new friend.

The Toyota Celica cars were a lot lighter then what I had thought they would be. For front-wheel drive cars, they handled quite nimbly around the tightest of turns. The acceleration and power comes more towards the top end of the rpm band. They were a lot of fun to drive and I walked away with a huge smile on my face. I'm really looking forward to the race.

We headed out to the Phoenix IRL race on Saturday. We originally planned to be at the track by 1 p.m., but a snafu at the Phoenix airport delayed us. As we were about to land at Sky Harbor Airport, we were diverted to Tucson for two hours, and didn't get back to the Phoenix Airport until 3:30 p.m. So, unfortunately, we were unable to watch the final midget race -- the series I came from.

On Sunday, we got to the track early enough for the final Silver Crown and IRL practices. Thanks to Fry's Supermarkets, we were able to watch the races from the Turn One suites. From there, you could see the entire track. My dad was there and I got to hang out with him the entire day, which was great because with my job, I rarely get to see him. We talked a lot about what we are both going through and helped each other to see a light at the end of our current tunnel.

The Silver Crown race was great to watch. There was racing going all throughout the pack. Most notable was Kasey Kahne coming from the tail until he stopped during a red flag and was considerably loose for the remainder of the race.

Once again, we had awesome seats for the IRL race. The start went really well and I began to miss my place in the field. Instantly, I reached for my phone to make some calls and everyone laughed at my reaction! I can't help wanting so badly to be in a car.

All was well until the middle of the race when Felipe Giaffone and Shigi touched going into Turn One. From there it seemed like clean running turned dirty. All in all, it was an entertaining race with Sam Hornish Jr. making many attempts at the Penske cars. They were doing an awesome job even though they were without first gear during most of the race.

However, it was a shame that Tyce Carlson wasn't in the race. He crashed earlier in the weekend and decided to retire. He is one of the nicest guys in the sport (his nickname is "Tyce is Nice"). The previous week at Homestead, I had given him grief about not asking me to spot for him since I wasn't running at the time. During 2001, there was an ongoing tease that he was going to spot for me when he was out of the seat last year. Tyce was a great guy to run against and we will sorely miss him in the IRL.

Next up is the IRL race at Fontana this Sunday (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET). Even though I will not be in a car yet, I will be there. See you then.

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