Sarah Fisher begins new chapter with indoor karting facility

Sarah Fisher (center, holding green flag) hosts a group of IndyCar drivers at the opening of Speedway Indoor Karting. Courtesy John Oreovicz

SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Life has changed quickly and sometimes unexpectedly for Sarah Fisher.

A decade ago, she was still a full-time driver, in the latter stages of an IndyCar Series career that produced a pair of podium finishes. Five years ago, she was an IndyCar team owner, grooming young American driver Josef Newgarden for stardom. Along the way came a daughter and a son with husband Andy O'Gara.

Now she's moved on to something almost completely different. This week, Fisher and O'Gara opened Speedway Indoor Karting, a state-of-the-art 62,000-square-foot facility on Main Street of the Town of Speedway, within sight and sound of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

SIK includes a unique 13-turn road course that unfolds over two levels and what is believed to be the only banked indoor oval for karts. The facility also includes the 1911 Grill, a full-service restaurant that nicely complements a growing assortment of options for food and beverage in Speedway, which after decades of being known as an Indianapolis backwater is developing into one of the city's trendiest areas.

SIK fits right into the neighborhood's racing theme, and it's not Fisher's first investment in Speedway. While operating Sarah Fisher Racing, later in partnership with oilman Wink Hartman, Fisher built a beautiful IndyCar race shop three blocks north on Main Street that now houses Ed Carpenter Racing.

Having made her mark in the IndyCar Series as a driver and team owner, her new business transitions Fisher into now playing an important role in the local community.

"It's been fast, going from a driver to an owner working with Josef," Fisher reflected this week while watching Newgarden and a handful of other IndyCar Series drivers turn laps at SIK's grand opening. "That was a lot of fun, developing him and giving him a good team to work with. But starting this business is a whole different type of thing.

"It's been incredible, just watching people peeking through the window as we've been finishing things up," she added. "The overall reception has been awesome and we're very lucky to have that."

The reception hasn't been perfect. Last week, as the facility was nearing completion, an intruder made off with several thousand dollars worth of computer equipment. But Fisher tweeted a picture of the suspect captured by security cameras, and the man was apprehended within a few days. That's typical of the small-town vibe that is prevalent in Speedway, an Indianapolis suburb that features its own police and fire departments and school district. It's another reason that Fisher and her family-oriented business are a perfect fit.

O'Gara was a crewman and later crew chief when Fisher drove for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the IndyCar Series, and his family operates a popular Irish pub on the south side of Indianapolis in Beech Grove.

"It's been a really big team effort and we've had a few guys from our old racing team join us here, including a damper engineer who helped us set up the oval," she said. "To see it come to fruition is really rewarding from the whole team side of it. It's a very family oriented business, and I think that's a personal touch that differentiated us in the IndyCar world."

In part thanks to the talented Newgarden, Fisher's close-knit IndyCar team, which later merged with Ed Carpenter Racing, emerged as a giant killer. Newgarden scored the first two IndyCar wins of his career in 2015 for the blended team.

Newgarden was among half a dozen IndyCar drivers, including four-time series champion Scott Dixon, who attended the grand opening to support Fisher in her new venture.

"Sarah's the best, and I hope they have great success here," Newgarden said. "She was very instrumental in my career and I might not be a professional driver now if not for Sarah. She was always a person that stuck up for me and made sure that I had an opportunity and continued to get that opportunity. Without people like that, you might not make it in this career. So she's been very influential.

"This is so cool and I'm so happy that they built a first-class facility here," he continued. "It's in a great location. This is obviously a very emerging part of town here in Speedway and there's a lot of excitement on the streets. I'll probably be down here doing laps more often than I should."

Almost in the shadow of IMS and with the Dallara IndyCar Factory just a couple blocks up the street, SIK offers racing fans even more reason to spend time in Speedway.

"They're nice karts," Fisher said. "They're fun, they're safe. We've been making improvements on the oval since day one and there's still room for improvement because we're the first ones who have done a track like this."

Newgarden, now 25, certainly wishes there had been such a place when he was breaking into the sport 13 years ago. With the help of his father, he bought his own kart and they transported it five hours from their home in Nashville to New Castle Motorsports Park, an outdoor kart track near New Castle, Indiana, that was build by former Indy car racer Mark Dismore.

"I think this is becoming more common now, these indoor places where you can do league racing," Newgarden observed. "So I think this place is awesome for anyone who wants to experience the sport and get involved in a more cost-effective way."