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NEW YORK — Women and cars. Fast women. Blondes behind the wheel…She’s probably heard every joke in the book. But as the only female racer in the American Indy Racing League, Sarah Fisher takes her driving seriously. She jumped into the driver’s seat as a precocious five-year-old, and now, at 22, she’s competing in the IRL for the third year, representing Tag Heuer for the first time come March, whipping around the track at speeds up to 232 miles per hour.

Though racer Eddie Cheever likes to pull her ponytail, Fisher says all the guys at the track behave professionally toward her. “They respect me,” she says, adjusting the fur collar of her Christian Dior coat during a photo shoot. “If I couldn’t race competitively with them then that would be a different story.”

This story first appeared in the December 3, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And the thrill of competition is what keeps her coming back for more. “I was leading the first eighth of the race at the Kentucky 300,” she says, “and it was boring. When you’re coming from the back of the pack to reach first, it’s a great feeling.”

Of course, the part of the job Fisher likes least is losing, that and not being able to go to school. “I’ve tried to go to classes for the past three years, but I’m never at home,” says Fisher, who travels from track to track for eleven months of the year. “Going back to school is the one thing I’d like to do besides winning the Indy 500.” One day, Fisher plans to study mechanical engineering, since a fear of blood rules out medicine.

She’s sure to be the most popular engineer in town. Fisher has had a glimpse of what living conventionally in Indianapolis might be like — her 21-year-old boyfriend is a student and an amateur motocross racer — but these days, Fisher’s life there is anything but ordinary. She’s a hometown hero, recognized everywhere she goes. Well, almost everywhere. Fisher takes full advantage of those times she isn’t recognized, telling clueless types she does everything but race for a living. “I lie,” she says. “I tell them I’m in marketing, which is still kind of true, or, when I’m with my manager, we say we own a laundry and tanning business.”

But while Fisher is embarking on her first season racing for the luxury brand Tag Heuer, there is still another sponsor who could make her life at the track a little easier. For good luck, before each race, she paints her toenails a different color. “Orange was good last season. Red sucked,” she says. “I haven’t repeated a color yet, but there are 16 races each season, so I’m getting kind of limited.”

Calling all cosmetic companies — no one can test drive a nail polish like Fisher can.

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