SPARTA, Ky., Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Sarah Fisher became the first woman to win a pole in Indy car competition Saturday, taking the top spot for the IRL Belterra Casino Indy 300.
Fisher has become a factor on the open-wheel circuit, nearly winning the Michigan Indy 400. On Saturday, she won the pole when she lapped the 1 1/2-mile Kentucky Speedway at 221.830 miles per hour in a G Force/Infiniti.
That knocked fellow Infiniti driver Billy Boat off the pole after the driver from Phoenix ran a lap at 221.364 mph. It also gave her the track record as she eclipsed Scott Goodyear's previous mark of 219.191 mph set in 2000.
Fisher, a 21-year-old resident of Columbus, Ohio, would prefer that her gender not be an issue. However, she does realize that a woman in racing often is judged by a different standard than the rest of the field.
"A woman has to do a job twice as good as a man to be considered half as good," Fisher said. "Everybody sees everything that I've done. Being a woman in racing is nothing that I've ever looked at seriously. I've always been a driver.
"My dad and my mom are the only ones who have heard people say, `Why did you put her in a race car? She's a girl. She should be playing volleyball.' But they believed in me.
"To be able to be just a driver and be judged on ability is all that matters to me."
As the sun began to settle over the rolling bluegrass hills of northern Kentucky, Fisher drove off into the sunset with a track record lap.
"I got beat by a girl by the least," Boat said with a wink. "But I know what Sarah is going through. The first pole you win is the most memorable because you work so hard to get there. Sarah and I have both experienced the feeling that the front row can feel so far away. Sarah has come right there with us, so I think it makes it even that much more special.
"You appreciate what it takes and the hard work it takes to get there, even more after you've struggled for a little while."
What Fisher and Boat would prefer to focus on is the re-emergence of drivers with grass-roots racing backgrounds that came up through the United States Auto Club (USAC) midget, sprint and Silver Crown ranks. Both drivers have extensive experience on short tracks in open-wheel race cars.
This has been a year where the IRL has had more of a Brazilian influence, especially with the addition of Marlboro Team Penske and drivers Helio Castroneves and points leader Gil de Ferran.
"It shows that drivers from a sprint car and midget background, with the proper equipment, those drivers can run up front," Boat said. "It's encouraging for them that those drivers see it can be done and don't get disillusioned.
"I've talked to a lot of guys who think it is very hard to do this without a lot of money and hopefully, by starting up front, drives with that type of background can see it can be done."
The two Americans are in front of an all-Brazilian second row that includes Sao Paulo natives Felipe Giaffone (220.430 mph in a G Force/Chevrolet) and Castroneves (220.387 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet).
Defending IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top five with a lap at 220.341 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
This is the only track that Fisher has tested on prior to a race this season. She raced at Nazareth and Indianapolis for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing but sat out IRL races at Texas and Colorado Springs in June before a full-time deal was put together with the team beginning at Richmond.
Two weeks ago at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, Fisher held the lead with 11 laps remaining before she was shuffled back in a mad, 12-car scramble that may have been the best 30 laps in American racing history.
Although she was in the front with few laps remaining, she finished eighth. Nevertheless, she served notice she is ready to win.
"I'm ready to go," Fisher said. "I've never been as excited to race, come to the race track and get in the car. I'm here an hour before everybody, right with the crew. It's amazing how much fun you have when everything goes right.
"To go through the good and the bad really helps you appreciate how good it feels when everything is right."
Al Unser Jr., who is back in a car for the first time since he was released from an alcohol treatment center in Connecticut, qualified 14th after running a lap at 218.328 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Kelley Racing.
"I feel great, it feels wonderful to be at the track again," Unser said. "It's like riding a bike."