Fishing for a feud

Let's say you get a job making widgets.

And let's say that, when it comes to widget making, for five years you do well enough to gain plenty of respect in your field. You get a little bit of attention and a little bit of money and then you decide to leave and try doing something else.

Then, once you leave, along comes another widget maker. They aren't necessarily much better of a widget maker than you were, though they do get superior equipment.

But they have one thing on you. Straight up, they are better looking. They are smoother, more charismatic. It's not that you are all that bad looking or socially awkward, but you just don't draw the same amount of attention no matter what you do.

As a result, they become rich, fabulously rich. They become famous, fabulously famous. They get all sorts of attention and side jobs and magazine covers and everyone goes crazy, not because they make widgets any better than you made them first, but because they look better doing it. And, if you can believe it, in the process of not doing all that much better than you but getting better rewarded for it, they actually take some shots at you.

And so now, after seeing all of this, you decide to return to widget making. And now you will face off with that good-looking widget maker who somehow stole all your thunder. Now you will get a shot to compete straight-up in a widget-making contest, where looks and personality won't matter.

Do you think you'd want to win that contest? Do you think you'd want to kick their pretty little self all over the place?

There is no reason to believe Sarah Fisher is lying when she says she feels no extra motivation to beat Danica Patrick by 299 miles in Sunday's 300-mile Indy Racing League race at Kentucky Speedway. No reason except widgets, human nature and guest appearances on "The View."

Sarah Fisher was Danica Patrick before anyone knew Danica Patrick could make a fire suit look so good.

Sarah Fisher was the girl racer roaring around Indianapolis, gaining pole positions and trailblazing through a male-dominated culture (a path first blazed by Louise Smith back in 1940s).

From 1999 to 2004 Sarah Fisher was a significant player on the IRL circuit. She may never have won a race, but she had multiple podiums (which Patrick has never accomplished), including a second-place run at Homestead in 2001 – still the best IRL finish ever for a woman. While Patrick overall has consistently put up better numbers than Fisher since joining the IRL and arguably has enjoyed more success, Fisher was the first woman to win a pole and the first to become the most popular driver on the circuit – beloved mostly by young girls.

But Sarah Fisher never got fabulously rich. Sarah Fisher never got fabulously famous.

Sarah Fisher


Fisher signing autographs. (AP)

Danica Patrick did.

Patrick, who came along in 2005, became popular with young girls and young men. Old men, too, for that matter. Her dramatic fourth-place finish in that year's Indianapolis 500 (a better result than Fisher had in five trips to the Brickyard) catapulted her and the IRL to unprecedented popularity.

But it wasn't because she was a better driver than Fisher ever was. It was just that she raced around with a prettier smile.

Everyone knows looks shouldn't matter. But everyone also knows sex sells and auto racing is a business, and Patrick doesn't have to apologize for the fact that with a flip of her hair (or an FHM page) she spun the heads of a million men.

"If she wants to do that, that's cool," Fisher said back in 2005. "That's not me. That's her."

That is Danica, who desperately wants to finally win a race, but isn't above using what she's got to help herself and her sport.

"Being somewhat attractive and [creating] publicity is very useful for everyone, whether it is the series or sponsors or just myself," Patrick said.

Said Fisher in 2005: "Now [the IRL is] going for a bit different demographic. They're trying to be sexy – 'we're fun, we're cool, hang with us.' I was more of a wholesome demographic, kids and moms. The Girl Scouts were part of my program."

Fisher, 25, certainly has her share of male admirers. But she could never deliver fans the way Patrick can. She has never been able to look as comfortable on a red carpet as pit road. When Fisher was unable to lift the IRL to new heights, she took a chance at NASCAR, spending the last year or two in what essentially is a regional minor league.

Patrick, meanwhile, never seemed too impressed with Fisher. Even before Patrick arrived in the IRL, she took a shot at Fisher's supposed lack of production on the track (ironic in hindsight), claiming it may have limited opportunities for other female drivers.

"[Fisher has] done some good things," Patrick said in 2004. "But then there are some bad things. Like, she struggles, I think, with the racing part of it."

When Fisher heard that in 2004, she blew up and threw out a heated challenge.

"I'd like her to get in that [expletive] car and see what she can do," Fisher said.

But that was 2004, when Patrick, just 21, had yet to make the jump to the IRL. By the next year, when she was a rookie, Fisher was gone to stock cars.

Now Fisher has returned to the league that took off in her absence because of the female racer who wasn't better than her, just better looking. For that to not impact emotionally would cut against the grain of widgets and human nature.

"No, there's no sting," Fisher said Wednesday. "To me on [the] track, [Danica will] be just another car."

In the name of "Laguna Beach," the Lifetime Network and Aaron Spelling, there is just no way that's true. No way.

The IRL would love a rivalry to break out. Love it, covet it, love it some more. Who can't pick a side on this one? This is the prom queen stealing the class nerd's boyfriend. This is the promotion going to the superior glad-hander, not worker. This is the opportunistic one beating the naïve one in straight, unapologetic Darwinism.

Some people will side with Patrick, others with Fisher.

It's got primetime soap opera written all over it. That's how NASCAR got big – rivalries and grudge matches. The IRL could go one better – this time with hard-nosed, ultra-competitive women.

Danica Patrick


Patrick at the ESPYs.
(Getty Images)

So far, everyone is taking the high road, saying the other one is "great." But then again, it's not like they are getting together for tea, or sharing late-night phone calls, or pairing up to take on the boys.

Patrick certainly isn't going out of her way to gush about Fisher, or learn about Fisher, or thank Fisher for in some ways helping to make it possible for her to walk right and get on a great team like Rahal-Letterman.

On Wednesday, Patrick was asked if she had any "impressions of Fisher."

"I'm not going to lie," she said. "Not a lot. I remember her from go-karting. I remember her from IndyCars somewhat. I think that times changed, drivers changed, things evolve. It's probably difficult, even if I did know, to compare everything because it's always changing and evolving.

"You know, I know that she did well at times, and that's great."

That isn't exactly the warmest, Oprah-like answer. Fisher isn't doing much better.

"I don't know Danica personally," Fisher said. "I'm not a part of her, I'm my own individual. She's her own individual."

Can it get cold in August? Just wait until they are side-by-side through Turn 4.

On Sunday, the first widget maker gets a crack at the prettier, wealthier, more famous second widget maker, the one that took her act – only with long hair and big smile – and went big-time.

On Sunday, Fisher finally gets to see what Patrick can do in that (expletive) car.

Patrick will have the far superior machine, neither one will probably come close to winning the race, but you don't think Sarah would like to leave Danica in a cloud of Kentucky dust?

"No, not at all," Fisher said. "Seeing [Patrick's] 16 car; it doesn't make me want to go any harder or faster."

Sarah Fisher is lying. Or so the IRL hopes.