June 05, 2000 12:00 PM

In 1985, when 5-year-old Sarah Fisher’s parents woke her from a nap to be fitted for a tiny race-car seat, they were instilling family tradition. Machine-shop owner Dave Fisher, now 50, and his schoolteacher wife, Reba, 47, were avid go-kart racers who fell in love at the track. It seemed natural for their only child to follow suit. “At 5 you can’t be taking it very serious,” says Fisher, 19. “At 8 we got serious.”

Since then, Fisher has rarely taken her foot off the pedal. A three-time national go-kart champion by age 14, she went on to race midget—a smaller version of a dirt-track car—and sprint cars. And on May 28 she will start the Indianapolis 500 as the third-youngest driver—and only the third woman—in the event’s history. Fisher qualified May 20, whizzing around the course at an average speed of more than 220 mph. “Sarah is very talented,” says two-time winner Al Unser Jr. “She is aggressive and smooth on the track.”

And off it. Despite racing every weekend as a teenager and missing weeks of school at a time, Fisher graduated seventh in her class at Teays High School near her hometown of Commercial Point, Ohio. Her social life suffered, but three years ago Fisher found the love of her young life, mechanic Gary Prall, 25, at a Pennsylvania race track.

While savoring the limelight, Fisher serves notice she’s no sideshow. “I want to win in Indianapolis,” she says. “Maybe not this year, maybe not ever, but we’re certainly going to try.”

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