In a year, Mr. Walker has lined up an estimated $2 million in sponsorships for auto racing's 20-year-old girl wonder from powerhouses such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Kroger Co.
The 56-year-old Mr. Walker saw Ms. Fisher as a chance for his team to re-enter the Indianapolis 500. The Scottish-born Mr. Walker, a mechanic by profession who served as VP-racing of Penske Racing, wanted a young American driver. After hearing of Ms. Fisher's ability in sprint cars, he contacted the Ohio native.
Mr. Walker invited Ms. Fisher to visit his company. "She came with her father. She was the first driver I ever negotiated with-with her father in the room," he recalls. "She had talent that showed she could be very good. And I was very impressed with her."
Auto racing teams need something distinguishing to attract the sponsors' dollars. Mr. Walker took a chance.
"I thought maybe this kid could do it-the first and best girl driv-er ever," he says. "It's a fairy story to pick someone out of the air. I thought I saw in her something that could make the investment of millions of dollars worth it," Mr. Walker adds.
Though Ms. Fisher has crashed twice at the 500, Mr. Walker thinks his investment in the driver will pay off. He acknowledges her value will only be realized if she wins, noting, "You aren't an African-American golfer and get Nike, but you have to be Tiger Woods and whip the white boys' butts week after week."