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Why Randy Bernard may be just what the IRL needed

by Ray Masters
Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Randy Bernard
My first reaction was...what are they thinking?

A man who has a self proclaimed zero knowledge of auto racing!

But following a moment of reflection and listening to his first interview I am feeling very positive about Mr. Bernard's appointment as CEO of the Indy Racing League.  There can be no denying his ability to get the job done. You have to have some serious marketing chops to make a bull famous!

However like many onlookers my first reaction was based on his complete lack of any experience with, or knowledge of single seater racing.  But as AR1 reported recently, the Ford Motor Company has seen an amazing turnaround in it's fortunes guided by a man from the aeronautics industry.

Sometimes it really does take a new broom to sweep away all the dust and cobwebs.

Indy Car racing has been in the hands of "experienced" men for ever and despite their best intentions and qualifications it is now in the doldrums. It's now make or break time and this is a bold move which deserves a chance to succeed.

Up front my only reservations lay with his minor ties to NASCAR.  In my opinion Mr. Bernard needs to stay well clear of the France Dynasty in all ways. Especially in using their ideas of dumbed down racing.

He needs to realize that Indy Car is a technological sport and it's fans and sponsors seek this out and demand it's inclusion.  One of the many mistakes Tony George made was to bring out those ugly V8 powered crap wagons with no real advanced technology featured anywhere.

The recent comments made by Chip Ganassi should be front and center in the mind of the new CEO. These are words to hang your hat on and I sincerely hope that Mr. Barnard has Chip in for a long and frank chat. Indy Car needs the delta car or something similar. It needs to demonstrate it's individuality and forward thinking.

It should also be the first major series that plays more than just lip service to the environment. Back in the heydays of the sport no one cared that every car was Cosworth powered. So I say keep the manufacturers out of the equation. They were undoubtedly part of the reason CART collapsed. I believe using several chassis manufacturers is enough to give the series it's needed equipment variety.

It wasn't that long ago that we walked the paddocks of some of the greatest race tracks in the world to bump into stars like Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Danny Sullivan, Rick Mears and Bobby Rahal.

These were names that the man in the street knew and respected. It is vital that the sport rekindle this excitement in it's fans.

I'm sorry to say that I don't get the same buzz out of meeting many of the current crop of racers as I did when I encountered Mario, Al, Emmo or Nige.

That has nothing to do with their skills, but more to do with the way the IRL has promoted them. I might add that we desperately need more North American drivers if this is to be supported by a North American fan base.

I like Bernard's comments about making more of the team owners too. F1 has always put it's owner/managers front and center and the IRL should do likewise. These are bold and charismatic men so why not exploit those attributes.

As for the racing. While there are some amazingly close oval races as measured by milliseconds, too much of a good thing can become tedious. Street courses need to be cut back as there is absolutely no doubt that they do not allow for great wheel to wheel battles.

They might be good for getting a casual crowd out on the weekend but the racing suffers and isn't that what it's really meant to be all about. Not parties or rock concerts. It's the racing, the cars, the drivers, stupid!

There are so many fine road courses both old and new in this country that it boarders on criminal that the IRL does not race at more of them. Included in this revamp should be an attempt to stay away from every ISC owned track. ISC wants the IRL to die so why play in their sandbox?

Also, do we really need to race in Europe? I say that just from a financial standpoint. If it's affordable fine, but if it financially and logistically burdens the teams and the sanctioning body then dump them.

Speaking of the sanctioning body. One area that really needs an overhaul is race control and the Emergency Team.  These guys are fantastic and they put life and limb on the line for all concerned but why oh why does it take so long to take the track green after even the most innocuous spin?

F1 can have a course green in less than a lap after a multi car pile up.  This is a race control issue as much as anything and needs urgent attention.  We have been subjected to lap after lap of yellow flag processions for no apparent reason following some minor shunt. The public, especially new viewers, just don't understand that.

NASCAR can teach the IRL a lesson or two about PR however.  This has been the single biggest weakness of the series for years now.  We all know about, and I'm sure are constantly annoyed by, the lack of decent publicity surrounding the series.  While Danica has done amazing things for the sport's visibility you cannot base a whole series on one competitor.

Sponsors, teams and the sanctioning body must  do a far better job of getting the word out to Joe and Jane Public. Just looking at how Mr. Bernard has pulled the PBR up from ground level gives me especial hope that he can change this around.

Right now NASCAR is facing some serious issues including falling attendance at all it's races, a serious decline in TV viewer ratings and a manufacturer base that seems to be tiring of the anti-technology stance beloved by the France family.

The Car of Tomorrow (sic) has been a huge failure.

This is the time for the IRL to go on the offensive and with a completely new leadership in place I believe they are poised to do so in a bold and exciting way.

I am more upbeat about the IRL's chances of success than I have been since the split. I wish all of the teams, sponsors and members of the IRL the very best of luck. The next few years will be tough, but no one gets to be great without having to fight and be creative.

Ray Masters
With a completely new regime installed at Indy and the IRL, selected from industries outside of the sport, we can expect a whole new way of doing business and that in itself is a huge plus.

Of course one of the biggest assets Mr. Bernard brings to the table is his long and fruitful association with Versus.  It's easy to criticize the decision to align themselves with this channel but the IRL have done the deal and that's that.

You know what they say about lemons and lemonade.

Not that I'm suggesting Versus is a lemon. Far from it.  Their coverage of the Tour de France is, in my opinion, the finest sports television has to offer.  It's slick, entertaining and very informative.  In fact the producers of the IRL shows need to look at the extremely talented and humorous announcing team of Hummer, Roll, Liggett and Sherwen for a lesson in keeping it fast, fresh and  fun.

Being a big fish in a slightly smaller pool can be a very positive thing and providing Versus gets behind Bernard and his new charge, the IRL will be well positioned for the future growth that this channel must inevitably receive.

But Versus have got to get fully on board and promote like hell. I'm confident the new CEO has the experience and influence to make sure this happens.

To paraphrase The Who...."here comes the new boss, NOT the same as the old boss!"  Ray Masters

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