Randy Bernard did his best against long odds
A welcome change came to the world of IndyCar on March 1, 2010. That day, former PBR (that's Professional Bull Riders) Tour CEO Randy Bernard assumed a similar position with the IndyCar Series. Known as a marketing savant, Bernard had overseen an era of explosive growth for bull riding from 1995-2010. For IndyCar, his arrival came at a time many believed the sport was at its most desperate hour.
And for the most part, no one cared that Bernard had never attended an Indy car race, or that he didn't know the difference between a spacer valve and a pop-off valve.. If anything, the fact Bernard was an outsider, was a plus. It meant he had no agendas, no favorites, and no preconceived notions. He was no one's brother, nephew, grandson, or former assistant. He would be a fresh set of eyes, so to speak. And the fact he had made, bull riding, yes bull riding, a popular, profitable television entity, provided more than enough credibility.
Further, there was a sense within the sport that everyone had learned from past mistakes. The infighting and petty conflict that had characterized the previous three decades was going to be a thing of the past. For better or worse, everyone within the sport was ready to unite behind one leader, and unlike before, Bernard had the backing of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway behind his leadership of the IndyCar Series.
Best of all, perhaps, was it appeared, IndyCar would, at minimum, finally be run like a professional, viable business, by a person with a proven track record of running a professional viable business. After nearly a decade and a half of reckless spending, IndyCar needed to tighten the belt, and get the spending under control.
And for the first two years, all indications were that was very much the case. Bernard, by and large, seemed to reign in the spending during 2010 and 2011, and seemingly had the support of the various constituents within the sport.
Also, Bernard seemed to endear himself to the sport's loyal fan base, as he handed out his personal email address, took the time to talk with anyone, worked tirelessly, and was transparent about his lack of racing knowledge. While he wasn't perfect, the fan base knew he inherited a mess, and was willing to allow Bernard, who signed a five year deal in 2010, time to steer IndyCar in the right direction.
Sadly, we'll never know how a full commitment to Bernard would have played out. The optimism of Bernard's first two years followed a 2012, in which, many of the sport's past problems--recognizable to seemingly everyone but the decision makers within the sport-- reared their ugly heads. The greatest source of said discontent apparently were the costs associated with a new car. While the car clearly improved the on-track product, the costs associated with it brought bickering from team owners frustrated by the expense.
At first, Bernard seemed somewhat dismissive of said complaints. After the situation regarding the car boiled over in May, Bernard took to Twitter, saying that a series owner had tried to get him fired. While Bernard admitted to being disappointed by the situation, he made clear that he did not work for the owners, rather, the board of directors for Hulman and Company, the parent company of the IndyCar Series and IMS.
Resolution finally came yesterday, as Bernard resigned as CEO of INDYCAR, as it is now known. While the statement released by IMS President and CEO Jeff Belskus says Bernard resigned, some suggest he was fired. Whatever it was, Bernard's situation is nothing new. Rather, he has simply become the latest casualty in a long line of supposed leaders within the sport; another victim of the sport's internecine politics; another footnote in the sport's pathetic history characterized by a complete lack of leadership.
Of course, with regards to leadership, one might expect that to come from the sport's most hallowed and powerful entity, IMS. The Speedway, of course, hosts IndyCar's crown jewel event, the Indianapolis 500, and is considered the de facto center of the Indy car world. However, the Speedway has never taken a leadership role with regard to the sport.
Further, one could argue that IMS has never effectively operated as a business, certainly not a racing business. Arguably, the closest it came to acting as such was over the past two and a half years with Bernard at the helm, as financial sanity and efforts to market the sport were implemented.
However, as a general rule, the Speedway has never led Indy car racing, leaving the various constituents in the sport to wage war for its control, which has resulted in disastrous consequences.
Now, many will concede that Tony Hulman ran the Speedway for many years successfully, and they would be correct. Hulman, of course, was a fabulously wealthy and accomplished individual in his own right, and considered the "savior" of the Speedway. Hulman purchased IMS in 1945, when it was destined to become a housing development after World War II, and essentially resuscitated the great Indianapolis 500.
And for that Hulman is deservedly regarded very warmly in the world of IndyCar. He invested proceeds from the race in improvements to the Speedway, and was the charming face of the 500 for decades until his death in 1977.
But Hulman did fail in this regard: he did not create a viable series around the Speedway. No, Hulman left that to the United States Auto Club, which he helped form in 1955, to administer Championship racing.
Rather, Hulman viewed himself as the steward of the great Indianapolis 500. A Terre Haute, Indiana native, Hulman loved the pomp and circumstance surrounding the annual race. However, racing was never Hulman's business, as it was say, Bill France's or Bernie Ecclestone's business. By and large, Hulman was interested in the Indianapolis 500, and left the day to day operations of the racing business, and the USAC Championship Trail to the sanctioning group he helped establish.
The result of this was Hulman, who was the person most naturally positioned to lead the sport of Indy or Champ car racing, never actually did. He was the king, who reigned but never ruled. And the group he put in place to grow and nurture the sport, proved very incompetent at doing so.
Now, before moving ahead, I want to be clear on something. This is not a criticism of Tony Hulman. Mr. Hulman did in fact, save the 500, and for this Indy car fans, such as myself, forever owe a debt of gratitude to the classy, dignified, accomplished Hulman. Further, it would be completely ludicrous to blame all of Indy car racing's current problems on Hulman, thirty-five years after his death.
However, understanding Hulman's role is essential to understanding Indy car racing's current predicament. As stated earlier, Indy car racing and the Speedway, have never been effectively integrated to operate as a proper business, partially because Hulman, the savior of the 500, never sought to do so.
Of course, some will point to Hulman's grandson, Anton "Tony" Hulman George, who ran the Speedway from 1989-2009, to contest this thesis. George, who started the forerunner of INDYCAR, the Indy Racing League, in 1996, did not use his or the Speedway's preeminent status to grow the sport of IndyCar. Rather, George essentially leveraged the Indianapolis 500 to kill the rival CART series, which was formed shortly after Hulman's death, out of frustration with USAC and a lack of leadership within the sport.
By the mid-1990s, CART had emerged as the preeminent sanctioning group of Indy car racing. George, fearing CART's preeminence, formed the IRL to essentially put the sport back under the umbrella of IMS. However, in doing so George, not a man known for his creative business ideas, basically turned the 500 into a pawn, by guaranteeing spots in the sport's most sacred event for IRL participants. George's ill-conceived decision forever tainted the sport's hallmark event.
Thus, to say George ever sought to grow the sport by building a viable series around the Speedway would be wrong. George simply wanted to destroy CART, and inflicted great damage on the sport., and the Indy 500, in doing so.
Still, while George did integrate a viable series around the Speedway, he did integrate a series. And when he resigned from his IMS post in 2009, after helping to broker unification in 2008, Bernard was effectively brought in to replace him.
And while Bernard enjoyed a relatively nice honeymoon period, ultimately the same exact problems that have long plagued the sport, resulted in his undoing.
See, since Hulman's death, various constituents have competed for control of Indy car racing, to shape it in their vision, for lack of a better term. Whether it was team owners, as we saw in CART, or the Speedway, as we saw in George, the leadership void, has resulted in a constant battle for leadership. As a result, no one has ever united behind one leader in the long-term.
While Bernard arguably came closer than anyone, at the end of the day, he could not successfully unite the sort's varied constituents in a unified, coherent direction. Like so many before him, he found the sport's waters too poisoned to effectively navigate, resulting in another unfortunate chapter in the sad, pathetic history that is Indy car racing.
Further, the cavalcade of Bernard naysayers, who carried out a campaign to bring about the CEO's demise, should know better. Maybe, they had legitimate grievances, that needed to be addressed. However, any study of the sport's history would show them that IndyCar's current pathetic state is not a result of the cost of car parts, or any of their temporary issues.
Rather, the sport's current state is a result of the very infighting and bickering that we saw in 2012. Sadly, it seems you have to own an Indy car team to not realize this.
So, where does IndyCar go from here? I haven't the slightest clue. However, if Bernard's arrival two and a half years ago, was seen as the sport's most desperate hour, what are we suppose to think now?
Brian Carroccio is a regular contributor to AutoRacing1.com. He developed an appreciation for motorsport at a very young age attending SCCA races with his father, a longtime SCCA crewman.
Over time, Indy car racing became his first love, and he considers Al Unser, Sr., and Paul Tracy his favorite all-time drivers.
Personally, Brian is a former college baseball player, who does not feel comfortable sharing his career win-loss record as a pitcher, publicly. He will divulge that he is a die hard fan of the Washington Redskins, and considers Robert Griffin III something akin to a divine gift. He also roots for the Washington Nationals, Manchester United (kind of, a long story) and Cal football (a really long story).
Brian lives in Rockville, MD, with his wife Allison, daughter Stella and son Walter.
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