New IRL CEO has "zero" open wheel racing experience
Randy Bernard's open-wheel racing experience is, well . . .
"Zero," he said Tuesday. "I'm not going to pretend I have an amazing background."
But that doesn't worry the soon-to-be-former chief executive officer of Professional Bull Riders, Inc.
Nor was it in issue for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, which on Tuesday announced the hiring of Bernard, 43, as the Indy Racing League's CEO, filling the spot vacated by Tony George.
Bernard, a married father of three, soon will move from his Colorado home to the Indy area, and take over the IRL on March 1.
"He's the hardest worker I've ever seen in my life," said Josie George, the IMS board member who first contacted Bernard after long following his career from a distance. "He never stops. He's the right guy for the job."
Bernard brings marketing and promoting experience, including a relationship with the TV network Versus, which is affiliated with both PBR and the IRL.
Bernard also has been in a far tougher situation than this one.
In 1994, Bernard -- a central California native then working in marketing and entertainment for the California Mid-State Fair -- produced one of eight events for the fledgling PBR, an organization that began in 1992 when 20 riders invested $1,000 each to break away from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
At the time, Bernard said, "I didn't know anything about bull riding." A year later, he was CEO.
Also, Bernard joked, PBR then meant Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beer. Now PBR also stands for the organization that will stage more than 400 events this year, with sponsorship of more than $26 million. The sport also partners with Fox and NBC, as well as Versus.
All after it -- and Bernard -- started with virtually nothing.
"I had to learn from the ground up," Bernard said.
That's what he must do as CEO of the IRL regarding open-wheel racing's history and culture. Bernard said he hopes to block off time each day to visit the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame Museum, in addition to speaking with past champions and getting input from fans.
Bernard doesn't see this as a hindrance.
"If we can't teach me this sport," he said, "how are we going to teach new fans to come into the sport?"
This is an ongoing issue for the IRL, which is larger than PBR when Bernard joined, but still is fighting the economy for sponsors and other sports events for fans.
Even this provides inspiration.
"I look at that as a challenge," Bernard said, "but I (also) look at that as so much opportunity."
The opportunity is helped by recent developments for the IRL, including the 2008 unification of open-wheel racing and the November addition of Izod as title sponsor for the IndyCar Series
"That was one of the things that really tipped the scale" in taking the job, Bernard said.
Adding the new CEO, according to IRL president of competition and racing operations Brian Barnhart, "is another step in the right direction."
Bernard said one of his tasks will be similar to what worked with PBR, creating stars.
"I believe that we already have stars, but I believe that it has to be our focus to make them bigger," Bernard said. "And (that includes) the team owners. (PBR) had bulls that we made stars as well. The team owners are a very important part of the sport, and I think deserve a lot of attention."
Bernard said he is ready to launch a six-step plan which includes becoming profitable by increasing revenue rather than cutting costs.
"I really believe in the IRL," he said. Indianapolis Star