Q&A with William Looney Air Force Gen. (Ret.) William R. Looney sees the correlation to a jury foreman, though he’s not tasked with delivering a verdict respective to the IZOD IndyCar Series' next generation of chassis and engine.
Looney equates the role more as unbiased facilitator, which is why Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard sought him out to chair the committee that will be comprised of a league representative, a team owner elected by vote of all owners, an engine expert, a marketer/promoter and a racing engineer.
Bernard will get the process moving in earnest as he addresses team owners during the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race weekend. A recommendation is expected within 90 days.
“I’m not going to drive the solution,” Looney said. “My main role is to ensure everybody is heard, everybody has the opportunity to make their points and ask their questions. And then, when this is all said and done, ensure that we’re all happy with what we’re going to recommend is, in fact, the best mutual-shared value we can come up with for the league.”
Bernard and Looney have been friends for almost a decade, having initially met at a military-civic leader function in Colorado Springs, Colo., and getting further acquainted a few weeks later at the wedding of a mutual friend in California.
“During his tenure with the Professional Bull Riders, he and the organization became very supportive of our military members and their families,” Looney said. “That relationship continued to grow and grow.”
Looney, laying groundwork for the project at the sanctioning body’s office in Indianapolis, answered a few other questions for indycar.com:
Q. You’ve had many assignments in military career; what were your initial thoughts when Randy Bernard approached your about this advisory panel.
A. It was not the normal request for the consulting I do, which mostly is involved with defense matters, leadership and management. As Randy went into a discussion about what he was hoping to put together, which essentially was an advisory committee of subject matter experts – of which I am not but a casual fan – and he needed someone to facilitate, mediate and chair the discussion that had no agenda, was completely objective and had no bias with respect the businesses of racing. I do fit that bill. He wanted someone who had been in that kind of environment where you bring people with different skill sets together and you’re tasked with a mission that needs to be resolved and together you work through it to come up with an answer that is good for the enterprise that is the Indy Racing League and all its different stakeholders.
When you make decisions, especially one of this magnitude in respect to the next generation of race car, you have to consider all of those stakeholders – the public, car owners, drivers, the employees, the communities you race in – in order to hopefully come up with a solution that adds value to every one of your stakeholders not just one or two. I’ll guide the discussions and make sure we look at it from an enterprise level as to what is best to racing and all those stakeholders.
Q. You’ll be seeking to build consensus then and not be bogged down or follow multiple trails.
A. Hopefully, the advisory committee will be just that – we will provide a recommendation or two to the Indy Racing League that will be based on our analysis and assessment of the various options. Then it will be up to the Indy Racing League to determine whether it wants to move forward and execute those recommendations or not.
Q. Do you draw correlations with your last assignment in Texas of updating the Air Force fleet of aircraft with the technology aspects that this panel will review and recommend.
A. Yes, to a degree. During my 36-year career in the Air Force, I spent the majority of it in flying operations – primarily in fighters. I then spent four years in our space operations and then I went into the acquisition world. In that regard, I was responsible for the procurement of aircraft and the modernization of the aircraft fleet we possessed along with procurement of command and control capability of our forces. That experience exposed me to industry. It also exposed me to the techniques and approaches organizations use in order to create and acquire new products. So many of the things I was exposed to and learned during my command tours in the acquisition world do apply to what the Indy Racing League is doing today. A lot of the approaches in this particular process correlate to the things I was involved with in the Air Force when you look for new aircraft to replace its aging aircraft. So there was a way to make that tie.
In each one of those endeavors, you go through a request for proposal from the manufacturing companies, then you have criteria you measure that against. You have discussions and have a group that comes together and take a look at what was proposed. Then, through a measurement criteria, determine what they felt what was the best value for the government and then submit that for approval.
Q. When do you and the advisory committee step into the process.
A. The idea is in the next week or so the IRL will put together what’s called a request for proposal, and that will be sent to the chassis manufacturers. It will say that we’d like you to put together a written and oral presentation on your proposal. We’ll probably give them five or six weeks to do that, and from there the advisory committee will come together for about a week. Each one of the manufacturers will give their presentation and talk about the various criteria that have been identified, such as safety. The subject matter experts will ask the questions of them and we’ll get a feel for each one of them. Afterward, we’ll say, ‘OK, what do we think? Which one, two or three are the best value for the Indy Racing League?’
Q. You mentioned you’re a casual racing fan. What are some of your memories?
A. Since I was a little kid, I’ve followed the Indianapolis 500 though I haven’t been involved or engaged in it other than to see it on TV, read about it and being aware of some of the unique happenings and the advancements of the cars and the speed. I’m looking forward attending my first Indy 500 in May.