Randy Bernard reshaping IndyCar
In an effort to provide more horsepower to the sport the IZOD IndyCar Series turned to Bull Riding for its future when it hired Randy Bernard as the CEO of the Indy Racing League earlier this year.
Bernard, who turned Professional Bull Riders (PBR) from a staff of one to a viable sporting entity, is ready to tackle the “Bucking Bull” that threw off its founder Tony George last summer. Of course, George was pushed out by his three sisters and mother who comprise the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation board of directors last year, ending a tumultuous era in the sport.
Rather than choose another auto racing “insider,” board member Josie Krisiloff was introduced to Bernard and impressed with his attitude and approach. By hiring a leader from outside of the sport the Indy Racing League found an innovative and aggressive CEO to guide the sport into a more successful future.
To some, Bernard could become IndyCar’s “Savior.”
“I like the guy because he’s a workaholic and he answers his phone,” said IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi. “You ask the guy a question; he gives you an answer. I like that. I’m sure his inflow of information is coming at him like water from a fire hose and he’s trying to swallow it all.
“I could tell in my first meeting with him it wasn’t his first rodeo.”
The 43-year-old Bernard has taken the challenge of his current position with all the zeal and passion he displayed when he set up the PBR with a card table and a folding chair.
He changed the face of a sport that included grizzled and battered cowboys and turned it into a growing entertainment entity. The biggest reason Bernard was successful is he was outside and thought about the sport differently from those involved in it.
When Bernard met his staff at the Indy Racing League for the first time, he told them the one word he doesn’t want to hear is “can’t.” He has challenged his staff to do whatever it takes to help the sport return to the level it once enjoyed when it was the predominant form of auto racing in the United States for most of the 20th Century.
That new way of thinking has impressed the most successful team owner in the history of IndyCar racing. While Roger Penske represents the sport’s past he is hopeful that Bernard can lead IndyCar into better times.
“We’ve got a little life in this series right now,” Penske said. “We’ve got a CEO that is not infected by all of the old stuff yet so he can kind of do his own thing for a while.
“I met him before he took the job and I think he is a business guy. He built PBR from scratch. When you talk to him he is talking about the right things. He is talking about purses. He is talking about people in the stands. He is growing the brand and trying to do things differently.”
While Penske commends Tony George for keeping the series together during the open-wheel racing split that began when the IRL went into competition with CART in 1996 and ended with unification in 2008, he knows that Bernard is focused on doing one job, not three.
“He is engaged everyday seven days a week and that is important,” Penske said. “Tony George did a hell of a job bringing this thing to where it is but he had other interests. Randy doesn’t own a team and he doesn’t own the track. His job is 24/7 to run the league which is great.
“I think he is a breath of fresh air. If somebody said we are going to hire the guy from Professional Bull Riders you’d say, what the hell — that doesn’t have anything to do with auto racing. But when you sit down and talk to him he is very smart. I told him, ‘Hey, let’s get together’ and he said, how about tomorrow? I had to tell my wife I had to go to the office bright and early on a Sunday morning and he was there waiting on me.
“He was like a sponge.”
He also wants to build the sport from the ground up. To do that, he wants to reach down to the karting level and help connect the dots from the lowest levels of grass roots racing to the top level of open-wheel racing in the United States, the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Karting is how the most visible face in IndyCar got their start and that driver is impressed with the ideas that Bernard wants to employ.
Bernard’s greatest asset is that he comes to the IndyCar Series from the outside. Far too long, this sport has been run by the “insiders” who were too often convinced why things couldn’t be done without ever attempting to try something different.
Bernard brings a fresh approach and some of his new ideas might rattle the grizzled traditionalist who long for the return of the old “Roadster.” But in order for this sport to grow, taking a chance on Bernard may be the key that leads it into a better future. NSSN