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DATE News (chronologically)
09/25/11
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Bernard: IndyCar ovals are not successful  
Randy Bernard
Scott Morris Photo
Randy Bernard sits at the epicenter of everything IndyCar, so much so that the sport's CEO seldom sleeps and seldom sees his family.

Stress comes with the job, but his second year on the job has been full of it. There's the impending loss of Danica Patrick to NASCAR, criticism of Izod IndyCar Series officiating, the introduction of a new car and engine for 2012, and the pressure to deliver a new high-profile race next month, the Izod World Championship he created for Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Somehow, the former leader of Professional Bull Riders motors along at the head of this Indianapolis-based series.

Bernard talked about the challenges and opportunities during an interview with Indy Star motor sports reporter Curt Cavin:

Question: Let's start with the difficult question. Is the chatter about Brian Barnhart's performance as chief steward a distraction to the series?

Answer: No. I hear the negativity, but drivers have told me there's been negativity with chief stewards in this sport for years and years. There have been many people fired. USAC got fired (in 1997) over race control. I've had every (Barnhart ruling) evaluated, and I believe a significant portion of the concern is over the rulebook. We must clean it up. There doesn't need to be 50 "at your discretions" for the chief steward. The rulebook has to be more black-and-white.

Q: You have said drivers need to tone down their criticism of race control and that Helio Castroneves was out of line in complaining about last week's penalty for passing under caution in Japan. You're new to Twitter. Is that form of social media too easy an outlet for emotions?

A: It's the hatred that I don't like. So many people are so kind, but so many others don't have respect. You wonder if other organizations pay them to say that stuff about us. The first reaction is upsetting, but then you think, that's life. Twitter and Facebook are here to stay.

Q: Did you get similar criticism in bull riding?

A: Absolutely not. There were calls people didn't think were right, but a lot of calls are in the eyes of the beholder. This is no different than football: There are going to be good calls, bad calls and (controversial) calls. My job is to make sure the officiating is as fair as possible. I continue to support Brian Barnhart.

Q: It appears there will be fewer oval-track events next season, and that concerns many fans.

A: I'm not sure there will be (fewer), but I'm not ruling that out, unfortunately. Ovals are not being successful. The tracks besides Indy, Iowa and a couple of others aren't driving the attendance that they once were, and it's going to take some rebuilding. As much as I want to keep a balance (of oval and non-oval events), we can't afford to lose money on events, and I don't think promoters will lose money.

Q: Is promoting next month's race in Las Vegas a financial risk for IndyCar?

A: No, but it could have been. I built a revenue model and a business plan that is sponsorship-driven and not based on ticket sales. Two reasons. When I was trying to create the race, I felt the economy was lackluster at best, and we had three primary goals: First, we wanted to create loyalty among motor sports fans. If you bought a ticket to any event this season, you got a free ticket to the Las Vegas race.

Second, if the economy was going to be poor, this would help bring people to Las Vegas compliments of IndyCar.

Third, I want to end the season with a big event, which is important for (everyone). This is also the only way we're going to learn how to promote an event.

Q: Is success based on the bottom line or the attendance?

A: The bottom line looks pretty damn good right now, so I'm not worried about that. I'm not sure how many people will show up. We've had over 55,000 people (collect tickets) at events this year. I know how many tickets we've sold, and we've sold almost all of the 120 suites. I personally think we'll have 65,000 to 75,000 people there.

Q: Are you interested in promoting races at other tracks if you have to?

A: I'm very interested because if we can be successful with one, we can be successful with two, then three.

If you look at what I did with PBR, in 1995 we promoted our first event at Worcester, Mass. The next year we did two, Worcester and St. Louis. The next year we did four, the next year eight. Before you knew it, we were doing the entire series.

Q: Is that IndyCar's future?

A: I'm not interested in doing the road courses and the street circuits, but I think we could be of value to the ovals. But we have to do one first and understand what we've done right and what we've done wrong. This first one has taken us two years, unfortunately.

Q: You're trying to do a race in China next year. Is it a big moneymaker or just a moneymaker?

A: Big money to me and big money to Roger Penske might be two different things. We're not interested in running all over the world for just "some" profit, but we're not going to get rich on it. It's very expensive to go over there.

What's attractive to us is that so many of our sponsors told us early in the year that they're very eager to see a race in China.

Q: Some have doubted the progress of the new car, which has its first Indianapolis Motor Speedway test this week (Tuesday through Thursday). Are you satisfied?

A: I'm very excited about it, and so is my team. I'm getting positive reports.

Q: What kind of farewell do you expect the next couple of races to be for Danica Patrick? And do you consider this a farewell?

A: I do expect it to be a farewell. Danica has been a great ambassador to the sport, and whatever we've asked of her, she's always been willing to do it.

The day she won her race in Japan, we put her on a plane and flew her to Long Beach, Calif., to do a press conference. She was more than willing to do it and help. A lot of people forget that.

Q: You signed a contract to be the CEO for five years. Is it your plan to fulfill it?

A: I've made no bones about it: I want to do the most I can in five years. I think we'll see the big success in years four and five. But as much as I love the people here . . . for the last 19 months I've probably been home (to Los Angeles) four weeks, maybe five weeks max.

I knew I'd run hard, but at some point I need to take a step back and start allowing my management team to do more. Indy Star

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