Give IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard some credit For Randy Bernard, the embattled CEO of IndyCar, it's one step forward and two steps back. Which makes you wonder, halfway through this IndyCar season and halfway through Bernard's five-year contract, if the former Professional Bull Riders chief is really the right man for this difficult and often thankless job.
Some days, when you're talking about the success of the new car and the quality of racing, the answer is an unqualified yes; he's an outsider who's brought fresh eyes to the sport.
Other days, when he's tweeting concerns about being ousted by an owner, or overseeing a staff that's making massive mistakes in both the Milwaukee and Texas races, the answer is no; he's making rookie mistakes and still doesn't have the respect of the racing establishment
At the midway point of his five-year contract, Bernard is pretty accurate in his self-appraisal.
"I'd give myself a C," he said last week by phone from Iowa, where the Iowa Corn Indy 250 was run Saturday night. "Until we're hitting more home runs, that's the highest I could give myself."
Who could disagree with that?
IndyCar has not been bereft of good news. The new car has been a boon to the sport, even without the new aero packages Bernard so badly wanted and the owners declined to purchase. The quality of the races, especially in Indianapolis, have been routinely excellent, with lots of passing and exciting racing.
TV ratings, which were infinitesimal, are up. Sponsorship is up. The numbers are nowhere near what Bernard or anybody wants, but the truth is, the semi-new CEO took over a complete mess brought on by The Split. Years of mismanagement and internecine battling cannot be undone in 21/2 years.
But . . .
There have been mistakes, and there have been enough of them, big and small, that leave a reasonable person wondering if Bernard isn't in over his head.
In recent months, he's dealt with the Dan Wheldon tragedy, the unfortunate tweet, the Belle Isle mess, the mix-up in Milwaukee, the bogus Justin Wilson win in Texas, the loss of the China race and several other issues.
One step forward and two steps back? Bernard isn't even willing to concede there's been one step back.
"I don't think that's fair," he said. "In any business, there are going to be setbacks. You build your character and image by the way you handle them. What I've learned about racing is, there's a crisis around every corner."
Let's take them one by one:
The Wheldon tragedy: There's no question in my mind the race had to be stopped after it was learned Wheldon had perished. Some of the old guard wanted it continued; they were wrong. Flat wrong. "If I'd have decided to continue that race, I wouldn't still be here today," Bernard said. "The way our world is today, nobody wanted to go back and race. We were done. I don't question that at all."
There is a question, though, whether there should have been a race in the first place. It looked like a great idea on paper, but go back and look at the driver's quotes in the days before the event. They foreshadowed the tragic events to come. Everybody knew it was too highly banked, too fast, too primed for the kind of pack racing that causes epic crashes.
The Twitter blast: If you've forgotten, here's what Bernard wrote May 29: "It is true that an owner is calling others trying to get me fired. I have several owners confirm this. Disappointing."
Bernard doesn't regret it -- "it was just strict honesty," he said. "Maybe it was a slow news day."
Disagree. He should regret it. It made him look weak and desperate and defensive. Can you imagine Roger Goodell or David Stern writing something like that? When you're in a position of strength and authority, people are going to want your head. Deal with it.
Belle Isle: It's foolish to pin that on anybody but the race promoters, specifically Roger Penske, who didn't have the track ready for racing. But it was another black mark on the sport, especially on a day when they drew such a healthy crowd.
The Texas Mis-step: Justin Wilson won the race. Wilson was then penalized for winning while using improper equipment. He was fined all of 5 points and $7,500, which should send a message to every other driver: "Go ahead and cheat, because the penalty is a slap on the wrist."
In retrospect, even Bernard thinks it was too soft.
"In hindsight, we could have been more stringent and harsh," he said. "If someone wins and gets caught cheating, they shouldn't get points or any dollars, and I think you'll see that change."
Bernard said the technical people wanted to levy a penalty consistent with previous penalties. Except Wilson won with an illegal car. In hindsight, he would slam Wilson with a stricter penalty? He should have done it at the time.
The Milwaukee mess: Scott Dixon was wrongly penalized for jumping a restart, when in truth, IndyCar officials were looking at the wrong replay. This certainly calls new race director Beaux Barfield's competence into question, even if it was a perfect-storm kind of mistake, and IndyCar was fully transparent about the mistake later in the day.
These kinds of things can't happen, though, and they can't happen with this kind of frequency.
Tracks can't fall apart. Drivers can't win races illegally and get slaps on the wrist. Race control can't look at the wrong replays. Schedules can't get blown up.
Bernard calls himself a "black and white" guy who doesn't often deal in shades of gray. We have that in common. So here goes:
Before IndyCar can grow its TV ratings, its stars, anything, it must have basic credibility. Fans and competitors must believe and truly know that the best and fairest racing possible is being presented. Otherwise, all the other stuff is window dressing.
IndyCar has had a credibility problem in recent months.
Give it high grades for transparency.
Give it higher grades if it stops making these same mistakes in the first place.
A "C" will stand halfway through this season, but it's not good enough, not nearly good enough, and Bernard knows that all too well. Indy Star