IndyCar teeters, despite excellent racing on the track As I reminded my readers in a "Fumes" column (on Autoextremist.com) a couple of months ago (June 6, 2012), IndyCar is once again teetering on the brink of open dissension, or at least shaky ground, as animosity between the team owners and the series leader has boiled to the surface. Thanks to Robin Miller's consistently laser-sharp reporting, it is apparent that a few IndyCar owners want IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard out, suggesting that his lack of fundamental knowledge of the sport has finally caught up with him and that it's time for a change. Now I happen to think Randy Bernard has done a superb job given the circumstances and the mountain of crap he inherited, but could he stand to have a right-hand guy with deep connections to the sport? Yes, of course. And with the addition of that person I think Randy should be given every opportunity to finish the job he signed up to do.
I say IndyCar is "teetering" because despite Bernard's measurable progress in improving IndyCar's balance sheet and solidifying the schedule (except for the China fiasco), the sport itself is still barely registering on the national media radar screen. And that's a shame because the current caliber of racing is as good as we've seen in the sport. After years and years of hand-wringing and fits and starts, however, Indy car racing is still all about the Indianapolis 500 and not much else. For a major league sports endeavor with an enduring legacy built around the world's greatest race, that's almost impossible to comprehend. And for what is supposed to be one of the pillars of major league racing in this country, it is simply ridiculous.
But let's examine this situation again, including excerpts from that earlier column:
On the one side are the owners, who will remind everyone every second of every day that if it weren't for them there wouldn't even be an IndyCar Series. And when you look at it from their perspective, it's hard to argue with them. After all, when it comes right down to it they're the ones spending considerable piles of money trying to make it all run like a business, while chasing down sponsors 24-7. They are, at the end of the day, some of the most deeply committed enthusiasts for the sport of Indy car racing imaginable, and given everything it takes to muster the effort it takes to compete in the series, I would never question their love of the sport. But loving the sport and doing what's good for the long-term future of the sport are two distinctly different things. The owners have never really been good at doing what's good for the overall health of the sport type of thing, at least they're not consistent about it at any rate. Their individual concerns usually take precedence.
And it's also no secret that IndyCar owners have massive egos that know almost no bounds. They are used to running their individual fiefdoms without question or second guessing from anyone, and if they get push-back they're not happy. We've seen this throughout recent Indy car racing history, by the way, the best example being when the car owners were running things by egomaniacal committee during the CART years and we saw a revolving door of CEOs come and go as the owners fiddled and fumbled their way to irrelevance.
On the other side we have the governing body of IndyCar. Long a joke because of mismanagement and flat-out boneheaded decision making, IndyCar took the radical and unexpected step of hiring Bernard, who made his bones by turning the Professional Bull Riding championship into a viable and surprisingly successful enterprise. Bernard is a genius promoter but he knew jack shit about IndyCar or the sport of open-wheel racing in America. He listened, studied and learned, all while trying to stabilize the series' financial situation, hammer out a viable schedule, get contracts with individual race promoters finalized, and grow the visibility - and the sponsorship support - of the series. A tall order for anyone.
The fact that I believe Bernard has done a superb job given the circumstances matters not one iota to the team owners. There are clearly those in the IndyCar owner ranks who think they could do better than Bernard, and when IndyCar allowed Honda to make changes to their engines over GM's repeated objections, protests and appeals, the long knives came out for Bernard. And when the new Dallara chassis came in costing more than what was originally promised - with an expensive a la carte parts list to boot - that didn't help either. And by taking the discord public through twitter and his in-person oration to the media, Bernard didn't make things any better, according to some disgruntled owners.
But as I said in June, it's a moot point at this juncture, because the ugly reality for IndyCar is that except for the visibility and TV ratings of the Indianapolis 500, they are nowhere. As in almost nonexistent on the national sports media radar screens. And that is simply unconscionable and unacceptable. What can be done to "fix" Indy car racing in this country? Let's revisit my recommendations: More at Autoextremist.com