Q and A with Randy Bernard and Brandon Igdalsky
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Brandon Igdalsky, the president and CEO of Pocono Raceway, met the media to discuss the announcement Pocono join the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2013.
Q. Talk about adding the doubleheaders; why add them at those particular racetracks at Detroit, Toronto and Houston?
RANDY BERNARD: First of all, we think the double-headers are good for everyone – from fans to drivers to our sponsors. It builds exposure and viewership. At the same time, we think the fans will be able to take in twice as much action and see their favorite drivers on those three weekends.
The reason we picked Belle Isle was Roger Penske. He and (event chairman) Bud Denker are investing millions of dollars into repaving that race course and create some more passing zones. We thought that would be a great place for us.
We have always seen great racing in Toronto, and the fact that we wanted to have two races in Canada was very important to us, especially with Rogers Sports Network coming on as our Canadian TV partner next year.
And the last is Houston, the fourth-largest market in the United States. We felt it was imperative to have a doubleheader there for (race promoter) Mike Lanigan. We just thought it would be another great place to have a doubleheader.
Q. Another new aspect of the schedule is the return of the Triple Crown, which will include the Indianapolis 500, Auto Club Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Talk about bringing another traditional aspect back to the sport.
RANDY BERNARD: As everyone knows, tradition is so important to the sport. And if you are going to bring Pocono back, I think it makes the most sense to bring the Triple Crown as well. Thanks to Brandon and his family, the fans are going to get to see what they have been wanting – both Pocono and the Triple Crown.
BRANDON IGDALSKY: The excitement level around here is up through the roof. It's great to be here with Randy and to have IndyCar coming back to this legendary speedway, and a speedway that was started with the help of Indy car racing back in the '70s.
Q. Talk a little about how the race came about. I know you were in Florida for St. Petersburg, but you weren't looking for a race back then.
BRANDON IGDALSKY: I was in the area and swung by and got to meet Randy and his team. It got out that I was there and the fans got louder and louder and as the summer went on and the spring went on. Randy and I came back to the table and put our teams to work and here we are today.
Q. Why Pocono after all these years, and did the IndyCars test there on the newly repaved track? What sense do you get the racing will be?
RANDY BERNARD: Well, the first question is, why Pocono? First of all Pocono was built for IndyCars. The fact that each one of these three corners provides for a different Indy car track … Trenton in the first corner and turn and the second turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the third turn at Milwaukee.
We know we are going to have great racing here. The fact that we define our sport as the fastest, most versatile racecar drivers in the world, I think it's really important that we give these drivers versatility. And this track is one of those great tracks that you really want on your series.
Have we brought a car here yet and tested? No. Being this was a track built for IndyCars, all of our experts said the fact that it's been repaved and the fact that they put the SAFER Barrier in, this will be a great track. And we hope to test this year.
Q. Can you tell us, is this more than a one‑year deal?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: It's for the next three years, and we hope it will be longer than that, but this initial iteration is for three years.
Q. Does this schedule preclude the addition of another race, say, for example, if another promoter comes with the City of Edmonton, or if there's a Quebec City proposal. For 2013, is there any possibility of another race in Canada?
RANDY BERNARD: We'd love to entertain a race in 2014, but I think it's real important that we have selected 16 great markets with 19 races that are all going to be real strong.
I think the most important thing we can do here is to prepare. I don't think that it would be in our best interests to try to rush another race in 2013, and I think that's one of the key reasons why Toronto got a double-header.Q. There were reports that Providence, Rhode Island, could possibly join the schedule, I believe the dates were August 2013 but you just mentioned that it's not quite in your best interests to add a 20th race for 2013. With that being the case, what is the official status of that race? Could we see that for 2014?
RANDY BERNARD: We had races and promoters wanting to have additional races. They just were not able to pull it off in time for our deadlines. I think it's real important that everyone understands that we have to stick to a formal plan and I think that we did that this year.
In regards to 2014, we would love to see Providence. If they are going to do it, it needs to happen sooner rather than later because we are not going to increase our schedule by a significant amount of events, which means there's a very limited amount of races that we are going to bring on anew.
There are a couple of markets in Canada that are interested; Providence is interested; you've heard New Orleans is interested. There are quite a few markets out there.
There's not room for everybody, but I guess the big key here is which ones get onto our schedule early enough to be on 2014.
Q. I noticed there's a gap between Baltimore on Sept.1 and the Houston double-header in early October; is that just an unavoidable matter with the scheduling in 2013?
RANDY BERNARD: It really was, and the easy solution would have been keeping Fontana right there in the Sept. 15 weekend, but we wanted to listen to our fans and our fans loved what they saw out there this year.
This is the IZOD IndyCar Series and it should end with a 500‑mile oval, so that's why we moved it behind Houston. So it was unavoidable. And I think it's also really good to end our season later. I don't think anybody likes to see us end September 15; it's six months before our next race.
Q. What was it about Providence's bid that failed to get it on the schedule?
RANDY BERNARD: I think Providence did a fantastic job, a marvelous job, of really trying to come together and putting it together. Putting on a street race is a monumental task, and I think that they want to make sure that they have all their ducks in a row just like we want to see it.
They couldn't meet all of our deadlines. They were working diligently on trying to get it done, but unfortunately it falls into a crunch period where they just ran out of time.
Q. And how high a priority is it for IndyCar to bring a street race to New England?
RANDY BERNARD: Well, I think the Northeast has been very good to us. At Pocono we think we are going to have great crowds and we are bringing back one of the traditional races that are always very exciting.
It's important to us because we love the diversity of ovals and street courses, but I think the most important thing is making sure that we have just a really solid plan in place before we go anywhere.Just their passion and energy for the event really helped. That's the direction we wanted to go. Everyone from the governor to the mayor has just been very hospitable and we want to help people that really want an event, too. So it would have been a great place to have one.
Q. I know that on social media, particularly Twitter, you had a lot of fan interest in getting IndyCar back to Pocono and I know you did a survey that had pretty strong sentiments for a return. How do you now translate or get those people to buy tickets and ensure they actually back up their desire?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: I think you saw that last night when Randy came out on "Wind Tunnel," there was a lot of fans that immediately started tweeting us right away.
And we know that from the area hotels that we have talked to that people already started to book rooms. When things started to leak out, they were already doing it. Tickets went on sale this morning and we have been inundated with phone calls all morning with people wanting to buy tickets.
They are there; they are ready; now that they have the opportunity, they are showing it. And we will just continue to promote it locally in the market and in our neighboring areas where we know the fans are at and keep driving to get them there.
Q. Mario Andretti said today how big this is for the Northeast race fans. How do you reach out beyond that and make this bigger than just a Pennsylvania event, or is that enough for you?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: It's an international event, and we see that with our other events here. Because of our proximity to New York and Philadelphia, there are a lot of people that come overseas. They will spend a few days in New York or Philadelphia, and then will drive up or take a bus up to come to our race and enjoy our racing. We are going to see some of that, especially with this series and having a little more international flair to it.
At the same time, there's the traditionalists and the true IndyCar fans that remember what Pocono was all about in the '70s and '80s, and I think you're going to see a lot of them come back and come back in droves.
Q. Is it going to be the Pocono 400 or will you look for a sponsor?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: Right now it's the Pocono IndyCar 400 but we will be pursuing sponsors for the race.
Q. Why is the race 400 miles at Pocono? Many people thought it would be a 500‑miler.
RANDY BERNARD: A 500‑mile race would have been the tradition and that probably would have been our first choice. But having Pocono on ABC was really important to us to keep continuity. We are going to have six out of seven races all on ABC. And by doing that, ABC only had a three‑hour window, and so we couldn't go to a 500‑mile race unless we wanted to switch to NBC Sports Network. We just thought it was really important to keep all of the ABC races as close together as we could to continue to create momentum for the series.
Q. Do you have any additional details regarding the double-headers? We know both races stay on the same network, but I know there are some details like how you will qualify for those races.
RANDY BERNARD: We will have more information coming out as the year goes on.
Q. Do you think those tracks would sell that as separate races, those ticket packages, or have they expressed how they will handle that?
RANDY BERNARD: I think it will definitely be a weekend package, just like there is today. I don't see the promoters changing their ticket packages. There's typically a ticket for Saturday and a ticket for Sunday.
Q. Just how long have you been working to set up these double-headers? How long have they been in the works?
RANDY BERNARD: For a few months. We started looking at our entire business model and we started looking at how we could grow our viewership and build exposure for teams and drivers and help sponsors. We felt this was one of the ways that would make sense, because it just gives your fans the opportunity to see twice the action on the weekend.
Q. You mentioned earlier that we had Edmonton off the schedule and you don't necessarily see adding an extra race this year, possibly there or anywhere else on the schedule – how much did that impact the decision to make Toronto one of the double-headers?
RANDY BERNARD: It had a significant impact, quite honestly, because there was a couple other promoters that were very interested in double-headers.
We really wanted to just keep it at three double-headers and that's when we chose to go with Toronto wanting to make sure that Canada kept two races. Toronto is one of the largest cities in North America, as well, so that doesn't hurt. The other opportunity we believe is that we have always seen great racing there. If you have great racing on Saturday, it's just going to increase the drama and excitement for Sunday.
Q. What will that mean for Canada to keep two races and to have as a double-header in a place like Toronto, given that Edmonton is off the schedule?
RANDY BERNARD: I think there's so much going for Canada right now; the fact that you have (James) Hinchcliffe and (Alex) Tagliani driving for the series; Rogers Sports Network, which is going to have all the races on live [in Canada] next year, which will be a big difference than this year; Rogers, the promotional value they are going to give us to really put a tremendous amount into the sport.
When you have a great television package, you have great drivers, you have to provide them some great events. We would love to see one more race up there. Unfortunately, it just wasn't in the cards this year.
Q. I'm still fuzzy on why you think double-headers are a good idea. On one hand you're pre‑supposing somebody will be there for the whole weekend and would enjoy seeing two actual races, but isn't there a possibility that you would be asking spectators to choose one over the other if they can only go to one race? I also don't understand why you think a doubleheader would do anything for your television ratings that weekend?
RANDY BERNARD: I'm a big believer that you can build your television viewership on double races on a weekend. I think that you will see at these three double-headers, your fans get to come in and see twice the action. I believe your average distance traveled to a race will be up further on these three weekends than any others, because if you're going to travel to a race, why not go to one that has two races? You already have a hotel room; you already have airfare, if you plan on traveling to a race.
I think the other thing is if you decide to sit home and watch one race on TV and go to the other race, that's fine, too. I think that you see in other major league sports that double-headers work very, very well.
I think the key to this is we are not talking about an amateur series. We are talking about the best drivers in the world where fans that associate their favorite drivers, they get to see twice as much action. I think that's the most important part.
Q. Are there any talks about getting possibly a sponsor to take over for the Triple Crown, like last year you had Go Daddy front the money for Vegas. Is there a possibility of like a Go Daddy Triple Crown for next year?
RANDY BERNARD: We never turn sponsorships down. But I think the most important part of that right now is now that we wanted to get it announced.
I think it was real important for the tradition and the history of our sport that if we are going to bring Pocono back, let's bring the Triple Crown back. We have got six months, eight months to really work on getting a sponsor on it.
But we have a lot of things, a lot of assets that we are going to be announcing that will be great places for sponsorships, as well. Right now we are just setting up our year and just making sure that we are going to bring a lot of new excitement to our fan base.
Q. With the addition of the Triple Crown and the points title, are you going to continue the oval and road championships, too?
RANDY BERNARD: Definitely. We define our sport as the fastest, most versatile racecar drivers in the world that's a very important part. You have your road and streets, and then you have your ovals and that's what separates us.
I think that you can be a great oval racer and not be a great road and street racer and vice versa; so let's complement both of those. But let's not forget that the IZOD IndyCar World Championship is based on the best, most versatile race driver in the world.
Q. I interviewed a couple of drivers about the possibility of a Triple Crown and they were all for it, I think a couple, I think Charlie Kimball, said he would like to see an oval and possibly a road course and a street course one year as a possible Triple Crown and you get a true Triple Crown winner. Were there ever any thoughts with that?
RANDY BERNARD: Not really. We wanted to stick with tradition and have Pocono, Indy and then we put Fontana in. I know it used to be Ontario, but we just think that those three are a big complement to the IZOD IndyCar Series Triple Crown.
Q. With the double-headers, is this a one‑year experiment or long term?
RANDY BERNARD: I think anything we do needs to be looked at from the perspective of a long‑view strategy.
This won't be a one‑year sample. I think that we picked three great markets to have them in, and the proof will be in the pudding. But we did it with the understanding that this was definitely a long‑term planning, strategic move.
Q. Are the double-header races going to be the same length as a regular race?
RANDY BERNARD: That's correct. We want full‑length races for full points for full prize money. If a fan is going to come out and watch a race, they expect to see the same type of race. And the only difference would be the possibility of a standing start one day and a rolling start the other.
Q. When do you think the first IndyCar test at Pocono will be held? Will it be this year?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: We are working on this year but this is the time of year where the weather really starts to change here in the Poconos. You never know what each day brings. We have had two feet of snow on Halloween and we have had 80 degrees on Halloween. So between now and the end of our runnable season here, we are trying to find a date that works for everybody.
Q. You talked about the excitement up there, and that you're getting a lot of feedback from fans. Would you expect the first or second year of the IndyCar race to be close to what you get for the NASCAR races, or do you think it's going to take a few years to build the crowd?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: I think it will take a few years to build a crowd, but I think you'll see a similar number. You know, hopefully we'll get up there but if we can get a crowd that size, I think we all know then it's easy to say it's a success and we are going to roll with it.
But we don't have to get that big to make this a success, and we are excited about what the future holds. And you know in, talking to our fans, a lot of them are cross over fans and they are excited to be bringing this year.
Kind of relate it to a home team; you know, you go to your home team, you go to 81 or 82 games a season at the home stadium and we have our fans, that this is their home stadium so we are just going to give them more home games to attend. We think that that's what they want, that's what they told us they wanted.
Q. If your grandfather (the late Joseph Mattioli) were still here, would this be happening?
BRANDON IGDALSKY: I think it would be. You saw him in his later years, and my grandmother has always been a huge supporter of IndyCar. The two of them always went at it on their own in regards to IndyCar being here over the years.
And you know, obviously he went through a lot of turmoil, back with the USAC/CART split, and that took a toll on him. But I think IndyCar is doing a great job and hopefully they are past all that and with what Randy is doing, there's a great future ahead for behind I car and we are excited to be part of that.
Q. Can you clarify how the sanctioning fees for the double-headers work? In other words, because you said they are full points, full prize money, so are you collecting two sanctioning fees for the doubleheaders for the venue?
RANDY BERNARD: We don't discuss the actual sanctioning fees with the public. That's information that is kept confidential.
Q. Can you discuss the funding for the Triple Crown? I know the Las Vegas race last year was going to be funded by insurance premiums; is this a similar situation?
RANDY BERNARD: Again, let me think about that. We could do it either way, as we look at our budget, that will be a financial decision that we look at the risk versus the payout on it. So that will be a decision that management will sit down and we will all sit down together and look at and make that determination.
Q. The schedule for next year is going to be slightly extended, which is great. One thing that you didn't mention was the massive layoffs that have occurred recently in Indianapolis at several teams. Do you think this will help or delay the layoffs another year? And is there anything that you're considering to help some of these mechanics keep their jobs a little bit longer, or hopefully year‑round?
RANDY BERNARD: I think that would be the ideal thing if we could keep mechanics and engineers on full time. But I think that we are in a growing period right now, and I think going from Sept. 15 to next year to Oct. 19 is another month, and will help out considerably. But we all have to remember that we have got to just continue to keep that progress moving forward, and we have to walk before we run.
Q. Regarding Texas Motor Speedway, this is a Saturday night race for ABC in 2013; correct?
RANDY BERNARD: Yes, it is, it's a prime-time Saturday night, which we are very excited about. We think this will increase our viewership and our ratings significantly.
Q. That leads into my next question. Obviously the guy that runs Texas Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage, he needs no motivation to promote a good product. You said how excited you are; how excited is he about having that Saturday night prime-time slot for his track and IndyCar race there?
RANDY BERNARD: He is a great promoter and he has a great crowd. You know, last year we saw that Texas Motor Speedway was a great race.
So I think that one of the things we need to do is make sure that we are continuing, like I said, to press that progress forward. Two years ago I was wishing we could be in a position to have a prime-time race in this year with our new negotiated deal with ABC. That was one of the things that was up for consideration was prime time, and I'm very pleased and thankful that ABC was in agreement with this. We just think big things are going to happen in Texas on prime time.
Q. You talked in Baltimore about wanting to start the season a week earlier. Were there talks about moving the race up a week or is that something you decided to put off trying until 2014?
RANDY BERNARD: We were looking at an additional race prior to St. Petersburg, just because we would have liked to have started the season a little bit earlier, but there's always 2014. The most important thing is sticking to our goals and objectives of we want to have strong races, and we are going to stick to our plan and we are not going to make any shortcuts on this thing.
The fact is, we were not able to get a deal done, and so we are going to move forward with these 16 events because we know we have 16 really strong ones. Flying in here today to Pocono and seeing the response we have got, I'm really, really happy and excited of what I've seen here so far today.