Is IndyCar picking a NASCAR fight? Whether they acknowledge it or not, IndyCar and NASCAR are competitors. Again, similarly unacknowledged, NHMS owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) is a direct competitor to International Speedway Corp. (ISC). ISC and NASCAR are essentially one entity, owned as they are by the France family.
Connecting the dots, Sunday's announcement of a return to New Hampshire for IndyCar and demonstration run by Dario Franchitti before the NASCAR race could be perceived as SMI and IndyCar teaming up to take on the France family and their ISC/NASCAR juggernaut. And even though everyone involved said all the right things, there is no doubt that NASCAR fought the day's activities tooth and nail. When the IndyCar contingent was en route to New Hampshire early Sunday morning, league officials were still in doubt whether NASCAR would allow Franchitti's demonstration run.
"Mr. Smith is one of my heroes," Bernard said. "The way he promotes is so aggressive, and that's what the IZOD IndyCar Series wants and needs. We have to think in the best interests of the IndyCar Series, and that's why we want to be involved with Mr. Smith."
You can see why Bernard has taken a shine to "Mr. Smith" and vice versa. They're both born promoters who aren't afraid to take chances.
Bernard frequently used the word "aggressive" when talking about Smith and SMI, but there is no doubt that Bernard has been aggressive in his first 100 days on the IRL job. He's already pushed the stagnant future engine formula selection process forward, and he hopes to make an announcement about chassis by July 14.
Bernard has also indicated that major changes could be coming to the IndyCar schedule, which he promised to reveal by "late summer." In addition to the New Hampshire event, IndyCar has already announced a new street race in Baltimore set for the week after NHMS in 2011.
With the schedule to be capped at 17 or 18 races, several existing events are apparently going to be dropped. And the obvious ones are the poorly attended races at ISC tracks -- Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Watkins Glen International.
On Sunday, Bernard said that IndyCar has a positive relationship with ISC, "But they need to tell us what they can bring to the table that they're not bringing right now."
He didn't rule out one-year contracts to keep some ISC tracks in the fold. "I like one-year contracts, because it keeps everyone hungry," Bernard said. New Hampshire is a one-year deal.
From a business standpoint, a stronger IndyCar Series can only benefit SMI, and ISC for that matter. That's where those France family ties get complicated and conflicted for ISC, because the Frances most certainly do not want to see Indy car racing grow at the expense of NASCAR, but they do want successful events at their tracks.
SMI officials are convinced that despite its checkered past in New England, the New Hampshire Indy car race will be a winner this time around.
"I like Indy car racing," Smith said. "I'm looking forward to bringing Indy cars back to New Hampshire, and I hope y'all are, too. We're going to promote the dickens out of it and make it a national event."
"The difference [from 1998] is that Bruton wasn't the promoter, and it has changed a lot since then," Gappens added. "IndyCar has better drivers, better cars and good momentum. A lot of it is due to Randy."
If anything, Bernard is a man not afraid to make a decision and put it into action. That's what makes his growing relationship with Smith so intriguing. Both of them are willing to take chances and do whatever it takes to make IndyCar events successful.
The Indy car war of 1996-2008 may be over, yet open-wheel racing still has its share of problems and conflicts. But with Bernard acting aggressively as the new sheriff in town, the streets are being cleaned up.
The question to be determined in the next few weeks is whether those streets will continue to include International Speedway Corp. properties. Excerpts from ESPN.com