IndyCar needs a new boss – and a new plan

[Editor's Note: This Globe and Mail article was published yesterday prior to the Jeff Belskus Open Letter to fans was published (see our Home Page article). In it Belskus said they have a plan for 2013, it was already done and he as CEO is following it.]

IndyCar’s post-Randy Bernard era has begun.

What the departure of the series chief executive will bring is anybody’s guess because it doesn’t seem like anyone in the head office has a plan.

Although many fans and media expected the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) board of directors, which oversees IndyCar, to make some sort of mission statement quickly after Bernard’s “resignation" was accepted, none was forthcoming.

Bernard’s demise was announced by the IMS board following a conference call on Sunday. So far, all we know is that IMS president and Hulman & Co. chief executive Jeff Belskus is the interim IndyCar boss.

There was no hint of a new plan, no promise to outline the changes to come, and no names offered as possible candidates to replace Bernard. That’s simply not enough. As team owner Roger Penske put it, all it does is show the IMS board’s poor judgment.

With Bernard now out the door, it’s obvious his plan was not acceptable to his Hulman & Co. bosses. But you wouldn’t know it from the release announcing Bernard’s exit, praising the outgoing CEO for his tireless work turning the series around. It was so glowing that it must have left the IMS board wondering why it had let such a hard-working gem go.

Sure, no man is the IndyCar Series and Bernard was not irreplaceable. But what he did have was a long-term strategy to get IndyCar out of the shadows and back onto the main stage. And it was working.

The series finally had some momentum after years of stagnating, it had new cars to showcase, engine competition to spice things up, and some new venues to open new markets, and brought back some old ones to capitalize on IndyCar’s history.

And let’s be honest: The guy who took bull riding from a nothing sport to a force to be reckoned with could probably work some magic with a racing series. Considering that IndyCar was once one of the top racing series on the planet, Bernard’s savvy should have brought it back up, had it been given a fair chance.

And while some in the paddock wanted him gone, Bernard’s down-to-earth style earned him huge points with fans and his firing has them mad.

None of that matters now because he’s gone and his vision for IndyCar is in the dustbin. But without the IMS board telling fans and sponsors what was so wrong with the course he chose, there is no direction.

Both are understandably nervous, which means the next CEO will need to be an inspired choice.

It seems the top candidate to replace Bernard is IMS and Hulman & Co. board member Mark Miles. There’s no doubt Miles has credibility through his role as chairman of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and as the head of the Association of Tennis Professionals.

But if the knock against Bernard was his lack of a racing experience, Miles has the same problem. He has eight months in racing though his board involvement with the Speedway, making him a full two years less experienced than the guy they just booted.

He may also be seen by fans as a board insider who pushed for Bernard’s dismissal so he could take his job. Being accepted by the rank and file who buy tickets would be tough.

The other front-runner is likely Just Marketing founder Zak Brown, who would have been in charge if the takeover offer from the group led by Tony George, former IRL boss, had been accepted by the board. George submitted a bid to purchase IndyCar last month but it was not even considered by the board. He resigned from the board in mid-October, a few days after the offer expired.

Although Brown has loads of experience and success in racing through his sports sponsorship company, he will definitely be seen as George’s man.

Judging from the reaction from IndyCar’s fan base when it was thought Bernard was pushed to make way for George, putting anyone in the chair that has a remote connection to him would be nothing short of a colossal blunder.

Then again, firing your top man with no replacement in mind and no plan in place doesn’t exactly sound like business savvy either. So, fans will just have to wait and see what happens, and then decide whether IndyCar is worthy of their interest and hard-earned cash. Globe and Mail

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