NSSN Interview with Randy Bernard

UPDATE #2 This is part 4 of the interview in National Speed Sport News with Randy Bernard.
NSSN: Have you talked to Tony George?

BERNARD: “I have. I’ve talked to him several times and talk to him on the phone. I want to keep in good relationship with Tony. I think Tony did some great things. I’ve read the negativity and I don’t like to dwell on negativity but if I were to look at his legacy what he has done for safety and for drivers has been huge. What he has done for the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis bringing Formula One and Moto GP and NASCAR to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that was huge money he has brought to the city and state. I’d rather look at what he has done positive than anything he has done negative."

NSSN: Are you able to get into boardrooms and CEO offices to sell the IndyCar Series because you are someone other than Tony George?

BERNARD: “I’ll go anywhere I have to to help the League grow. If I have to meet with CMOs — it doesn’t have to be CEOs to me. Anyone that can make a difference that loves our sport are people I want to meet with."

NSSN: Has the Hulman-George Family given you certain goals to meet?

BERNARD: “The Hulman-George Family has been very gracious to me. When I took the job the only thing I asked is that I would have their backing and their commitment and that was the most important thing to me. I know there will be some decisions that might be very controversial and I need a board that is going to back me on these decisions."

NSSN: What is your first priority when you took the job?

BERNARD: “My first priority was listening. I didn’t want to come in and make any type of decisions until I had an understanding of the groundwork. One of the things I try to do every week is go to the Museum and Hall of Fame for one to two hours with somebody different. We are so rich in culture and tradition it is so important for me to understand before I make a decision. When I made the decisions about the advisory committee I did this for several reasons. I wanted to make sure there was credibility, integrity and a process with leading experts in open-wheel racing to help formulate a decision. If I put a stamp on something it looks negative on me and the sport for not creating an articulate process."

NSSN: Have you talked to A.J. Foyt?

BERNARD: “He’s a cowboy at heart. I think he could have been a Bull Rider in a previous life."
NSSN: Are the decisions getting easier for you?

BERNARD: “Some decisions are really easy and the next day you read about them and I think, why did I do that? Sometimes you make great decisions and sometimes you make bad decisions and you have to live with them. If I make a mistake I will fix it and I’m going to make mistakes. It is key to think that you are not too good to not make a mistake and let’s fix it as soon as possible and not wait a year to fix it."

NSSN: Do you have someone who is a sounding board?

BERNARD: “What I’m trying to do right not is create relationships with so many people. I’m putting people in the back of my mind from engine experts to anybody. I’ve been trying to formulate opinions on folks I can call on when I need to. There are so many people in this industry that are such a huge asset. I want to hear from everybody. I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m not just about hearing the good."

NSSN: What is your management style?

BERNARD: “Ask my staff that. I hope I’m a motivator. I’d like to think it’s positive reinforcement. I’m not afraid to get on somebody if they make a mistake but I’m also the one to take the blame for it in public. Once the staff understands my management style I will support them 110percent and back them. Everything needs to be a win/win and that is important."

NSSN: Does IndyCar have to be profitable by 2013?

BERNARD: “When I took this job I don’t look at them as challenges; I look at them as opportunity. That is the biggest opportunity we have. If the League is not successful in a couple of years they should look at who they have running the company. The buck stops here. I need some breaks. Right now we have some momentum and we need to keep that going. But there are a lot of positives going and IZOD has helped. I think the League can be successful in two years."

05/27/10 This is part 2 of the 4 part interview in National Speed Sport News with Randy Bernard.

NSSN: Gil de Ferran was named by the team owners to be on the ICONIC IndyCar advisory committee that will choose the new car. What are your thoughts on de Ferran?

BERNARD: “I think the team owners made a great choice. Here is a guy who was a driver, is a team owner, is very articulate and has an engineering degree. We have a winner here because he can look at the chassis, the engine and really make some sound decisions from every aspect. That is what is so important to me is that the team owners really made the right decision here. But that’s not for me to say. If they had said someone else I would be standing here telling you positive things about him. I want to make sure we are working as a team and whatever car we decide on is going to be something the team owners want, the sponsors and the fans want. There will always be a winner and always be a loser but there will be a very articulate process how we chose the next ICONIC IndyCar."

NSSN: Fifteen years ago it would have been Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi elbowing each other for that position. This removes the political game that used to be played in IndyCar. De Ferran has a relationship with Penske working for his son, Jay, but this seems like it wasn’t the “Big Two" team owners that got this position.

BERNARD: “That is the good thing about an outsider coming into this sport – I don’t know the politics. I have tried to stay out of the politics. I have a great respect for Roger Penske and a great respect for Chip Ganassi. Every team owner I have met has given me their opinions. I’m there just listening right now. I think it is going to be very important for Gil — his first step being a team owner survey. I’d like to see exactly what is important to the team owners. Can they afford in this economic situation right now to move into a new car in 2012? Do they like leases better than owning their engines? I think there is a lot of questions like that that need addressed so that when he comes there he completely understands what the team owners want."

NSSN: You have called this the defining decision of the decade. How much will the new car become the identity of the IndyCar Series?

BERNARD: “Other cars made mistakes in other series and this is a chance for IndyCar to continue to build momentum by making sure this process is well done and thought out."

NSSN: Will a decision by June be enough time to get a new car ready for 2012?

BERNARD: “June will be early enough in my opinion to get it done. I would hope so. I’ve met with quite a few people out there and the chassis companies have said as long as we have an answer by June 1? But if the advisory committee says let’s wait until 2013 we have to be prepared to make a decision on what is in the best interests of the League again."

NSSN: Is the advisory committee and your decision you telling other IRL officials that they have had plenty of time to do something and now it must get done?

BERNARD: “Yes. I just don’t want to shoot from the hip. That is the most important thing. We could have announced a car last week and to me that would create negative vibes throughout our fan base, our team owners and our sponsors. I think by setting it up this way we have enough information right now. My goal is having a plan go out to the chassis manufacturers giving them one month to create a written and an oral proposal which they will come back to the advisory committee and do. Then by mid-May when we sit down with each one of them and give us a week or two weeks afterward to weigh out the information then we might invite more team owners into the talks and get their comments. There might be other folks that the advisory committee might invite in to make the decision. I want to make the decision in that first week in June."

NSSN: Will you be the ultimate decider?

BERNARD: “I do not want to be the ultimate decider. That is why we have seven experts on that panel. That is why I have brought the four-star general into to do – to be the guy to really mediate that and stay on course. I don’t want anyone to think there is any distrust on this committee and no one will be able to attack his credibility or integrity. That was very important to me. Some asked, ‘Why don’t you just run it?" I don’t want the perception it’s an insider deal. His past responsibilities were modernizing the United States Air Force aircraft. We are trying to modernize our car. What are important to him are speed, safety, technology and a process. There are so many similarities that is why I have chosen General Looney to be the mediator of our committee. I met him from doing something for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about 10 years ago. I became very good friends with him."

NSSN: The series needs a new car but the competitors can’t afford to buy a new car. How do you balance that?

BERNARD: “That’s the million dollar question and here is why. We need a new car from perception. But if you look at how close these races are — the fans love the closeness of some of these races. So we have something working for us. We have more cars at the 500 this year. There is some momentum here and I don’t want to lose it. Can you imagine if we come out with a car and then two weeks later six teams have to drop out because they couldn’t afford it? All of a sudden I have negative impact before the car rolls out. Those are things the advisory committee has to weigh. That won’t be my decision — it will be there’s.

“Another thing I keep hearing is relevance. Does the car need to be relevant to what is going to be sold in the U.S. in three years? Relevance is only important to us if we have two or three car manufacturers that want to be involved in the process. If we only have one car manufacturer that is willing to promote and market the Indy Racing League, then it is entertainment. We really need to do a good job to reach out to all the OEMs and make sure who is committed to this. That is part of this process as well."

NSSN: What about an equivalency formula and a variety of chassis?

BERNARD: “What we have to weigh first of all is where the commitment levels are. We know Honda wants a turbocharged V6s I keep hearing rumors that OEMs are interested in an inline-4 but no one has stepped up and told us about a commitment to go that way. Let’s say there are four OEMs interested in the V6. Now, all of a sudden we would have some serious momentum if there was $30 million to $40 million being pushed into the Indy Racing League. That is what is important as we go. Open-sourcing personally I believe is very important. The fans want that but if you talk to some experts open-sourcing costs more money because there is always tweaking going on. I think what we have to do is figure out what is in the best interests of the sport and let the advisory committee decide whether open or sole sourcing is the way to go.

“I would hope if there is any way at all they would lean toward open-sourcing."

05/26/10 This is an excerpt from a 2 part interview with Randy Bernard from National Speed Sport News:

NSSN: What is the biggest thing that has struck you about the IZOD IndyCar Series?

BERNARD: “The thing I like the most about the series already is the passionate level of interest from the team owners, sponsors and fan base," Bernard said. “That is the most important thing so far. I love the momentum we have from our season-opener in Brazil and we have a new title sponsor in IZOD. There is a lot of momentum right now. My first and foremost job is to continue to build on this momentum.

“Open wheel racing has seen some pretty hard times but I’m a firm believer there is a rainbow at the end of the rain storm."

NSSN: What is at the top of your agenda?

BERNARD: “We have to create bigger stars out of these drivers. I think some of the things I want to do is with the prize money. I think Americans are really goal oriented. I think without saying too much on what those ideas are we have to make sure there is significant prize money. We have to make sure everyone understands that whether it is a big sum or money at the end or a famous trophy that we are building winners every week.

“We have the Indianapolis 500 way up here and a bunch of vanilla events down here. We need to have national events – two or three majors that stand apart and make big, big events. Long Beach is a huge event for the community but if you went to The Masters – that is a huge event. The PGA has three or four major events that set themselves apart. I want events that take your ratings to a new level."

NSSN: How important is it to you to add more Americans to the IndyCar lineup?

BERNARD: “People want to see the very best drivers in the world. A lot of people have come up to me and said they want to see more Americans on our tour. From the League standpoint it’s more important from my opinion that we have the very best drivers in the world on our tour.

“Having said that we have to create a grass-roots program where the best karters and the best midget racers are coming up and wanting to come back into open-wheel racing in IndyCar. That is how we are going to make sure we get more Americans in here.

“It’s very simple — we’re not dealing with rocket science here. They want to see the very best in the world. People won’t be afraid to buy a ticket as long as they know they are seeing the very best in the world. We have to make sure the very best drivers in the world are competing here and that takes money.

“I think that is where the money was but Danica Patrick loves open-wheel racing and she loves IndyCar. I’ve talked to a lot of people whose passion is with IndyCar. What we need to do is to keep her motivated and love IndyCar. We have to make sure we are bringing more sponsorship revenue to these events so that we can make sure the very best drivers in the world are competing here. She is one of the best drivers in our series and that is why NASCAR wants here. She has a phenomenal personality and people love her. Our job is to keep to continue to build our television audience, build our fan base and build sponsorship in that order we can keep these great drivers right here."

NSSN: How did your time at the helm of PBR help prepare you for the IndyCar Series?

BERNARD: “There were three or four organizations out there that were trying to compete with us at the time but we had the very best bull riders in the world," Bernard said. “Our No. 1 objective was to have the very best bull riders in the world. That is what we have to do here — have the very best drivers in the world and to make sure we are promoting them. Secondly, the biggest step was getting network television and when we did that is when the sport took off.

“We have to reignite Americans into open-wheel racing."

NSSN: What are your plans for the future regarding existing television contracts?

BERNARD: “We have signed contracts and we will have to navigate through that," Bernard said. “Remember that Comcast owns Versus and Comcast is the largest cable provider in the United States with great cash flow. We knew they were going to acquire a network and they have acquired 51 percent of NBC. I think that is a huge step.

“We can’t do it by ourselves. It takes our television partners to be engaged in it and it takes our sponsors to be engaged in it. If we can really focus on what we are trying to do, I think in two years this sport will have a different face to it."

NSSN: When you started your current job, you told the IndyCar Series staff that one word you don’t believe in is “can’t." Can you elaborate on that?

BERNARD: “I don’t like the word ‘can’t.’ I don’t want to hear that this is the way it’s always been done. I challenge everybody. I ask 1,000 questions. I try to push people to their limits and try to come up with better ideas. The one thing I want to do is make people think outside the box. When you do it for so long the same way people often don’t look outside of the box.

“When I came into rodeo people were doing it the same way for 70 years. I came in and was looked at as a crazy kid making stupid moves. Now, people can’t see it any other way. We put rock and roll music behind it and took the brass band out of it. We put the bullfighters in a uniform opposed to baggies and clown makeup. They have a serious job.

“I looked at it from an outsider. I never tried to be an expert on bull riding and I will never try to be an expert on racing. That’s not my job. My job is to see how many more people I can get to come to that event and now many people can watch that event on TV. I have to be a devil’s advocate to figure out what is in the best interest of the fans."

NSSN: What were your first few weeks like on the job?

BERNARD: “The first three weeks have been trying for some folks because when there is change there is cautiousness. Some folks wondered why they brought somebody in that didn’t know the sport and others are welcoming the fact someone doesn’t know the sport and there is no politics.

“What I’m trying to do right now is let everyone know their input is important and needed and even though I might ask 1,000 questions, I’m definitely going to change things. But I work as a team with who is on our team. I don’t like to credit myself; I give the credit to who is on the team working on it. We’re in this together but the bottom line is the buck stops here. If there is a problem it’s going to come back to me and I will take the blame for whatever problem there is."

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