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IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard fired

A pathetically sad story continues.

On Sunday evening Randy Bernard was sacked from his job as the CEO of IndyCar. Bernard was thrown into this lion’s den of a job two and a half years ago and was destined to fail. He tried hard but made many mistakes because he didn’t understand the racing industry, the people or the giant egos who populate it.

indycar  IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard fired

Tony George founded the Indy Racing League in 1996 as a rival to CART and followed NASCAR’s philosophy of restricting performance and technology. IRL cars had nothing like the performance of CART cars and produced NASCAR-like ‘pack’ racing with the cars clustered together, lacking the horsepower to pass and break away from each other.

Despite a dumbed-down formula and lack of fan and media interest in the IRL, George held the trump card in the Indy 500 and starting in 2002 Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi led the defection of CART teams to the IRL. Subsequently CART was plunged into bankruptcy but staggered on for a few years, rebranded as Champ Car, until George finally brokered a deal in 2008 to buy the remnants of Champ Car for $40 million. But the unified IndyCar series struggled to draw crowds and TV ratings and as a result the Hulman & Company board replaced George in 2010 with former Professional Bull Riding boss Bernard.

There were hopes that IndyCar’s new Dallara DW12 spec car would help turn around IndyCar’s fading position in the market but the deeply unattractive new car had little effect as TV ratings and crowds continued to dwindle at most races with a further decline this year in already tiny TV ratings. It’s also sobering to reflect that no fewer than forty(!) venues – ovals, road courses and street circuits – have failed over the last dozen years.

indycar  IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard fired

There was also a lot of grumbling this year from the team owners about the costs and effectiveness of the Dallara spec car programme while the cancellation of a planned IndyCar race in China had a deleterious effect on the year’s balance sheet. Bernard has also been looking for a new series sponsor to replace Izod in 2016 and is said to have signed a letter of agreement with Continental Tires to replace Bridgestone/Firestone in 2015.

All this fuelled rumours that the deposed Tony George was leading an investor group bidding to take over management of the IndyCar series. Stories suggested that George had made a preliminary proposal to the Hulman & Company board of directors – owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – to take over running the IndyCar series and assume any debt on its books.

At the heart of the latest disagreement between the team owners and sanctioning body is the sad state of IndyCar’s overall media exposure and sponsorship income. This state of affairs is the product of IndyCar racing’s long and depressing history of a despairing lack of leadership. It’s gone on for decades with the owners and series officials constantly squabbling among themselves as CART followed USAC and the IRL/IndyCar replaced CART or Champ Car.

indycar  IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard fired

Today, IndyCar racing is consigned to the margins as a minor league sport with tiny TV ratings (this year’s season-closer at the California Speedway drew a dismal 0.21 rating – a national audience of fewer than 250,000 people!) and little or no leverage to generate much TV income. There’s hardly any TV money for the teams and not enough exposure for most them to be able to sell major sponsorship. It’s a vicious circle and so it’s been for many decades.

What’s the solution? How to unravel so many decades of mismanagement? How can IndyCar rebuild its audience, regain its rightful place in racing’s heirarchy and enjoy the fruits of an open, free market formula?

The lessons of history provide a powerful argument that IndyCar racing stands out as America’s most poorly-run sport, rivalled only by American sports car racing! It’s not a very encouraging story and to turn it around will require a quality of leadership and spirit of working together for the common good that we’ve never had the pleasure to see. Are the team owners – or anyone else – up to the job?

Add your comments

38 comments on IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard fired

  1. Uncle Iberian, 29 October 2012 11:36

    For my taste, the cars look futuristic, I like ‘em. Mighty F1 pundits say another Bernard (Ecclestone) is thinking of retiring from the sport – IndyCar should definitely hire him, this Bernard is guaranteed to kick some a$$, for sure, y’know.

  2. Justin Rajewski, 29 October 2012 11:58

    Shame. He was flown to the Titanic and dropped off with nothing more than a pick ax, some duct tape, and a electrical cable from Lucas Electronics to keep it from sinking.

  3. Ian Taylor, 29 October 2012 12:38

    After the way that the BOD dumped Randy Bernard, Who, in their right mind would take the job?
    Randy took on a monumental task and he had one hand imobilized with a very weak TV package and an even weaker front line staff.
    Randy was making progress and now what?

  4. Joe Machado, 29 October 2012 12:41

    Someone is trying to get “Trust Fund Wonder” Tony George back in the saddle. After nearly completely wiping open wheel racing in America, these jokers still don’t understand what is needed to have a hit series. Amazing. Let’s see who is the next clown hired by the Indy Circus. What a sad story.

  5. D,Driver, 29 October 2012 12:48

    IndyCar is destined to fail, this is what happens when you have a bunch of whining millionaires that can’t get their way.

    It’s no longer about the sport(and hasn’t been for a VERY long time) it’s about the money. Ecclestone keeps those whiny millionaires inline.

    When it flipped over to where drivers go out and seek their own sponsor then buy the ride with it instead of the way it USED to be….drivers hired for driving skills to be put in a car that the car owner had is what has screwed the whole racing world up…..and in the end will be it’s demise.

  6. NoahRacer, 29 October 2012 13:20

    Great insight into one of the best journalists on the US racing scene.
    Sadly no hope for our open wheel racing scene.

  7. Andre, 29 October 2012 15:21

    Yet again, IndyCar makes the news more for bone-headed moves by the owners (be it series or teams) than for the sport. Bernard’s hiring seemed to indicate the Hulman’s had gotten a clue — realizing that Tony simply couldn’t run a race series and that the team owners couldn’t be trusted either. The ouster of Bernard — not only the fact that it happened, but the way the Hulman board has made a complete hash of it — suggests that they haven’t learned a thing.

    I started watching IndyCar the year before the CART/IRL split (and have attended both CART and IRL races). As time wore on I watched a once great form of racing slide into complete irrelevance and I stopped watching. When I heard about Bernard’s hiring I started paying attention again as it appeared the Hulman’s had finally realized that neither being a team owner nor sharing genes with the series owners were good qualifications for running a racing series. Now it looks like that was one brief moment of lucidity and we’re back to the bad old days again. Having been on this ride before, I think I’m done with Indy. And I doubt I’m the only one.

  8. Nigel (not that one), 29 October 2012 16:07

    Why can’t they just adopt the mid nineties tech regs as a starting point? Indycars used to look great, they’ve been pigs for a decade now.

  9. dave cubbedge, 29 October 2012 16:21

    Since Indycar is so irrelevant these days, why not go back in time with new regs. I’m not talking about going back to 1995, but even further. Make the cars all front-engined roadsters. Let ‘em run push-rod engines or Offys. No turbos. No wings. No telemetry. No radios. They did it back then with no problems and a huge crowd to boot.

    I’ve often wondered in recent years why Indycar doesn’t scrap that ‘Freedom 100′ race for Indy Lights and run it for USAC Silver Crown cars.

    I know it’ll never happen, but the Indy Roadster era was the last truly great era in US open wheel racing. Everything was fine until Colin showed up with his little car and Jimmy….

    …and I know progress cannot be stopped. Fun to dream though.

  10. Daryl McGrath, 29 October 2012 17:49

    Champ Car racing in the 1990′s was the best racing in the world period. The cars looked and sounded fantastic and with 1,000 bhp on tap, were proper cars.

    The problem with Indycar is that no matter who they get in to run it, unless all the team bosses are SOME way united in supporting him, it will always fail.

    Bernie Ecclestone is indisputably in charge of F1 but the teams still visibly flex their muscles quite frequently leading to various stand offs. Mr. E is only able to keep them in line because he built his power base up from nothing way back, before corporations and TV etc. became as relevant as it is now and before teams were rich.Ecclestone made sure to get hold of all the cards.

    It’s different for someone trying to do this today when there are already rich team bosses there, bloated ego’s and all. It’s obvious to them what can be done (witness F1 and NASCAR) so they think any Indycar CEO should be just able to click his fingers and do it. However, the same bosses will be totally critical all along the way of the slightest thing they disagree with hence it’s a vicious circle with the CEO never having a chance.

    If Ecclestone went in to Indycar now, he couldn’t do it because the teams are so blinkered and self interested and obviously have the power to be able to do so. So unless the teams change and work for the good of the series first (which will ultimately benefit them), they have no chance.

    Tony George is emphatically not the answer. He’s done enough damage already.

  11. Sandeep Banerjee, 29 October 2012 20:48

    It is truly a sad state of affairs. Now even the reunited US sports car racing scene is now going to take a bite out of Indycar’s already dwindling share of mainstream attention in a couple of years.

    As for the car, I agree with Uncle Iberian that they looked futuristic. Definitely a breath of fresh air but I can understand how they were not everyone’s cup of tea. Regardless,they put on good racing, which is the most important thing.

  12. John Reid, 29 October 2012 21:19

    This might be the final nail in Indycar’s coffin, if you go by the fan response on the internet and social media, this was the worst possible move No one seems to be happy about this decision and of all the “big time” motorsports in America, Indycar has the most to lose since they are at rock bottom as far as ratings and popularity go. Amasing how far they have fallen since the days of Mario, A.J, and Clark. Sad really.

  13. bkwanab, 30 October 2012 04:57

    People seem to forget why Tony George started IndyCar. The reason was that CART had become the domain of foreign drivers with deep pockets. George’s plan was to get back to simpler cars that were less expensive to operate and concentrate on oval track racing to provide a path for TQ and Silver Crown USAC drivers to aspire to.

    You can compare it to NASCAR but it was really intended to get back to the old USAC days when dirt oval drivers could get a ride at Indianapolis and a chance to get a permanent drive later.

    Unfortunately, deep pocketed drivers just found it even easier to buy a ride and relatively poorer USAC drivers still found it hard to get a ride. No Americans driving means no US TV coverage.

    Just check out this years NBC Olympic coverage. The events with US competitors got maximum coverage and those without went begging for TV reportage.

    So give Tony George some credit for trying to do something for American drivers and single seater car racing. Personally I would think including some dirt oval races in the schedule would spice it up and give the next generation of Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart who all came from a dirt oval background somewhere other than the boring bumpercar series that dominates US TV channels excessively.

    Here’s a thought. How about IndyCar dumps the aero clean carbon fibre vacuum cleaners they run now and specifies something more like the Super Modified cars. They require skill and hairy chests to get those machines to the winners circle. And like the NASCAR machines, they’re crude and muscle bound. Yeah!

  14. JOHN SWOPE, 30 October 2012 13:14

    I have been an IndyCar fan since CART’s inception in 1979. I am stunned by the “resignation” of Randy Bernard. Eistein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! This quote should be posted on the wall of IMS board room and the team owners offices. They can’t stop the insanity. I am throwing in the towel, one more fan who won’t support this series anymore.

  15. Sandeep Banerjee, 30 October 2012 15:04

    bkwanab, that is true and a lot of the initial USAC benefactors, most famous of them being Stewart, credited TG for creating the IRL but TG should have had the foresight to see what it would eventually become. Even before the IRL, NASCAR had already become the ‘go to’ series for USAC drivers like Jeff Gordon and Dave Blaney and that was not going to change any time soon unless the IRL used cars that actually made sense for a USAC driver to transition into. Rear-engined high downforce cars were always going to be the foreigner’s domain, so to speak.

  16. dave cubbedge, 30 October 2012 15:44

    A few of the posts above refer to Tony George trying to bring back the good days of the 500 with reference to the ‘ladder to Indy’ including the USAC Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown series. I have always thought that this might have been the way to go in the 1960s, but there is such a radical difference between a USAC Silver Crown car on dirt and the current Indycar today to make this transition a difficult one. In the end, very few drivers graduate from USAC to Indycar – they all go to NASCAR where the huge, lumbering stock cars have more in common to the USAC racers.

    If Indycar dies, then what happens to the Indy 500?

  17. JimC, 31 October 2012 13:18

    Contrast Indycar today with CART 19 years ago. Nigel Mansel, WDC, driving for Newman-Haass. Very quick, but slightly heavier cars than F1. Capacity crowds. Open wheel racing can once again become popular, but not with the buffoon, Tony George, anywhere near it.

  18. Martin Baldock, 31 October 2012 15:32

    the series could be aligned with F1 by adopting the regs of GP2 and GP3. perhaps this would bolster the industry in general by creating customers for the cars, and would produce some young American driving talent…

  19. dave cubbedge, 31 October 2012 15:58

    The series will be aligned with F1 in 2013 as the new TV network is going to air F1 races after the Indycars in an attempt to get people to watch the latter. Having Indycar run to GP2 regs might be fine for nurturing US talent towards F1, but what Indycar does not need is a talent base that continues to bolt to greener pastures. We need Ryan Hunter-Reay to stay and continue winning…as well as any US driver yet to come up through the ranks.

  20. Cactus Dan, 31 October 2012 16:16

    It might well be that a buyout by NASCAR and rebuilding this series to run side by side with Cup and/or Nationwide and/or the “merged” Rolex-ALMS could result in a far stronger event weekend spectator turnout than stand alone Cup events with a second tier on Saturday. Mix up the component parts and throw a major music and BBQ event into the middle. Give fans a race weekend party and perceived value for their travel dollar.

    Add a new dimension to qualifying by having qualifying heats instead of straight up time trials.

  21. Chris Wright, 31 October 2012 16:26

    The hugely misjudged 2011 end of season event in Las Vegas was surely proof enough that Indycar was being grossly mishandled. I was surprised that Bernard didn’t fall on his sword then and there. Still, a year on and the inevitable has now happened.

    Nothing less than, yet another, complete re-branding of the formula is needed. I agree with those who believe that FOM could certainly be of assistance to Indycar, if only in an advisory capacity. On the other hand, why does Formula One want to make a potential competitor any stronger?

  22. bruce dougherty, 31 October 2012 16:59

    we need less regulation and standardrizing so we can have more innovation in racing’there as no new discovery now

  23. Terry Jacob, 31 October 2012 18:20

    I have always felt it all lost its way with the passing of the front engined Offy-roadster . The only way I see to make it a real interesting series is to adopt Oswego Motor Speedway supermodified rules !! But , hey , I’m an old romantic !!!!!!!

  24. wayne wachtell, 31 October 2012 18:48

    tony george destoyed indy car ! it has never been the same since the split ! the loyal fans that indy car had for decades and considered their new year day with the running of the indy 500 are gone have or have just lost interest! it was great in the 80s and 90s ! they tried to sell an inferior product with two separate series but the fans didnt buy it! they dont like the cars or the engines ! then they put the races on another channel ! what were these people thinking ! ive been following indy racing since 1960 when I was very young ! I watch the indy 500 and read the results of the races in the paper or on the internet ! dont much care if I see them or not! you people destroyed a great thing ! if you had just left alone what you had in the 70s 80s and early 90s you would have been fine! when tony george destroyed the series I lost interest big time !
    it was never the same!!!!!!!!! thanks for destroying a good thing!

  25. RonO, 31 October 2012 20:01

    Please no more Tony George. He was the open wheel anti-christ in the US.

  26. JimC, 31 October 2012 20:17

    This are two different kind of autosport fans in the U.S. There are the open wheel fans and Nascar fans. The two do not crossover. The thinking among the IRL types is what makes Nascar a success will do so in open wheel. To continue with this line of thinking, in-spite of the poor attendance and poor TV numbers is insanity. The leadership in U.S. open wheel racing is definitely daft.

    F1 generates some $4 billion annually. Indycar is going broke. Indycar thinks the answer is cheaper cars and engines. WTF?

  27. Tom Claridge, 31 October 2012 21:57

    The last people to do it would be the Team Owners who are among the big problems the sport has. They have all done much for their individual gain not looking at the big picture and have ruined the sport. Worse are the other parasites like Tony George, who talk about egos, sought to control the sport himself and run it to his opinion about what to do. Now we hear that George is trying to regain control of the sport for his own aggrandizement again. A pox on him! So much ground has been lost so many fans alienated that it will be a miracle
    if the series were to recover anything like it’s former glory? Are
    there an Mario Andrettis, Al Unsers and AJ Foyts out there now–I think not! Tom Claridge

  28. Ralph Averill, 1 November 2012 01:32

    JimC, There are not two but three kinds of autosport fans; open wheel, NASCAR, and sports car Grand Am/ALM. The latter, I believe, is on the ascent, the two former, on the decline. I cite as evidence the number of empty seats at events.

  29. JimC, 1 November 2012 02:27

    Ralph, you are right. I stand corrected.

  30. dave cubbedge, 1 November 2012 16:21

    I am beginning to agree with you Cactus Dan.

  31. Marty Davis, 1 November 2012 17:38

    In addition to all its other problems, IndyCar HAS to find a way to get some established names into its cars. The lineage of Indy greats that stretched back from Mears to Mauri Rose has been broken.

    I personally don’t doubt Hunter-Reay’s skill, but in the mind of the public (and let’s be honest, even to most of us “hardcore fans”), there is no connection between his accomplishments today and those of the household names of yesteryear (Foyt, Unser, Andretti, et al). No matter how good the cars, or the new drivers, people aren’t gonna care.

    The best argument for some sort of concord/cooperation with NASCAR comes from the driver angle. Get Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart behind the wheel of an IndyCar, and believe me, people will care again. They’ll have some frame of reference. I’m sure Kenny Brack is a great driver, but how can I really compare his 500 record against Rick Mears? THIS is the lasting damage of the split, more so than any of its TV/sponsorship/regulation turmoil.

    How to do it, I have no idea! Probably the way GrandAm events allow for NASCAR driver participation. Run fewer races, but with more recognizable drivers.

    Because above all else, you need to re-establish in the public’s mind that they are watching “the best” drivers when they watch IndyCar. For almost 90 years, you could convincingly argue the winner of the Indy 500 was one of the best drivers on the planet. Not so anymore (no disrespect, Dario!). Without that, it’ll always feel like watching a glorified feeder series.

    In other words, it’s doomed.

  32. Ray T, 1 November 2012 20:55

    Good riddance. He should have been fired after Dan Wheldon’s death. Bernard was not a racing guy, he was just a promoter, his previous experience was cowboy rodeos. IndyCar was, and still is a mess.

    Tony George is a proven failure, if put in charge, the Indy 500 will be gone in 5 years. It’s now headed for open-wheeled NASCAR.

  33. James Anderton, 2 November 2012 14:24

    I would suggest two changes: 1. A claim rule where smaller teams buy podium cars for perhaps 50-75k $….this will force big teams to build more cars, driving down unit costs and getting good equipment into smaller teams’ hands…2. Design cars with multiple built-in cameras for exciting TV coverage…build more damage tolerance into front and rear wings to allow occasional contact…use less aero grip to generate some oversteer and wheelspin… redesign helmets with very large clear faceplates so TV audiences can see the driver’s faces….. this will personalize the sport for the non-racing sports fan watching the 6:00 news….generally add enough drama to the sport to make it appealing to stick and ball sports fans…then the TV and live revenues will follow

  34. Jason, 6 December 2012 07:03

    I read all of these comments carefully, and only JimC cam remotely close in his analysis. Most of the other comments are very far off.

    First, open-wheel/Indy fans are a totally different fan from NASCAR, and we watch racing for entirely different reasons. NASCAR is not, never was, and never will be, a model for any resurgence in open-wheel. NASCAR is the Pro Wrestling of motorsports, and the reason IndyCar is a pathetic joke right now is because there’s only room for one 3-ring circus, and Indy debased the institution of american open-wheel by stooping to the NASCAR level. And for all you NASCAR fans who are offended by my comments, you should be happy, you got your way, the current Indy is what open-wheel looks like when it copies your schtick.

  35. Jason, 6 December 2012 07:04

    Next, as far as drivers go… The success of open-wheel in the US has nothing whatever to do with having a lot of American drivers. If that were true, why is Mario Andretti a household name? He is an Italian who won first overseas in F1, and then came to Indy. Ditto for Emo and Nigel Mansell, and a slew of others. In fact, PPG CART/Indy whatever back in the 80s and early 90s was awesome precisely because of the interest in amazing and charismatic foreign drivers. One reason why Indy TV ratings suck right now is because the hardcore base of American open-wheel fans don’t give two sh*tes about Indy and we watch F1 instead, and our interest in F1 was sparked by the wave of F1 drivers who went to Indy in the 70s and 80s.

    The biggest reason Indy blows is because it is a pathetic spec race. It is pro-am, at best. No better than Formula Ford or Formula Atlantic. It is a minor league. Wait… so back in the heydy of CART/Indy, every main race was proceded by a Formula Atlantic race. the only reason people came to see those races is because they wer eon the Saturday before the big Sunday race. So Indy thought they’d make a better series by dumbing the main event down to the level of the opening band? Bwahahahaha!!!!!

    The technology is ancient, there’s no innovation, all the cars look the same, there’s no manufacturer’s title, no underwings or other ground-effect tech, etc. That’s not what the customer (fans) want. Very simple.

  36. Jason, 6 December 2012 07:08

    The secret to unlocking the open-wheel scene is actually series domination. Fans LOVE dominant teams, whether they admit it overtly or not. It creates drama. Even the fans who claim to hate the dominant teams prove my point, and they watch just to hate. Ask any sports racing or open-wheel fan what the greatest eras were in these sports, and they will say the Penske Porshe 917/30 and Bruce & Denny years in Can Am, or the Honda McLaren years in F1, or the Penske years in PPG, etc. You actually want a few years of dominance by exceptional teams who invest in the best tehcnology and people.

  37. Jason, 6 December 2012 07:15

    And finally, here are some of my ideas for reviving Indy. Forgive me for multiple posts, that’s only to get over the word limit.

    Basically, open up the regulations, but make sure the drivers are actually driving the cars.

    1. Maybe license an F1 chassis from a few years ago, negotiate a volume contract, and give them to the teams. However, allow them to modify them within some basic limits. Do this for the first 3 years.

    2. Introduce chassis dimension and total weight limits, but eliminate any and all engine displacement, type, and boost limitations. Yes, I actually mean this. Concerned about driver safety? That’s their business, and I’m sure plenty would show up. Or, they can take up knitting instead.

    3. Require manual gearboxes. ;-) I mean a shift lever on the right side with an H pattern. I’m not against technology, but the driver has to actually fully control the car.

    4. Disallow any electronic traction control, ABS, etc. Some reasons as above. No electronic control aids at all.

    5. Allow any and all underwing tunnels, ground effects, or other aerodynamic contraptions, as long as they fit within the cubic demension limits of the whole chassis. This will cause a return to the underwing and diffusers, which are the safest way to add downforce. It will also cause dramatic differentiation in the looks of the cars, and they will appear very radical and futuristic after a few years.

    And yes, they will have to attract a series sponsor. But no more placation of the team owners, they are the ones who promulgated this spec-race nonsense.

  38. Alex Harmer, 6 December 2012 09:42

    Jason,

    Some very interesting comments, but I would point out that Andretti was winning in America a long time before he ever won in Europe.

    Take a look at our forum (linked on the tab at the top), the US Scene area’s pretty quiet at the moment!

    ACH

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