Looking for a leader

At the end of October, Randy Bernard was fired from his job as IndyCar’s CEO. Bernard was thrown into this lion’s den of a task two and a half years ago and was frankly destined to fail. He tried hard, but made many mistakes because he didn’t understand the racing industry or the people and the giant egos who populate it. As I write in early November there was no hint of who might replace Bernard, so I turned to top team owners Chip Ganassi and Bobby Rahal to discuss IndyCar’s future.

“Too many people are focusing on the negatives and not on the positives,” Ganassi said. “I think we have a lot of good things going on. We have good racing, good sponsorship, and good partners in the engine manufacturers and the tyre company. We had great racing all year. We had the best season for a long time, and we needed it on the heels of what happened at the end of the previous season (Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash).

“I think the days are gone where you have one guy who’s the magic bullet. I don’t know that it’s the right question to ask what are the talents that one guy needs to have. I think it takes a team of people with a lot of different skills, and there’s no question that a lot of different areas could use help in lndycar racing. It’s not somebody that has to know racing, but there are certain parts of it where it is important. I think Randy had some good qualities and I think he lacked some qualities.”

In general, Rahal agrees with Ganassi. “I think there was a lot of negative baggage including a bad TV package that Randy inherited. But having said that, I think that to have a liffle barter understanding of the technical issues and owner dynamics would have been a good thing.

“I’m still very positive about the series because I think what makes anything popular and successful is the product, and I think the product is preffy damn good. We’ve had a lot of entries in the past several years. It’s never been consistently that strong since I’ve been in lndycar racing. But the promotion of the drivers and the races, the TV, the merchandising and marketing of the series and the drivers is still badly underperforming. That to me has been the Achilles heel.

“Whatever the plan may be, the key is going to be how the series really ramps up those areas to make it more successful. You have to promote the product and the drivers and the series. I hope in this changeover that there’s a commitment to do that above and beyond what has been the case in the past.

“We’re off the radar screen. We need a very aggressive, very proactive PR department. I think there are a lot of dynamic stories out there and you’ve got to get them out there, and that just hasn’t been happening. There’s a lot to work with. It’s just a maffer of Indianapolis and IndyCar commiffing themselves to focusing in those areas at a level that’s never been seen before.

“I think the biggest thing is that whoever succeeds Randy has to be a very strong person who has the confidence and the support of the board and of the series itself. And IndyCar has to be honest with the owners on all levels. The owners shouldn’t involve themselves in areas that they shouldn’t be involved with. That needs to be put under control.

“Hopefully this time around the organisation is going to give whoever comes in the chance to do his job. It’s like Roger (Penske) said, no company can have a revolving door in the chief executive’s office and expect to be successful.

“Hopefully they will get a guy that we can all get behind and make the series go forward. We’ve got to build the fan base, we have to do barter TV and we have to have a lot barter promotion. We need more print media coverage, more radio the whole nine yards. We will do whatever we can to support whoever comes in to lead the charge.”