Friday, December 31, 2010

Frenetic Friday -- Randy Bernard Edition

Probably the most significant move IndyCar made in 2010 was bringing on Randy Bernard as the CEO back in the spring. The success he had with building up the Professional Bull Riding series was impressive, but given the fact by his own admission he had never even seen a race prior to his hiring, it made people wonder if he would have the ability to figure everything out and start moving forward in the very short window that sat in front of him.

Fortunately he did, and the series heads into 2011 (and 2012) with the most positive momentum (drink, ye bastards) it’s had in, well, decades really.

I like a lot about Bernard, but here are a few things that really stood out to me this year and why he was such a good hire for the series:

He doesn’t claim to know all the answers. A mark of a good boss in any environment is someone who is willing to listen to others, gather information and make solid decisions. Bernard knows he isn’t a racing expert, his strength lies in his organizational skills and how he gets people on the same page and then takes it upon himself to make the final, informed decision.

He’s not an insider. That’s huge, because one of the problems with CART and the IRL is that they were both basically owned and run by the league’s influential car owners or the most influential family in the industry. That leads to decisions that serve your own best interests. You look at the 25/8 rule (of course), or engine leases, where Roger Penske leased out engines on behalf of a manufacturer and wouldn’t let teams tear down the motors. But of course his team could. I could go on and on, but what Bernard brings to the table is the fact his decisions are made for the best interest of the series and he doesn’t cave to the special interests of some. Hopefully that stays the case for a long time.

He understands the sport’s heritage and history. Deciding to combine all of the records from IndyCar, CART, IRL, AAA, etc. was a nod to the fact we have to honor and celebrate the numbers and records from the past. Open wheel racing is only rivaled by baseball in terms of longevity as a professional sport, and numbers are important to people. Records have always mattered at Indy, but to start combining stats such as wins, poles or national championships recognizes so many more great drivers than had been in the past, and people appreciate that.

Speed is important. Along with the IRL-CART split, I feel the decline of the Indy 500 can also be blamed on the rules that set speeds at their current level. While it was probably necessary for a time in terms of driver safety, the fans became bored with seeing the same 225 mph laps every year. Fans love innovation, speed and track records. The cars, motors and tires are so tuned that everything but race day is nothing more than a glorified testing session. Bernard recognizes this, and his mandate of setting a track record at Indy in 2011 or 2012 was met very positively.

And most of all…

It’s about the fans! In this area, Bernard more than gets it. He understands the element of the fan and our contribution to the sport. He’s taken steps to try and make the events more affordable and give the fans unprecedented access to the drivers and teams. He understands the importance of technology and social media, and a push has been made to utilize those mediums to the fullest. He also knows that there is a “lost generation” fanbase that needs to be introduced (or re-introduced) to the sport. I believe that this area is his biggest challenge and one that will be a high priority for Bernard in the future.

As race fans we have plenty to look forward to in 2011 and beyond. So in the spirit of the New Year, let’s raise our glasses to say goodbye to a great season, and toast what can be an even better one that lies ahead.

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