Sunday, October 28, 2012

Au Revoir, Randy Bernard

One thing about IndyCar, is that it seems like the bad rumors are the ones that come true.

The series, the American professional sports champion of poorly-timed decisions and incredibly wretched PR, voted for Randy Bernard's ouster sometime this past week. When is anyone's guess, but current IMS CEO Jeff Belskus has assumed the same role in IndyCar on a interim basis.

Bernard, who held the job for just under three years, has been under fire for various reasons during this past season, and his job status has been up in the air since June when it circulated in the press (and on Randy's own Twitter feed) that there were owners in the sport that wanted to see him gone.

This is a head-scratcher of the highest degree. With the series dying a slow and painful death when he was hired away from the Professional Bull Riding tour, he has injected new life into the series, and while everyone can agree that he made some big missteps along the way, the future looked a lot brighter than it did when he took the job.

What also makes this tough to swallow from a fan's perspective is the fact that 2012 may have been, top to bottom, one of the best season's in the series' history. The DW12 chassis made every race competitive, the Indy 500 staged one of its greatest races in front of one of its largest crowds in years, and the championship went down to the final laps of the final race and the series crowned an American champion for the first time in six years.

From my personal encounters with Bernard, be it in person at Indy or through a couple of e-mails I sent (to his own e-mail address, rare for anyone in his line of work), I came to the conclusion that he cared about IndyCar. A lot. This was his job, but his passion, too. You could see it in the way he didn't stick with the status quo but came up with fresh ideas. Some were good, some were bad, but unlike his predecessors, he was doing something.

So you have a series that is moving forward, led by a guy who gets it and was trying to make the sport better, and they go ahead and screw it up. That is so IndyCar.

I never saw Tony George come up with a fresh or original idea in his decade-plus of running IndyCar. He continued to roll out the same tired ideas and figured they would work because, well, he was Indy and dammit that should have been good enough.

What really ticks me off is once again the owners put their own interests in front of those of the fans. I'm not going to try and speculate what balance sheets look like or what goes on behind closed doors, but at the same time I saw very few owners who were/are willing to be part of the solution. Every idea Bernard presented was accompanied by bitching, but few people would counter with ideas of their own, at least on the record. He faced an uphill battle every day with the owners, and the history of open wheel racing in this country showed they were going to win.

In the end, that's what bothers me. I'm sure the people who made this decision have their reasons why, and if they felt like sharing could spell out the reasons Bernard shouldn't be in charge going forward. After all, the Chicago Bears are 6-1 but I don't think they are ever going to win a Super Bowl with Lovie Smith in charge.

I understand the owners being concerned about rising costs, poor TV viewership and the fact that several tracks have received discounts in sanctioning fees. But here's the deal, guys: IndyCar is a beggar, and beggars will never be choosers. It was either this or they didn't race. There isn't a single track that is knocking the door down for IndyCar, 1) because most of them have NASCAR dates, and that is where the money resides and 2) they like to make money, and with IndyCar they don't make much, if any.

Really, what negotiating power did Bernard have at any time or anywhere? Despite that, he secured races on new tracks and got more races on national television. He deserves high marks for those accomplishments.

Given the speculation I'm hearing that Bernard had little to no support from not only the owners, but the boardroom, and that they basically told Randy: "thanks for getting us this far, but we'll take it from here".

If they had a plan, I guess I would feel a little more comfortable with this. But if we have learned one thing from IndyCar is that they never have a plan. Instead they have too many people trying to impose too many agendas, and they never get things done. One of the reasons Bernard was brought in was to bring on someone who answered to the board and not the owners. Even back then someone knew that the voice of the owners was too loud.

So where do we go from here? Well, unlike many, I'm not going anywhere. Just like baseball, where I think Bud Selig has inflicted permanent damage on the sport with his decisions and refusal to address the doping issues in the sport 15 years ago, I keep what goes on off the field and what happens on it separate. I love baseball, and I will always keep watching.

It's simple: IndyCar is awesome. At its best, it is one of the finest and most exciting forms of motorsports in the world. The drivers are great people who do care about the series and the fans, and are people who conduct themselves in a way that is a good reflection on IndyCar. The support folks I have dealt with are helpful and accommodating.

Regardless of who is in charge, that won't change. To the people who say they "are done", or that they are not going to attend races or support the series, I hope you have a change of heart. The people who make the sport what it is had nothing to do with this, and somehow, someway, IndyCar will go on. If the last 30 years of buffoonery has taught me, it all figures itself out. At least I'm hoping it will.

To Randy Bernard, I say this: thank you for your service. You gave your heart and soul to this series. No one could ever question your commitment to making this series as good as it could be. It didn't work out, then again, that happens. I've been a part of a couple of those things in my life too.

When we look back on Bernard's tenure, it will be checkered in places. Let's be objective here. Still, he left it better than he found it, and for the fans, that's all we can ask.

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