Among the reactions to the IndyCar board’s decision last month to oust CEO Randy Bernard, the howls of, “What were they thinking?” were over the top. Bernard certainly made missteps in his charge to turn around the struggling series.
But the board did seem to cut a change agent off at the knees, and that could come back to haunt them.
When a go-getter like Bernard is kicked out the door only three years into a five-year contract, prospects will think twice about taking his position, which will make it that much harder to turn around the troubled series.
The board should have given Bernard at least another year. He brought a good shot of energy to the series.
The former chief of the Professional Bull Riders circuit introduced a chassis with more room for advertising and an engine that drew multiple manufacturers for the first time in seven years. Contributing to the progress were more American drivers, restarts in fan-pleasing two-abreast columns, and ramping up the number of races from 15 this year to 19—and possibly 20—in 2013.
Toss in what was widely considered some of the most exciting, competitive auto racing in the nation this year and the board had reason for optimism.
It’s true that TV ratings and some sponsorships waned. Attendance at races outside of the Indianapolis 500 also declined. And some team owners complained about the higher cost of the new chassis and parts.
But patience might have paid off had an improved product been given more time to make an impression on fans. As for the owners, they were simply continuing a time-honored tradition of bellyaching; better to have turned a deaf ear to them in the short term.
Had all the factions presented a unified front, Bernard’s fate and the health of the series might have looked much different today.
Now the board, whose credibility took a shot when it initially denied IBJ’s breaking news of Bernard’s firing, has a mess to clean up.
Prospective replacements will think long and hard about the job, not only for the aforementioned reasons, but also because the political nature of the series might merit combat pay.
Tony George has resigned his board seat to make a bid to buy the series from a business controlled largely by his mother and three sisters. Some board members are chums with team owners who chased Bernard out.
Only the most adroit executive could navigate an environment like that.
The odds of success seem longer than they did before this latest shift in direction, but the challenges aren’t insurmountable. We hope the board finds a leader with a plan who can right the ship.
The IndyCar series is too important to motorsports and the city of Indianapolis to allow it to flounder much longer.•
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