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Belskus to serve as interim IndyCar CEO after Bernard's exit

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Jeff Belskus, the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the president and CEO of Hulman & Co., will step in as interim CEO of the IndyCar Series, replacing Randy Bernard.

Bernard officially was removed as CEO of IndyCar on Sunday, bringing an end to a three-year reign that was disrupted this season by several attempts by team owners to have him ousted as head of the series. The decision was announced following an executive session conducted by teleconference Sunday by the 11-member board of directors.

The actual decision to remove Bernard took place on Thursday, sources familiar with the situation told IBJ for a story published Friday afternoon.

Bernard, who has two years remaining on the contract he signed when he joined IndyCar in 2010, will stay on in an advisory position.

Both the IndyCar Series and IMS are owned by the Hulman-George family, which holds four spots on the 11-member IMS board and four spots on the 10-member Hulman & Co. board.

The decision for Bernard to step down was made by the IMS board, which felt a "mutual separation" was the only way to stop speculation over his job security, Belskus said.

Belskus, in a telephone interview Sunday night with The Associated Press during the final portion of the board meeting, gave few details about the split.

"Both parties agree that it's time to move forward separately, it's an amicable separation and Randy is going to stay on in an advisory capacity," Belskus said.

But IndyCar is coming off arguably its best season in series history. Bernard introduced the first new car in nine years this season, and the on-track product was perhaps the best in auto racing.

IndyCar had eight different winners, its first American champion since 2006 in Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Chevrolet won the engine manufacturer title in its return to the series after a six-year absence. Pressed how it was in IndyCar's "best interest" to part with a CEO who brought such positive news to the series and was popular with fans, Belskus had no answer.

"I'm not going to comment," he said.

It's been that kind of a month for IndyCar, which has been plagued by rumors of owner-led coups against Bernard all season. It reached a fevered pitch in the last month as series founder Tony George attempted to reclaim control with an offer to purchase the series from Hulman & Co.

It's long been believed that George, who was stripped of power in 2009 by his mother and three sisters, has been leading the charge to oust Bernard, who was hired in 2010 to re-energize the series.

Hulman & Co. has insisted George's offer was never entertained and IndyCar is not for sale. But George stepped down from the board nine days ago, citing a conflict of interest in holding a seat while trying to purchase the series.

It did nothing to quiet the uncertainty surrounding Bernard, who has worked for more than a year amid uncertain job security because he could never secure any sort of public support from the board of directors or the Hulman-George family.

The speculation was suffocating last week, and Bernard and an IMS spokesman both denied IBJ's report Friday that Bernard had been fired. It led driver Graham Rahal, one of the most recognizable names in the series, to plead for some sanity Friday afternoon.

"Come on people, either keep Randy or fire him, but this is foolish and embarrassing for this sport," he posted on Twitter.

After two days of silence and Bernard in apparent limbo, at least publicly, the IMS board called an "emergency" teleconference Sunday to figure out a solution.

It's not clear what's next for the troubled series.

"Well, I have been named interim CEO," Belskus told AP. "We're going to conduct a search. We haven't established a specific timeline for a permanent replacement. It's all part of a planning process that we'll address."

It didn't sound very promising to Zak Brown, founder and CEO of the motorsports marketing agency Just Marketing International, and the man many believed would run IndyCar under George's offer to buy the series. Brown has said he has no interest in running IndyCar.

"It all appears a bit strange and kneejerk to me," Brown said Sunday night. "I don't understand why Jeff Belskus hasn't communicated a longer-term plan. Unless there isn't one, which as CEO, I hope he has. The industry needs to know the plan."

So do the weary fans, who seemed overwhelmingly in support of Bernard and had been threatening for weeks via social media to turn their backs on the series for good if the CEO was let go.

Belskus said he's unsure what reaction will be to Bernard's departure.

"It is change and we recognize that different people deal with change differently, and with people differently," he said.

Engaging and energetic, Bernard had bold ideas in his attempt to revitalize a racing series clinging for relevancy outside of the Indianapolis 500.

But Bernard was stymied by a combination of his own missteps, the same old drama and dysfunction that weakened open-wheel racing and allowed NASCAR to surpass it as the top racing series in America.

 

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  • TOney paid twice
    the amount for Champcar that he is offering for the never living IRL. 17 years on life support. Thanks Dipsicle and Indyman
  • OUTSTANDING
    If any of you IRL fans can use a computer you might wanna read the solid behind-the-scenes journalistic piece over at SpeedTV. Marshall Pruett chronicles the epic management decisions and awesome direction the AOW sport is headed under the great leadership from 16th and Jonestown. Incredible.
  • 5 Million
    This, rediculous, unpopular, money-loser of a so-called "series", is worth four times LESS than the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team. Doh! Do the right thing: Shut it down. Nobody cares about the bulbous little uglies following each other around on motorcycle courses and bouncing over railroad tracks.
  • TonEy Offered $5 Million in Ca$h
    Bwahahhahahhhahhaha! The series (including Indy) was valued at $5Million. TonEY gOerge wanted to essentially buy off the series with the wrong currency, A G A I N. Fans, this is the moronic ways this family has been running this series into the ground since day one. What more evidence do you need to quit the sport and never look back?
  • Shoot first, ask questions later
    George’s management hierarchy, through a firm named ICS Acquisitions, included sponsorship guru Zak Brown, owner of Just Marketing Inc., as Bernard’s replacement, former Jaguar managing director Mike O’Driscoll as president and COO, and Claire Roberts, CEO of sports administration software company ArbiterSports, as operations manager.
  • No longer a fan
    Buddy of mine from Cincy was a huge Indy racign fan for years. We went to the "500" together when he was a high school kid and I was in college. Later on, when he got married, his wife became a fan and I went to three Kentucky races with them. The one thing she used to lament was the racing was great but the sport itself was "way too political". She would read the papers and internet stuff and got turned off. Quit going to even the Indy 500. Eventually he did too. I talked with him last week about going to a Bengals game next month and he was totally out of the loop on the sport and had no idea who Randy Bernard even was. He did know Dario won this year and Helio was on Dancing With The Star again. That was about it. Had no idea Ed Carpenter won Fontana or even who J.R. Hildebrand was. Oh, he did know Danica was "racing NASCAR now right?" This used to be a real fan. An Indy 500 guy, now in his late 30's, who went to at least a dozen Indy Car races and four or five Indy 500's. Even had a Team Penske sticker on his car bumper at one time. That guy is long gone and was so out of the loop he saw "something about Wheldon getting killed last year was it?". That far out of the loop. Used to be a fan. My guess is there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands like him. So few faollow this sport and the politics, infighting, angt, negativity has killed it.
  • IRL
    For the record, IBJ broke this story 1st. The IRL product was fantastic last year, we really enjoyed watching the lead changes and new design, etc. I believe it is time to take the IRL to the next level which could only be achieved by bringing a management team of big thinkers who know how to get things done in a big way. It is time to build the sport on a firm foundation with a professional management team. Im optimistic this move will be for the better long term.
  • Time to put it down.
    Indy Car racing can barely walk and is pooping in place. There is no reason to prolong the suffering. Do what is right Mr. Belskus. We can all have a memorial service and proper burial and move on.
  • Spanking new direction
    I got to say that this has me all giddy inside! The thought of TonEy Goerge back in charge could be the silver stake that kills this sport for good. Tread lightly friends at 16th and Jonestown...this stunning new direction and VIBRANT new era is the start of DEATHBLOW 2013!!!! WoooT!
  • whither goest IndyCar (redux)
    I love the Indy 500 and IndyCar racing, but the constant politics and bickering have sucked the life out of it for me.
  • Boo on Tony
    Well it seems as if Tony George, the spoiled rich punk is going to getr his way. He wont stop until he has destroyed IndyCar. Randy Bernard was a fresh face not inundated by the good ole boys network. The had the most successful year ever since Tony George screwed it up in the first place. Fan loss...Watch the empty stands grow!

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