Brickyard boss likely to have sway over Bernard's future

June 7, 2012
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Wow, I go on vacation for a little over a week, and it seems like just about everything that could happen to IndyCar racing does happen.

The Indianapolis 500 produces one of its best races in recent memory and television ratings and revenue go up, gasp, all while Danica Patrick is racing in NASCAR.

All is rosy, right? Wrong.

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard steals the spotlight—or at least shifts its location—with one of the most ill-timed tweets in the history of the sport, moving the focus from a great race to an overblown owners revolt.

Then IndyCar puts on one of its worst shows in recent history with its track-crumbling display in Detroit, which cost the series valuable exposure on network TV. When repairs to the track red-flagged the race for two hours, the race was shuffled from ABC to the ESPN News channel deep on the cable dial.

While the series hopes to leave its problems behind with a race this weekend in Texas, it now can’t. Whispers have surfaced that a race set for August 19 in China is on the rocks.

It’s difficult to say how much of the series’challenges are Bernard’s fault. But there are some things we do know. Bernard has lifted sponsorship numbers and done much to promote the series. He’s ushered in a new engine and chassis program and brought in new suppliers—which in turn promote the series. And there have been other positive developments under Bernard's watch.

He’s also come up short in keeping expenses down for teams. If Bernard is going to be credited for bringing Chevy into the series he also has to take responsibility for the Lotus mess. The effort to usher aero kits into the series has been anything but smooth. Bernard has brought in more than one race promoter with less than stellar financials.

You could spend all day picking Bernard and his decisions apart. The same could be said for just about any CEO in sports or otherwise.

We also know this: Bernard is roughly at the half-way mark of his five-year contract. I imagine there will be an earnest discussion about his future with IndyCar following this season.

But who will lead that discussion? Who will have the most influence in deciding whether Bernard will be retained or fired?

We know it won’t be IndyCar Series team owners. They may have an opportunity for their opinion to be known, but their days as puppet masters died with CART and Champ Car.

I think the answer might surprise quite a few people in racing.

Bernard a couple weeks ago said he answers to the board of directors. That’s only partially right.

Bernard reports to Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus. And that’s who will most likely determine his future.  

It’s been explained to me more than once by IMS higher-ups, including Belskus himself, that Bernard answers to Belskus.

Was Bernard hand-picked by a particular Hulman-George family and board member? Yes. But things have changed since Bernard’s hiring.

Don’t let Belskus’ low profile fool you. He has plenty of sway in IMS and IndyCar matters. While Bernard technically reports both to the board and Belskus, the IMS boss is much more likely to influence the board than Bernard when it comes to overarching issues that are likely to affect the cash-cow track. And the series' future health has major ramifications on the track's financials.

Remember, in the three years since Belskus was tabbed to replace Tony George as Speedway CEO, he has made a number of savvy moves and further gained the trust of the Hulman-George family. He’s increased sponsorship and revenue for the Indianapolis 500.

He’s made bold moves to improve the revenue stream for the struggling Brickyard 400. He’s been willing to cut costs at IMS that his predecessor would not, and as a result, the ledger improved significantly. This year Belskus, who was the track’s long-time chief financial officer before ascending to CEO, was paid the ultimate compliment by the owners of the tightly-held Hulman-George company. He was added to its board of directors.

Tony George, also a board member, might not love him because Belskus, his long-time friend, took his job. But, rest assured, the other board members do.

It was Belskus, not the board of directors, who decided to put ads on the track’s walls for the first time, as well as on the infield grass and other virgin territories. The board has given Belskus broad directives to increase revenue and cut expenses and the latitude to make that happen.

And, I believe, Belskus has been given the power to determine Bernard’s fate. And more importantly, he’s been given the power to determine IndyCar’s future.

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  • Hmmm
    Its a matter of opinion, $$ or not, as to whether this league w/survive -it seems to be mirroring itself after the CART series in its early days,w/inc in road courses and decreases in ovals -hmmm, didn't that series fold?? Between the debacle of the coolers at IMS, the quiet removal of the traditional baloon races...thinking their will be trouble in racing paradise...
  • good article
    Time will tell how it will end, but its a good article and great insight on the decision makers. Dont quite get what Mary is upset about. Lets see what happens, things are better now then they were a year ago in this series and perhaps they will get control of the rising costs of the cars too. But reacing in Indycar certainly costs less then Nascar and far more exciting and faster in my opinion.
  • Tradition
    I would be careful about tampering with too many of the traditions at the Indy 500 and IMS. The small ads were ok, but the facility has a unique, pristine look about it, that makes it one of a kind. Too much clutter and advertising will make it have the appearance of just any other race track. Egos at IMS must know and realize this. The facility and image is not infallible.

    Business has to be conducted but not at the expense of making IMS and the "500" just another event. The Indy 500 is much more than a motor race and entirely the sum of its parts.

    Proceed with extreme caution.
  • It is a shame
    It is a shame that the series has more and more road courses, and less and less ovals (thanks to Dan Gurney and Penske). I thought the idea would be to promote more American drivers from within which typically come from (you guessed it) local oval tracks in order to attract more fans.
    For me as a fan- MORE OVALS PLEASE!!!
  • Misguided
    Incorrect. Poorly written. Try not to "think" Anthoney.
  • I heard its gone to be
    the team owners. Without them there is no reason for anyone else's existence.
  • Coolers
    Not sure what Mary's experience was but I heard quite a bit about cooler issues too, but experienced no problems. Perhaps this was only on carb day.

    As for more ovals, I personally like both road and track events. Very different events, and they show case different talents. But Anthony was right, Detroit was a total SNAFU!
  • The Owners
    For every positive and forward thing the likes of Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and such have done for the sport over the years, there is at least a matching negative, maybe two, possibly three. That is why the sport is virtually non-existent with the American sporting public outside the Indianapolis 500.

    From their arrogance, selfishness, aloofness, and lack of perspective, they slowly but surely spent two decades, three really, making the sport less and less appealing and relevant to the Indy Car Racing fan.

    Cable TV made the sport more accessible than ever before in the 1980's and into the 1990's. People had access to watch liek neve before and they did. It was mistaken for huge popularity when, in fact, it was fadish and akin to what happened with NASCAR.

    To that end Penske, Ganassi, Kalkhoven, etcetera, went down a path that finally imploded on them at Detroit last weekend.

    The Debacle at Detroit is being underestimated and not duly noted as it should. It spoke volumes and may be looked back on as the seminal moment in the death of IndyCar racing as it exists.

    The only path to making IMS and the sport relevant, long term, is to focus on the Indy 500 and a few support oval track races around the country in a much tidier, simplistic, smaller series. The current model is a total and absolute waste and more irrelevant by the day.

    Perhaps IMS leadership will note that what makes the IMS and "500" special and of interest is not the latest corporate whatever, VIP tents, and wine and cheesefests, glitteratti, and glam, but good, old-fashioned, mom and pop, red, white, and blue, Middle America tradition, values, spirit, and class.

    EVERYTHING is about the Indianapolis 500 as it has been always in the mind's eye, hearts, and spirits of the everyday American who loves it. Somehow that has gotten lost in the pomposity of the leadership.

    And as for the owners? They could go away tomorrow and new ones would come in. Lou Moore and J.C. Agajanian have been gone a long time. People do not watch the Indy 500 to see Chip Gannassi bloviate. The watch the Indy 500 because it is the Indy 500. Never forget that, IMS leadership.

    And I agree with 500 Fan, remember the "pristine" appearance of the facility is heritage. It is the most appealing race track I have ever seen because it not a gigantic advertisement. Keep it that way! Figure out another way to pay for things without dirtying this amazing facility.
  • as randy is discovering
    you can't build a vibrant or popular racing series with IMS place fans
  • HAy Burl
    where are all them teams that are just anxious to hop in. they would already be in if they wanted to be in. Cut rate racing league, for sure.
  • Super classified news!
    Indycarz looking to replace IZOD! Apparently the 300%+ ROI isn't there...someone is looking to get out of their 6 year contract....FACT!
  • IZOD Outzod
    When I was at Indy last month, whisper was Izod is out at the end of the season. Whisper had it the sub-1.0's were the main issue but there were others too and it does not take an Albert to figure that one out.

    Add Izod to the ash-heap soon. It was an I-ODD pairing anyhow, an akward attempt to make IndyCar racing metrosexually-hip and relevant with the prettyboy with and edge set. Not even Ryan Hunter-Reay could pull that gimmick off.

    Metro's have daid no to the Retro's anyhow, which you can get at Goodwill now if you have a keen eye at the rack. You'll find Novi T's for $1.99.

    Funny.

  • Focusing on the IMS 500
    has done nothing to make open wheel popular. To the contrary, it has made open wheel racing irrelevant.
  • The "500"
    Is the sport. Everything else always has been and always will be irrelevant. All other races, series, venues, just "filler" until the next "500". A rise in popularity for about a decade total, maybe a decade and a half, was because Indy Car racing was available on TV all the time, live, and the fad came and went.

    It is all about the "500". For Road Racing, people are welcoem to get their left-right-left fix with sports cars, another niche.

    No "500", no Indy Car racing. Pretty simple, really. No "500", no Indy Car racing.

    Quickly, name the winner of Toronto in 2009. who won Pikes Peak the last year they raced there? Who won the 1989 Detroit Grand Prix?

  • I could ask 100 people on Monument Circle
    about the recent IMS 500 and more that 90% wouldn't know. great work there IMS protecting the sport.
  • american racing michigan cause this
    series is going to be 1 oval 21 road track 19 street race they have to pay the bills that is more events no more michigan again i want it to be 16 ovals 6 road track after they are done with the truck series schedule 19 ovals 6 road track
  • I saw a picture
    that showed a smattering of attendees at the latest IZOD indycar race. Vibrant. Don't know why Izod might be reconsidering its involvement.
  • My theory
    Izod's much ballyhoo'd 300% ROI was in fact based on web impressions, not on financial ROI.

    I haven't seen a commercial linking the series with IZOD in 2 years.

    It's bad when Mario Andretti is the most recognizable driver for your series (and also gets the most $$$ advertising on TV), and that dude hung up his racing shoes in 1994. 18 YEARS AGO....

    A friend said (about IZOD leaving): "Can ya blame them"? No I can't...I'd want to get away from this crap as quickly as possible too.
  • No Series
    They need to close the whole thing down. Everything about the series is a disaster. Cut losses now. Close it.

    There is simply little to no interest in a "series" for IndyCar racing in the early 21st Century. Those days are gone.

    Focus on the Indy 500 and a handful of support type races here and there over the year that more or less serve as an advertisment for the Indy 500. Low key. Cheap. Gateway. Pikes. IRP. Whatever.

    Use these cars up, then do a design-your-own based on these specs, run watch brung.

    Maintain a presence in both SCCA and local track stuff to keep driver's interested in maybe taking a shot at the big cars.

    The only way the Indy 500 survives is to go back to the old days when it was proportional to reality.

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