Bernard and Belskus say IndyCar Series will be out of red next year

May 26, 2010
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In May, hope springs eternal in the land of open-wheel racing.

And why not?

The Indianapolis 500 isn’t quite the cash cow it used to be, but it’s still the land of milk and honey when it comes to the IndyCar Series.

With the corporate suites sold out for Carb Day and nearly sold out for race day and a crowd of near 300,000 expected this Sunday, there’s still reason for optimism.

Make no mistake, the Indianapolis 500 is still quite profitable for the Hulman-George empire.

The IndyCar Series, however, is not and never has been profitable. And that led to Tony George’s firing as the boss of the Speedway and IndyCar Series last June.

But all that is about to change. Well, I don’t mean George is coming back. But according to the new leadership of the IndyCar Series and Speedway, the 15-year-old open-wheel race series is about to break even, or gasp, make a profit for the first time.

Optimism from the month of May is spreading.

In separate interviews this month, Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard told me that the series is likely to be financially self-sustaining next season. Yes, that’s 2011!

One can excuse Bernard for any state of clueless bliss he might be experiencing as he watches race cars zoom by at near 230 mph at the fabled Brickyard. After all, before March, he had never seen an open-wheel race, and a year ago this month he was more worried about not stepping in a cow pie than spinning the press any sort of bull … well, you get the point.

But Belskus’ word I don’t take lightly. In the year that I’ve known him, he’s always been cautious, conservative, and measured in what he says. He may not be a polished speaker, but his word is usually as solid as oak.

Belskus has been with the Speedway 23 years, having spent many of those as the chief financial officer. So when he backs up Bernard 100 percent on the IndyCar Series likely being break even or in the black next year, I sit up and take notice.

Remember, all heck broke loose with Tony George and the IMS’ other board members (primarily his three sisters) when Tony said in New York that the series would be profitable by 2013 or else. Clearly that timeline wasn’t good enough for the other board members, and Belskus and Bernard were put in charge to make the financial magic happen.

It’s not really so much magic as it is, cutting expenses (staffers, planes and travel, the month of May at the Speedway, etc., etc.), abandoning things that weren’t working and costing money (propping up American racers and other teams, holding on to the notion that this has to be an oval dominated series, etc.) and implementing things that work financially (i.e.: foreign markets and road races among other things).

“I think the series has great momentum,” Bernard said, citing increased TV ratings, successful races in Sao Paulo, Long Beach and Alabama) and sponsorship gains including Izod’s cash and massive activation.

Bernard told me this month he thought 2011 would be better than year’s past and that future years will only get better.

Belskus didn’t back down one single inch when I told him of Bernard’s assessment, as if to say, "Yes, that’s what the board pays us to do, turn a profit.” A novel idea indeed.

The two are definitely the yin and the yang of open-wheel. Bernard, sources said, could be the Barnum & Bailey of open-wheel, bringing the IndyCar Series the kind of sizzle he brought as the chief of the Pro Bull Riders circuit.

Belskus is the man with his hands on the purse strings unafraid to pull the reigns back or let them loose a little if he sees fit.

They know their roles, Bernard in charge of the series and Belskus heading up the biggest race in that series and the facility that hosts it. They also know those roles have considerable overlap and will require much cooperation. There's no room for turf battles, and so far, there's no sign of that happening.

Clearly they both have the ear and trust of the three Hulman-George sisters and their mother, who now comprise four-fifths of the IMS/IndyCar Series board of directors.

And they both have the same marching orders; Make open-wheel racing profitable—now!

Optimism is great. But it doesn’t pay the bills.

And everyone knows what blooms in spring often withers under the relentless summer sun.

In 12 months time, we’ll have a much better idea if what Bernard and Belskus are planting has real roots.

And if this odd couple can really make it rain.
 

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  • SECOND RACE AT INDY?
    Ok this might be completely stupid but just an idea. Don't several big NASCAR tracks have 2 races every year? Would it make sense to spend the money (it would be a lot) to put lights up at the track and have a night race in the fall? I know tracks like Bristol have both day and night races. I would think that the night race might create a draw. Obviously they would need to make it clear that it is not trying to be on the level of the 500, but just another race. They could do the first year but closing off half the stands and seeing who shows up. If they didn't want to spend the money on lights maybe they could run it as a road course with the F1 track? I feel like either or those options would draw at least 75 to 85 thousand fans. Not like the 500 but probably better than most IndyCar draws. Just some ideas, please tell me what I have wrong or right.
    • Oh Oh ..Chief
      A business that makes a profit stays in business. If you listen closely you can hear the wind being sucked out of the Cragwagon.com site. It's ok...You can still watch old tapes of Mario winning the race...wait...Mario was caught on tape saying how great the IZOD series is and that "everything is good"...yikes, now what?!

      I guess it's FMARIOA now?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqekiLVFzYE&feature=channel
    • Yeppers!
      Another IndyCar race at Indy makes perfect sense to me. I'd like to see it on the road course. It would help build interest in other IndyCar road races and really make the separate road course/oval course championships mean something. Indy in the fall after the heat breaks and before the leaves fall... my favorite time of year.
    • Is it just me?
      Wow, a profit next year? That didn't take long. Is it just me or is IndyCar really rocking again. I love it!
    • Yeah right
      And I'm going to be a Billionaire next year, too.

      Saying it and doing it are two entirely different things.
    • Be careful Anthony, the haters have predicted that the IRL will be out of business next year or the year after, or the year after that.....And I mean they cannot be wrong since they have been predicting its demise reliably every year since its inception.

      I hope the B's are right. They did what good corporate types do, they cut without much regard to tradition or relationships. But it sounds like they did what was needed.

      IF they run a second Indy race, it would need to be a road course and it would need to be in the fall. Basically fill the slot that F1 had.

      On that vein, good luck to Austin. Just the latest cash donor for Bernie. They are going to build a $300 million+ facility on land they do not own, no gov't money, pay Bernies outrageous fees and expect to pay it all off in 10 years? Are they smoking the peyote out there? F1 will not succeed in the US as long as Bernie has control.
    • Profit
      George Anthony,

      Yeah, like you, I have had my fill of what's been wrong for the past 15 years. I don't like the specness and the lack of spirited ingenuity that existed in the Unser/Foyt/Bignotti/Granatelli, etc era that wowed us to levels of fervor. But, you must admit, outside of the midwest, people didn't know IndyCar stars, other than Foyt or Andretti. They were unknown blips on the radar screen elsewhere.

      I've also heard you bemoan the ugliness of the Dallaras (aka crapwagons). I don't much like 'em either, but it seems as if they have (along with the safer barrier) saved a bunch of lives. I can also say there is, in my opinion, no open wheel car anywhere on the planet uglier than the current F1 monstrosities with their cow catcher front ends. Ugh.

      So, wheree do we go from here. Hoping that Belskus and Bernard and his cowboy corp can get this thing turned around. There seem to be many signals that they are listening to the people they should be listening to and are focused on making this, once again, a race and a series for the fans.

      Sitting on the edge of my chair, holding out hope. Please join me while we see what shakes out!
    • 2ND RACE!!!!
      I think a second race would be GREAT. Now that we know that F1 is dead a road course race would be perfect in that slot! Would probably be the 2nd or 3rd most profitable race of the year (wouldn't take much)!
    • Oh oh...Tuck
      I wish them luck...they certainly will need it. Remember, it's the same IRL pig with new makeup. Haters and racing journalists know it, I guess you hometowners will never figure it out. Hard to believe a great series was destroyed for this....
      • Second Race
        If they run a second race in the fall on the road course, they should wait & seize the opportunity in 2012/13 with a new chassis. I'm a fan, but IMS simply won't provide any kind of a show on the twisty with the current chassis/engine combo. Just a thought.
      • Destroyed....Oh oh...Tuck
        Destroyed???? That is what I will be on Georgetown Rd Saturday and early Sunday morning. Stop by Chief, I will give you one of my tall boys. That is of course, your Matlock rerun marathon is over.

        Great times...and life if just passing by.
      • Remember Lee Merryweather in Time Tunnel?
        Now, that Lee Merryweather....she's a keeper!

        Thanks tuck...have a case for me.
      • Lee Merryweather
        Chief,

        Very good. That is funny. I will toast you this weekend. Safe Holiday to you and your family.
      • Profit
        They should be bringing in no less than 10% profit. What retail business would accept 15 years without a profit? No wonder his sisters kicked Tony George to the curb and threw him under the bus.
      • Cautiously Optimistic
        If they put another race at Indianapolis, that would take away the wonder and awe of the Indianapolis 500. Hopefully, the Series makes a ton of progress and raises those TV ratings. It would be detrimental if the Indy 500 ratings sink to a record low next year again! The new chassis (s?) and multiple engines competition will bring a spark and much needed excitement!
      • aah, who cares
        So after 15 bankrupt years, they've run out of red ink. what color do they use now?

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