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Sports Business

IndyCar CEO faces first owners' revolt over 2012 car

August 26, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard is doing a good job of making me look simultaneously pretty smart—and pretty stupid.

I normally do a fine job of the latter all by myself, but I got a nice assist from the former angel of open-wheel this week. I say former angel, because St. Randy appears to have had his halo knocked off over the weekend in Sonoma.

News has broken (via SpeedTV) that IndyCar Series owners met last weekend during the open-wheel race on the left coast. The consensus is that owners aren’t wild about how the deal for the new 2012 car was worked out, they’re not happy about not being consulted on the deal, not being informed more about the price, and so they’re threatening not to buy it.

Some say this is all about costs teams can’t afford, still others say backers of the Delta Wing and other models are mad their choice wasn’t selected, another camp is calling this a flat-out owners “revolt.”

Well then.

I guess my prediction on July 14 that Bernard was about to start making his first enemies in motorsports is looking pretty prophetic.

But, to be fair, this comes in the wake of my upgrading Bernard’s grade as series CEO, a post he has held since March 1. That pontification on Aug. 12 is the part that’s making me look pretty stupid.

But enough about me and my appearances. This is all about Randy Bernard and the future of the IndyCar Series. For those paying attention, I also wrote July 14 that this is the day we find out how good a CEO Bernard is. And indeed we will.

Like it or not, Bernard is the future of open-wheel right now. He’s learning a hard lesson this week that the players in motorsports aren’t a bunch of buckin’ bull riders simply looking to stuff a few dollars in their cowboy boots.

Bernard surely by now has woken up to the reality that increasing attendance, TV ratings and sponsorship revenue may be the least of his worries. If he can’t get series leaders and team owners on the same page, the IndyCar Series has no future.

A bevy of people with agendas so hidden they resemble Bilbo Baggins after he’s slipped on his ring, pulling in every direction is the history of open-wheel.

Certainly it’s the history that’s colored the last 15 or 20 years. I never thought Tony George alone was the problem, any more than I bought into the notion that Randy Bernard alone is the answer for this series.

But Bernard better be the facilitator. He’s the guy who the Hulman-George family (sans Tony George) selected, and frankly, I’m not sure there’s time to change course with another leader before this thing completely blows up.

I can hear the chorus of people screaming from 16th and Georgetown already, “The Indianapolis 500 is too big, too historic to die.” Maybe.

Maybe it survives as a stand-alone event, as part of Formula One or even part of another series. At this point, that’s anyone’s guess.

What’s not up for debate is that if Bernard can’t get team owners to agree with him on something as basic as what car and engine formula will propel this series, he has no chance at achieving anything that will truly make this sport a viable business.

So here we stand—at the proverbial crossroads. Bernard has his jaw set, saying the ship has sailed on the car formula, that deals have been signed with Dallara, Honda and the state of Indiana.

It’s a brave stand, and I like that. It shows some moxie. And a lot more of that will be needed to lead this thing out of the wilderness.

What remains to be seen is which owners will end up on Bernard’s side of that crossroads, will the man anointed to lead this enterprise get flattened trying to coax his dissidents across the divide, or will he turn his back, let those owners go whichever way they choose and let the chips fall where they may.

And of course, which perilous fork in the road team owners take.

I won’t try to predict this one. I’ve already looked stupid enough here. It’s someone else’s turn.

Or maybe we can all take a pass on stupidity—and hubris—for a change.

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