IndyCar CEO must keep chassis choice from splintering series

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Today is the day. It’s the day that IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard makes his first enemies in motorsports. It’s also the day we see just how good a CEO Bernard is.

Up until now, Bernard has been the pied piper of open-wheel, earning high marks for his behind-the-scenes and out-front work from almost everyone in racing, including those who torched his predecessor, Tony George.

A pretty smart guy, who happens to be responsible for tens of millions in annual sponsorship deals in three major race circuits, recently told me that right now, everyone absolutely loves Bernard. Mainly, he surmised, because he hasn’t yet made any major decisions.

But what happens when some of those glad-handers find out Bernard isn’t exactly piping their tune?

Along with big decisions comes big controversy. So this afternoon at the Indianapolis Museum of Art when Bernard unveils which chassis formula—or formulas—the  series will adopt in 2012, he’s going to have several camps demanding an explanation for why the formula they supported wasn’t chosen. The announcement is set for 12:30.

I applaud Bernard’s formation of the ICONIC advisory committee to help make such critical decisions, and I love the theatrics of showing the committee vote via video at today’s media event. But make no mistake, this is Bernard’s call. There’s no delegating responsibility here.

“As soon as Randy starts making decisions, he will start to lose friends,” said Zak Brown, founder of Just Marketing International, which represents myriad motorsports sponsors and helped the IndyCar Series hunt for a title sponsor. “He has to stick by his decisions and hope they prove to be right.”

In the meantime, Bernard has to make sure he manages those different camps’ expectations and ensure their continued support for the series. If Bernard has learned anything in the four-plus months since he’s been in charge, I’m guessing he’s learned this sport can’t afford any more chaos caused by split allegiances.

I’m betting Bernard has long been politicking all the camps involved in the new chassis—and maybe most especially those whose proposals lost out.

For all his awe-shucks approach to his job, Bernard appears to be savvy and calculated in the moves he makes and friendships he’s forged.

And it’s a good thing. Going forward, Bernard is going to need all the friends he can get to rev the IndyCar Series to max speed.

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