IndyCar hits major milestone; CEO still chasing solutions

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The IndyCar Series marked its 200th race at Kentucky Sept. 4. There didn’t seem to be much of a celebration. That’s probably because series CEO Randy Bernard is too focused on what the open-wheel race series will look like over the next 50 races rather than what has been accomplished in getting to this milestone.

But the 200 yard marker has some folks reflecting on the history of this series. And pondering, what next?

In reality, Bernard is probably a lot more focused on the next 17 or so races that will be on the slate next year. Then there’s the next great hope to drive up TV ratings and attendance; a new chassis that will be unveiled in 2012.

And if Bernard can lure a few more American drivers to the series that will draw even more interest to the series. Then if he can get at least a handful of races shifted from Versus cable channel to network television (NBC seems a logical spot), then certainly the television ratings will spike.

Ahh, I think we’ve landed on the hallmark of open-wheel’s first 200 races. If the series wrote an autobiography of itself, it would have to be called “In search of a BBD.” The problem is, I’m not sure a bigger, better deal is out there. And I’m not sure there ever was.

The prevailing thought was if costs were controlled, an all-oval format was offered and a platform for American drivers was built, the series would flourish. Then it went like this, if we could just get a few of the big boys back from CART. If only we could merge the two series back together. If only we could get a title sponsor. If only we could get in big markets like Chicago. If only we could get out of apathetic markets like Chicago. If only we could end the season in a glitzy town like Las Vegas. And this is my personal favorite … If only we could get Tony George back in control. And on and on and on and on.

So here we sit. Another owners riot averted for now. But still facing the same old problems the series has been having for years.

There’s no shortage of people that will tell you the IndyCar Series’ problems are simple. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “WE NEED MORE AMERICAN DRIVERS!!!!” Where are all the Tony Stewarts and A.J. Foyts and Jeff Gordons for crying out loud?!

Really? That’s the problem. Huh.

Consider this: In 1995, the last year before the open-wheel Civil War, there were 14 U.S. drivers in the Indianapolis 500. This year there were nine. You mean to tell me that five more American drivers is all it would take to put this once proud series’ pedal back to the metal.

Some how I don’t think so. And if Randy Bernard is as smart as some people say he is, I bet he doesn’t think so either.

I’m not sure what the solutions are. But I know this; Bernard’s first task is identifying the problems.

Not an easy job. And certainly not a simple dilemma.

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