IndyCar CEO: ‘I wouldn’t grade myself high’

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IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard is full of ideas—and determination. He gets high marks on those two fronts, even from most of his critics.

On Tuesday, Bernard rolled out plans to offer $5 million to any non-IndyCar regular who can win the season-ending race in Las Vegas this year. He also announced that all but 44,000 tickets for the Las Vegas race (120,000 capacity) would be given away free.

No worries, though, Bernard said. The race will make its money through sponsorship revenue, and it’s getting a big boost from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Big questions remain though. Like how many drivers and race fans—even with the allure of free tickets—will take Bernard up on his offer.

I’ve been lampooned in the reader comments on this blog for not giving Bernard enough credit for what he’s accomplished during his first few months in IndyCar’s corner office. There’s no denying things are better now than they were last March 1 when Bernard took over. But the former chief of the Pro Bull Riders circuit known these days as Ropin’ Randy understands more is required of him.

“If we don’t have spectacular crowds, I’ve failed,” Bernard told me yesterday.

He hit on a very important point. The lynchpin of success for any sporting enterprise is audience size. The two key measures of that are live attendance and television ratings. The IndyCar Series saw some gains in those areas last year, but Bernard knows it’s not enough.

Case in point, if the series had the kind of following Bernard wants, and needs to secure the series' financial fortunes, a driver as talented at Tony Kanaan wouldn't be on the outside looking in.

More needs to be done to secure the series’ long-term future. Bernard knows the next two years could be make-or-break for this 16-year-old series. That’s what the Las Vegas announcement is all about.

“It’s crucial that we create great buzz and have great momentum heading into 2012,” Bernard said.

2012 is when the IndyCar Series rolls out its new engine and chassis formulas. It’s the year that Bernard hopes the open-wheel series might actually make a profit—or at least cover its expenses.

With three new independent board members of Hulman & Co. looking over his shoulder—not to mention the re-emergence of Tony George on the board—Bernard knows well the time for excuses and financial losses is coming to a close.

I won’t offer my insights on what Bernard’s grade should be after his first year as IndyCar Series CEO. Instead, during a one-on-one interview Tuesday, I decided to ask Bernard to grade himself.

“I wouldn’t grade myself high,” Bernard said. “I would give myself a six out of 10. All I’ve done is lay down a foundation. Now we have to deliver.”


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