IndyCar Series readies to raise curtain on new era

I’ve never subscribed to the notion of putting the death of someone close to you in your rearview mirror.

But at some point, you have to move forward.

Today is that day for the IndyCar Series.

The open-wheel series was brought to its knees last fall when two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in a crash at the season finale in Las Vegas. With its investigation into the crash concluded, the series must now lay out a growth map for its teams, suppliers, participating tracks and the series itself. It won’t be easy.

At 5:30 this afternoon at Hilbert Circle Theatre, IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard will give his annual State of IndyCar address.

Bernard will have much to discuss.

The series is coming off a year when it saw a 28-percent increase in its television ratings and is going into a year that is bringing a new engine and chassis formula and two new engine suppliers.

Bernard recently installed Marc Koretzky as president of the series' commercial division replacing Terry Angstadt and Beaux Barfield as Brian Barnhart's replacement as race director. In the weeks since his hire, Barfield has already unveiled a new rulebook.

Now, those associated with the series are waiting to see what Koretzky will do that Angstadt could not, namely expand into untapped markets and lift the financial fortunes of the series and its teams.

If all goes as planned, there will be more full-time cars on the track this year than last, which is a major accomplishment considering the investment it takes to outfit a team with all new equipment to meet the new chassis and engine specifications.

While many teams are revving and ready to go, others are scrambling to put together engine deals and sponsorship packages.

Today, Bernard will announce a much-needed oval race to the 2012 calendar. While the addition of the Milwaukee Mile on the IndyCar circuit is good news on a number of levels, the fact that races are being added so late is a sign of the series’ flux. And though Bernard has offered assurances that the 2012 calendar is stable, there are questions about still other races, including the financially troubled Baltimore event.

Bernard has taken important steps to assure short-term growth. Now he must convert that into long-term viability. The first step will be making the series profitable—something that hasn’t been done since it launched in 1996.

And while the TV ratings improvement in 2011 is good news, Bernard and other series officials still need to raise TV viewership and race attendance to assure the series and its teams stay strong long-term.

Bernard’s most difficult task might be assuring the series has the speed and excitement needed to entice fans and sponsors back in big numbers while implementing the safety enhancements series officials promised in the wake of Wheldon’s death.

While achieving new track records was once mission critical for Bernard, he may now realize the series can't take another blow like it did last fall without seriously jeopardizing its growth plans going forward.

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