Open Wheel Wednesday · Toni Montgomery · Wednesday August 29, 2012
We should be talking about the great racing we’ve seen this season. We should be talking about the championship and whether Will Power will finally bring it home or whether one of the other three drivers still in contention can mount a comeback. We should be talking about keeping the momentum going and having an even better 2013. Instead, the story that just refuses to die this summer is the alleged effort of some unhappy team owners to put together funding to buy INDYCAR and oust current CEO Randy Bernard.
Have you ever heard the saying too many chiefs and not enough Indians? To that end, I’d like to take this opportunity to inform the team owners of the IZOD IndyCar Series who may be involved in any such efforts that they are Indians. It would be in their best interest to remain Indians and not try to become chiefs. (I also find it interesting however that at various times over the summer, Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske have all expressed surprise at the notion and said that they aren’t involved in any such discussions so I’m curious as to who is? Yet, the story persists because sources keep insisting it is more than just mere talk or speculation.)
Briefly, some background to get everyone on the same page. Bernard was brought in by the Hulman George family, the owners of INDYCAR, to run the series after Tony George was removed as CEO in 2010. At the time, the series was hemorrhaging cash, TV ratings, and viewers. The family felt that George, also a track and team owner, was too invested to run the series effectively and brought in Bernard, who had run the Professional Bull Riders Association since its founding in 1995, as an outsider with a fresh point of view and no vested interest. They tasked him with rebuilding IndyCar into a viable series.
Bernard was given a five-year contract to accomplish this feat and he reports only to the INDYCAR Board of Directors. Bernard has no personal involvement with a team or a track. As such, he has no agenda other than the health of INDYCAR as a whole. We have one man with one voice running the show whose only interest is the show. A dictatorship, if you will, or at least the closest thing to it we’ve ever had in Indy racing, and already discussed in Open Wheel Wednesday as the reason NASCAR is bigger than IndyCar.
If you read the history of open-wheel racing given in brief in that article, the bottom line is that they have a history of doing the same thing over and over and never learning it is to their detriment. It’s always owners unhappy with the way things are staging takeovers and then ultimately making things worse. It turns out the only thing they can ever agree on is getting rid of whoever is in charge. Once that happens, they never seem to have a vision of where to go next or how to get there. Or even worse, they all have their personal agendas and can’t find a common direction. That’s ultimately the reason we aren’t having a CART, Champ Car World Series, or IRL race this weekend in Baltimore.
I read of these rumors and all I can think is “Here we go again.” Randy Bernard’s tenure as CEO hasn’t been perfect, but he’s only had two and a half years and remember that some of the problems, like being stuck on an obscure cable network, weren’t his fault. He inherited them and has to make the best of them until current contracts expire. Even the President of the United States, another leader who frequently inherits the policies of the regime before him, gets four years to prove himself and make a case for why he should be in charge.
Bernard also thinks outside of the box, isn’t bound by doing things the way they’ve always been done because he hasn’t always been here, and ultimately brings a new and fresh point of view that can be a big advantage to growing the IndyCar series. He’s trying things like doubleheader races and he has the owners of tracks that dumped Indy cars talking to him about the series returning. Fans care about the IndyCar series and want to see it succeed, and I’d like to at least give Bernard the time he needs to see if he can get it going in the right direction.
The biggest complaint right now is rising costs, specifically price gouging on the part of Dallara, the exclusive chassis manufacturer of IndyCar, who have been accused of jacking up prices for spare parts by as much as 40%. We all learned in Economics 101 that monopolies are bad—and this is why. Consider it a mistake to give such exclusivity to a manufacturer. Shame on Dallara if they don’t hear the grumbling and stop the markups before they cause a mutiny that destroys a lucrative client. Is it, however, a reason to potentially set the IndyCar series back by years and run off fans who may have just returned by staging a takeover?
Here’s where the team owner in IndyCar is a whole different animal than the NASCAR team owner. NASCAR team owners grumble about rules and disadvantages and favoritism. Jack Roush has often been considered an expert at it. Yet the Cat in the Hat has never, at least as far as I know, attempted to rally other team owners, procure financial backing to buyout the France family and take over NASCAR. Likely it’s because Jack Roush understands that he can be vocal, he can lobby for changes that suit his agenda, but ultimately, whether NASCAR listens or not (and sometimes they do), he has one issue. Win or lose, this too shall pass and he’s better off if NASCAR stays just the way it is. This time, at least, it would be in the best interests of team owners if IndyCar stayed just the way it is too.
In the worst case scenario, these rumblings are true and they succeed. It would depend on the Hulman George family accepting an offer and one would think that would have to be an enormous sum. Good luck finding investors willing to pony up those kinds of dollars on what has been a struggling racing series. Ironic too that the series has just barely pulled itself back to life and that’s largely thanks to the efforts of Bernard, the guy they want to oust.
In the best case scenario, it’s all just talk or it fails because investors just aren’t lining up or the Hulman George family isn’t interested in any offer. The whole thing blows over but it’s still detrimental because we should be talking about the great racing or plans for the series next year and beyond instead of behind the scenes intrigue and drama. It casts a negative light over the whole series and plants seeds of doubt about the future. That’s a huge turnoff for attracting sponsors or fans, new or returning.
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