New Hampshire: Randy Bernard Strikes Again

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If the initial reports are correct – and they usually are – then CEO Randy Bernard is about to announce that the IZOD IndyCar Series is set to return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011. If you enjoyed the race in Iowa this past Sunday, this is great news.

Randy Bernard seems intent on making good on his promise that his open-wheel series embraces its short oval roots and try to maintain a greater than a 50% balance slanted more toward ovals than road/street courses. Adding the 1.058 mile oval in Loudon, New Hampshire is a great way to start. He reportedly also has his eyes set on Phoenix, Las Vegas and Milwaukee. If Mr. Bernard can pull off any of those in the near future, my opinion of him will be higher than it is already.

After the NASCAR Busch series began running at NHMS in 1990, CART ran its inaugural race there over the Fourth of July weekend in 1992. Bobby Rahal won the first open-wheel race there in his Miller Genuine Draft Lola-Chevy on his way to his third CART title. Subsequent CART winners in the mid-nineties included Nigel Mansell, Al Unser, Jr. and Andre Ribeiro. With the exception of Ribeiro, each CART winner at New Hampshire went on to win the championship later that season. The 1994 race won by Little Al is best remembered for a crash by Scott Sharp that found him spinning on his head in his Pac-West Lola along the backstretch, while still providing full radio communication to his crew. In 1995, Andre Ribeiro won, giving Honda their first Indy car victory.

With the CART-IRL split in 1996 – the track, owned by Bob Bahr at the time, chose to align with the IRL and attendance plummeted. While CART played to mostly full-houses in its run, the IRL was lucky to draw 20,000 to its races at New Hampshire. By this time, with the NASCAR Cup Series now in the fold and Bruton Smith part of the ownership picture, the IRL race became very expendable. Three very recognizable names won IRL races at New Hampshire; Scott Sharp, Robbie Buhl and Tony Stewart, but 1998 was to be the last year for open-wheel racing at New Hampshire – until 2011.

In the meantime, New Hampshire cast its lot totally with NASCAR as it began hosting two Cup races in 1997. Unfortunately, New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the site of two separate NASCAR fatalities in 2000. Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin were both fatally injured in turn three on different weekends – both the apparent victims of stuck throttles. Although NASCAR had already invented the HANS device, its use was not yet a requirement. NASCAR’s invention of the SAFER barrier was still a couple of years away. On a serious note, had both of those systems been in use, both drivers may still be alive today.

Since 2008, New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been solely in the hands of Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc (SMI). Jerry Gappens has been the Executive VP and GM of the track since then as well. Gappens has made it clear that he wanted the IZOD IndyCar Series at his track. In 2009, he made a strong push to be on the schedule for the 2010 season, but for some strange reason – the previous regime didn’t see fit to pursue New Hampshire. There weren’t many oval tracks that wanted an IndyCar Series event at their track, hence the first season where road courses outnumber the ovals. Here was one that actually sought out the IndyCar Series, yet the leaders at the time inexplicably showed lukewarm interest, at best. Fortunately, Randy Bernard had no axe to grind with New Hampshire and he made scheduling the track a priority for the 2011 schedule.

This is a good move on several fronts. First and foremost, it gets another oval on the schedule. Secondly, it is a short oval similar in size and shape to Milwaukee. As we saw this past weekend, the short ovals can be very exciting – now that the oval package has been tweaked to allow better racing. Thirdly, the New England area is currently an unserved market in the IZOD IndyCar Series. The demographics of that area align nicely with the markets that IZOD is trying to reach.

I’m sure that Randy Bernard is going to make some major mistakes along the way. He has to. But so far, I have to say that I continue to be very impressed with what this man has done, after not even four full months on the job. Unlike the previous regime that was so arrogant, when they actually had very little to be arrogant about – Randy Bernard has come in and seems to be fully intent on listening. Not only is he listening, he is listening to the right people. And the biggest surprise is that he seems to actually be listening to the most important people of all – the fans.

So add his commitment to short ovals to the growing list of Randy Bernard’s accomplishments over a very short period of time. With the engine formula that pleases most already announced and the much anticipated chassis announcement coming later this summer, things were already looking up for the IZOD IndyCar Series. With a popular win by Tony Kanaan in a very exciting race on a short oval, the timing could not be any better to announce the addition of New Hampshire. And how are they to announce it? By having Dario Franchitti drive his Target Dallara-Honda at speed on the track at New Hampshire just before the NASCAR race, before the throngs of NASCAR fans who have probably never seen an IndyCar run before. Somehow, I cannot imagine that Tony George or any of his inner-circle would ever have given such a move a single thought.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “New Hampshire: Randy Bernard Strikes Again”

  1. NASCAR’s invention of the SAFER barrier was still a couple of years away.

    Judges??

    Yep. That’s a blogger burn alright. Nicely done, George.

  2. I’m also a card-carrying member of the St. Bernard fan club, George. And I’m sure mistakes will come also–I mean, he’s only human and he does listen to Robin Miller…

    But Bernard won’t even need to necessarily make a mistake to bring out the criticism–he just needs to make a decision. And the big one is the chassis decision coming up within the month. He will be roundly criticized no matter what choice he makes.

  3. George,

    That line about NASCAR inventing the HANS device made me spew my coffee this morning. I can tell you’ve been hanging out with Hobbson.

  4. james t suel Says:

    NASCAR INVENTING SAFER BARRER??NO ,NO !!

  5. “Although NASCAR had already invented the HANS device, its use was not yet a requirement. NASCAR’s invention of the SAFER barrier was still a couple of years away.”

    This is how rumors of NASCAR inventing the wheel get started.

  6. indygrrl Says:

    Don’t forget how NASCAR also invented the Gopher Cam! I think this has long since been discarded by IndyCar–Milka kept taking out the camera…

  7. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    Wasn’t the HANS device invented in the early ’80’s by a motorsports doctor or something?

  8. I love Randy B. He’s on fire right now… but he’s not exactly facing a tough comparison with his predecessors.

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      I’m not so sure. His predecessor’s may not have done that well in latter years, but in my experience, a new CEO following a poor one can often breed suspicion.

      • Keep in mind that Randy Bernard has (or seems to have) full support from IRL and IMS owners. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been taking these bold decisions.

  9. Oilpressure Says:

    Just to be clear…my comments about NASCAR inventing the HANS Device and the SAFER Barrier are completely tongue-in-cheek. My point was that they take credit for their inventions, although they had nothing whatsoever to do with them. – GP

  10. Everyone was pretty confused–I guess we’re not used to George being so sarcastic. But it got me curious, so I looked up stuff about the development of the SAFER barrier. It was developed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln by engineers under the sponsorship of the IRL–which I assume was basically Tony George–and the first racetrack to install it was Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002.

    The funny thing was how many articles on Nascar’s “development” of the SAFER barrier were listed. Maybe they should’ve named it the HULMAN barrier or something?

  11. Oddly I wasn’t confused by Georges comments. Loudon is a good addition, because for oval fans, an oval hasn’t been added since 07 when Iowa was added. Plus, it should be a good race.

  12. billytheskink Says:

    I got the sarcasm, well played George.

    I don’t believe NASCAR funded any of UN’s SAFER Barrier research and I know they had no hand in developing the HANS device, though they weren’t too far behind the open wheel guys in requiring its adoption. If I’m not mistaken, Norberto Fontana was the first Indy/Champ Car driver to wear the HANS, as a doctor’s requirement early in the 2000 CART season. I believe CART and the IRL began requiring them the following season, with NASCAR doing so late in 2001.

  13. NASCAR invented Baseball, too. Not the Russians.

    You can win bar bets with that fact.

  14. Drayton Sawyer Says:

    It’s obvious that Mr. Pressure wasn’t saying NASCAR invented the HANS device and the safer barrier. But if anyone is curious the HANS device was invented by Dr. Robert Hubbard and the Safer barrier was invented by Dean Sicking at the University of Nebraska.

  15. Not to take away from Mr. Bernard’s efforts, but I remember before the inaugural IRL race at Charlotte, an Indy Car did hot laps at a NASCAR event, might have been during a break at the Winston.

  16. I was at the press conference today. The NH folks are clearly excited. Bruton was pretty mum on any additional SMI dates, though.

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