Randy Bernard Interview – Part I
Last Wednesday, I wrote about a missed opportunity with INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard last year at Barber Motorsports Park. I lamented the fact that when we met by chance in a press conference setting, I had no questions. Last week, I asked for readers to post questions in the off-chance I might have another run-in meeting with him.
Lo and behold, I was contacted by the INDYCAR office informing me that Randy Bernard had seen the article and wanted to meet with me this past Sunday at Barber. No questions came from me. These are all questions from readers of this site. I collected what I considered to be the most relevant questions. Many shared the same theme and I combined some. Many that involved specifics about the Indianapolis 500 didn’t fall under his realm. Those were Jeff Belskus questions. I omitted all but one of those.
Susan Scruggs and I sat down with Randy in his motor coach at Barber on Sunday morning. When transcribing the conversation, I decided to print every word. With this being my first interview, I didn’t feel it was my place to be cutting sentences and joining phrases together. That’s how people are taken out of context. Today and tomorrow will feature the entire dialogue. The following is Part 1 of the interview:
When you sit down to meet with new entities that are considering joining the series, what do you bring to the table that they don’t already know?
It’s a little different with who I’m meeting with. If it’s teams that are wanting to come into the series, I need to show them that we have a direction for the future that is going to be very positive, how we’re going to grow ratings and how we want them involved in our series. If I’m meeting with sponsors, I want to show them how we’re going to be a good partner. I think that who ever I meet with, I want to make sure that they understand that I want to listen – and for them to be a good partner.
With a sponsor, I think it’s very important for us to show the differentiation of us from F1 and NASCAR; and that we are a super-power in the form of motorsports, but we have our own differentiation and that we want to be known as the fastest and most versatile race car in the world. When I say the fastest and most versatile; NASCAR doesn’t race as many road courses as we do, of course they have one or two – and F1 doesn’t do ovals. Compliment that with our speed and the danger element – and that separates us, and it does several things for us.
If Home Depot were sitting here today – let’s say you’re Home Depot and you would say “I already have NASCAR, why would I need INDYCAR?” I would come right back with “because of our versatility”. We can deliver a much different and broader demographic. Yes, there are ovals. We are going to have a 68-70% crossover with the NASCAR audience, but at the road and street courses – mostly street courses – you’re going to see a much more international, urban, younger demo. That’s how we can grow the motorsports world and your brand. That’s how I would like to position that.
When you go to the board or to any investor, you’ve got a handful of bullet points that are your key goals, and periodically you have to go back and address those goals: which ones are met, which are well on the way to being achieved, and which ones need more work. I’d like to know what those goals are.
I laid out five or six goals when I started. The first one was learning the culture and history. You have a hundred years of tradition and culture that has made this form of racing what it is today. We need to get back to that.
I think that creating a positive environment is important; whether it’s our staff, to our fans, our team owners, to our sponsors, to our media. Several media have been a little bit negative, especially after we picked the choice of our car. I called on them and I said “I applaud you for being negative – as long as it’s accurate negativity. That’s all I ask for.” [laughing]
Robin (Miller) and I don’t agree on everything, but what I love about Robin is his passion for this sport. He has no ulterior motive except for his love of the sport and he wants to see the sport grow. Bottom line – he’s not trying to be rich on this sport. That’s why I love the media. They’re connected with the fan base, and they’re connected to this sport not because they’re going to get rich – but because they love it. That’s why I like to listen to the press so much.
So when I started here last March and looked at the job in January, when you googled IRL then or INDYCAR, there was a lot of negativity that came up. I told the team owners and I told several of the press: that if I’m a Chief Marketing Officer of a major company and I’m going to put a lot of money into motorsports, and I look and read about INDYCAR – am I going to put my money into INDYCAR with all of the negativity that’s attached to it? Probably not, because I’m going to have a CEO that I’m going to report to and he’s going to do the same thing if he’s a smart CEO. So, every one of us has a responsibility to report the right thing, report the truth, report what’s going on – but do it in an influential way that it’s going to grow your sport.
I love controversy. I’m getting off base here, but the double-file re-starts? It creates controversy. I don’t have a problem with the drivers screaming or cussing me or INDYCAR because it just creates more interest in our sport and that’s what’s so positive about it. Brian (Barnhart) had a comment yesterday that I read where it’s the most radical change of the decade. I love that. I love it. That’s what we need. That’s the second goal.
The third one – we have to become profitable. To be a successful sanctioning property, that is something that is essential. We need to first form a foundation to create objectives. We have a little backwards work before we can go forward. It was important. It was very important to get the grass roots back involved. When you look at the split in ’96 and you say “Oh yeah, you lost 15-20 million fans and yes, that’s low-lying fruit” and that’s what we’re going to attack. Go back to 1991 and 1992 – CART was already starting to alienate the American fan, because they were so honed in on developing road and street courses that they didn’t care about the ovals. They were bringing more European drivers in – which was great because they were bringing the best drivers in the world in, but it was alienating the American fan that loved the oval.
I think that some of the foundation of what we have to do is try to keep this oval and road/street course balance. Maybe you don’t like road/street courses and you’re an oval guy, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do both. If we keep it even, that will give the Americans the chance to come back and get involved. I’m going to be a big, strong advocate of – I don’t care if you’re American, Mexican, English, whatever – what I want is the best drivers in the world. That’s not to say we can’t do more things to help improve our drivers, but that’s something that we have to take very strongly.
You’ll be glad to know there isn’t one question about double-file re-starts.
That’s disappointing [laughing]. I want that. I want the controversy.
Well, these are from true hard-core fans. They’ve moved on from that.
Well that’s interesting because when Roger and Chip brought it to me, we had some people in our office that said, “It can’t happen. Not at all.” What was the most interesting part to me was that we put some polls out there and SPEEDTV actually did one for me and Marshall (Pruett) shared the numbers with me. It was 86% in favor of it – and those are your purists. But when we did the lucky dog – it was 85% the other way. So listening to the fans, I think, is paying off. If we could do another big rating like we did last race – a 0.6 this week would be fantastic.
I’m curious if the league or Dallara will be assisting teams in the purchase of the 2012 cars, finding them good financing plans and the like.
I think we have done a great job in reducing the prices to make it very economically viable for all teams. The price of a current engine to the price that it’s going to next year is significantly lower. A chassis is much lower and if you’re based out of Indiana, you’ll get the $150,000 incentive from the state of Indiana. I think that the negative is that our tires are going to go up, but that was going to happen regardless of what chassis we had. I think that by bringing three manufacturers in; it’s bringing a new opportunity of much stronger marketability of your product, it’s giving fans what they want, it’s allowing competition which will inevitably be better for the team owners. The team owners are looking at it this way. I see new people coming into our sport. If you’re not involved next year, you’re going to be a year behind and I don’t see us going backwards at all. I have been having way too many conversations with way too many big teams in other series that want to come over.
I know that it is a concern among fans that car count is robust now, but what is it going to be in the future when everyone has to have new equipment? I know that there were some conversations before the new chassis was announced that this chassis might be grandfathered to some of the smaller teams…
They won’t have a shot with this chassis when they see the new chassis. The new chassis is going to be 4-5% better on efficiency, less drag, more downforce, more power. The new car is going to be so much…it’s going to be a racing machine. I think it’s really going to help take us to the next level.
It’s my understanding that we might see a prototype to give us a peek at Indianapolis.
Oh, yeah. Definitely. Hopefully, we are going to be able to unveil it on Dave Letterman. That’s what our goal is.
Susan: I remember that last year they showed us the DeltaWing at Indy. I wasn’t a fan.
You know what? I’m a fan of the DeltaWing for one thing – it made people think outside the box, and I’m not sure that we would be sitting here today talking about three different manufacturers with a new safety cell if it wasn’t for DeltaWing. So as much as I didn’t like part of the looks of it, I didn’t think it was all bad for the sport.
Since you like controversy, you’ll love this question. I’ll preface this by acknowledging that INDYCAR is a separate entity from IMS and that you have little say-so on their decisions. This reader wants to know: What were the factors in choosing Donald Trump as the Centennial pace car driver in lieu of a past champion or anyone else associated with the sport?
OK. The Indy 500 is no different than Barber or St. Pete or Long Beach or any other racetrack we go to. We are the sanctioning body. I am the CEO of the sanctioning body. Jeff Belskus is the CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I think the world of Jeff. I think that…I’m not going to give my personal opinions on that. If it comes to rules on INDYCAR, I have say. If it’s anything else, it’s Jeff Belskus and his team. I’ve got my hands full with this. That’s the last thing I need to be getting involved in. We both report to the same board of directors and that’s about the only thing we have in common.
I want to know about standing starts on road/street courses.
We think it’s a great idea. I’m not sure if we’ll do it in ’12 or ’13, but Tony Cotman has made sure that the transmissions are capable of standing starts, which I don’t think that the transmissions that we currently have are. So, I think that we are thinking far enough out that if that is something that we want to do, this car will be built to do it.
Part 2 will be here tomorrow. In it, Randy talks about future network possibilities, potential tracks for the series, the relationship with ISC, live streaming and the biggest frustration and most rewarding part of his job.