Randy Bernard Interview – Part I

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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.

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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.

George Phillips

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29 Responses to “Randy Bernard Interview – Part I”

  1. Jack in NC Says:

    Nice job, George! Randy Bernard comes across about as I would have expected, given the success he has enjoyed in his first year – a smart, savvy CEO who knows where his sport came from and where it is heading. For the first time since the split I have confidence in the leadership of the league.

    Perhaps Jeff Belskus will grant you a similar interview sometime during the month of May, to answer questions pertaining strictly to IMS.

  2. Nice white tenny’s George!

    Can’t tell but is that velcro?

    And of course good work on the interview!

    • Oilpressure Says:

      Shoestrings only! Those are my 1985 model Reeboks that I now have to special order. I know…I look like I’m stuck in a bad time warp. Change is bad.

  3. That’s as good as anything I’ve seen in print, and better than nearly anything on TV.

    Hopefully the Indycar office will read it, like it, and grease the skids so you can do another with someone else at your next event.

  4. Great interview George (and Susan). Being an ol’ radio business guy I certainly appreciate Randy’s Home Dept example about marketing. Not only is it a smart way to position yourself to potential sponsors who are already using sports as marketing (e.g. NASCAR customers). When you have a qualified story like the one INDYCAR can have and qualified place to position yourself, you will be taken seriously and then you will be considered. It is a lot of hard work that comes with wins and losses, but I, too, see it as a product that is positioned to compliment what the deep pocket sponsors can add the versatility to current campaigns and add a broader demo. Direction like this is what I think the series has lacked and it is a great pitch to have.

    • The Lapper Says:

      Don’t forget the rifle approach which is when a sponser is using a team or event to help them make sales. Business to Business. I have seen folks sign on the dotted line after a weekend hanging out with a team that is sponsored by a distributor wanting to get into a chain of stores. Also, to have the opportunity to invite potential customers to a “hosted” INDYCAR event is another B2B strength. It develops loyalty as well when you can say thanks to customers with a “VIP” race with dinner a a meet and greet. WOW! It works, too!

  5. Jason McVeigh Says:

    Great reading George, I look forward to part 2

    • ditto.
      It’s beyond belief how much Indycar needed a guy like RB and how well he’s doing… try and imagine any other national sport that would have it’s CEO make time for a blogger to answer questions for the fans. Heck, try and think of any big shots from CART/CCWS/IRL that would have had the consideration to do this!

  6. “Some day [George]–and the day may never come–I will call upon you to do a service for me…”

  7. Man, Randy Bernard gives me so much hope about IndyCar everytime I read an interview with him!
    Good post man! Great job!

  8. Great interview, George. Every time I read/hear something from Bernard, the stars in my eyes get shinier. The dude gets it. Can’t wait for part 2!

  9. Brian McKay Says:

    Good job, Mr. Bernard; good job, George. Quite looking forward to part 2.

  10. Great job George. RB’s comments about listening to the media were interesting to me.
    It reminded of Dick Simon. Back in my days as a photographer at the Speedway, as the pits got more and more crowded and race teams got more and more restrictive about what we could photograph and under what conditions, Dick would do whatever he could to let us get whatever photos we thought we needed. He once said “You guys are the ones to get us in front of the people, and we need to help you all we can.”
    Dick got it and that is why he was such a favorite of so many.
    Randy Bernard gets it, too. Giving you this opportunity is more proof of that.
    U.S. open wheel racing became something that was disconnected from it’s true life blood–the fans.
    Randy is giving INDYCAR racing its’ life back.

  11. Tampa Joe Says:

    You people are all sheep. Sucking up to some small time blogger who sucks up to Cowboy Randy. If Randy Bernard had any balls he’d never stoop so low to let some wanna be interview him. This is where open wheel racing has gotten itself at? What an embarrasment.

    • No noob! Randy is doing what other series doesn’t do! Blogs are “near” the fans. Much more than the “big media” and he knows it, he knows how to use it very well.

      • I will say that what we should do is draw more people into our tent, not just preach to the choir. Exposing our sport via USA Today and other major media can attract more TV viewers and attract more guests to race tracks so that race promoters can pay their expenses (and favor hosting races in successive seasons).
        Having said that, Mr. Bernard loses nothing but a little time to share his views with G.P. and us. Tampa Joe is just trolling.

    • calling people names is awesome.

    • indygrrl Says:

      I’m sure you know many sheep intimately.

  12. I will admit to having been hesitant about having Randy Bernard come into the CEO position cold, with no prior racing experience and no knowledge about IndyCar itself.

    It’s never felt better to be so wrong about being worried about someone. Randy continues to hit it out of the ballpark with the sport and his decisions. Does he occasionally have to change direction or decisions? Absolutely! Did Babe Ruth ever strike out at bat? Absolutely! One of Randy’s best features is that, unlike certain drivers (LOL) he’s willing to admit when he made a mistake and then he fixes that mistake.

    Nice interview George! Can’t wait for part Deux.

  13. Great job George. I don’t know of any other CEO of a sport that would sit down and do any interview like this. Randy is a great leader for our sport.

  14. Christopher Meyer Says:

    One aspect I love about RB is that you can read/watch an interview with him and then a couple months later much of what he said/promised has actually occurred. I think he actually means what he says and does not just give a half-hearted sales pitch which is forgotten as soon as the interview ends.

  15. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    George-Fantastic job! You do understand that you didn’t get this through dumb luck don’t you? You have one of the most well written blogs on the planet and you are just like us. You’re a fan. RB knows that too. Don’t forget about us when Speed.com comes calling.

  16. jerrycruz Says:

    Goerge, I gotta tell you…when you 1st started this blog I said to myself “another blog to review IndyCar’s opinions and history”. Man, you have come so far as to meet the CEO (from a direct invitation from INDYCAR) and get OUR questions to him. I gotta salute you and commend you from creating in yourself an ambassador for the sport. Randy Bernard gets it…is as simple as that…it gives me goosebumps just to think ahead toward 2012 and beyond if we keep RB going as CEO for at least 10 years.

    GREAT JOB GEORGE…I can’t wait for Part 2!!!

  17. Tim Hartigan Says:

    Hope your not pissed George, I linked this article over at Trackforum. Full discussion going on now.

  18. james t suel Says:

    Great job! I think you do a much better job than many journalist . looking foward to part two.

  19. Harvey Pelovsky Says:

    I have been a avid IndyCar fan ever since I saw them for the first time in Phoenix. They ran in Phx. I think for over 40 years until ISC bought the track. Why does that track have to exclude open wheel? It is a great open wheel track with much passing and excitement.
    I want to encourage Randy to keep after getting Phx. back. Us Westerners would love that back along with Calif. Speedway, too!
    Randy, you are doing a great job! You are about the best thing that has happened to IndyCar racing in the last 20+ years.

  20. [...] Oilpressure: Randy Bernard Interview Part 1 and Part 2 – Even if you are not a fan of IndyCar racing you should still read this interview. Randy Bernard, CEO of INDYCAR, has been a real breath of fresh air in his just-over-a-year in charge of the series. Such a huge change from the fighting, dictating attitudes of the 90s to early 00s and the introspection and cluelessness of the mid-00s – and I count all flavours of Indy racing in that: CART, Champ Car, IRL.  The unified IndyCar Series is now led by a man who is not just open to listening to teams and drivers, but also to fans and bloggers. This is just one of many Q&As he’s granted to bloggers, but what’s good about this one, is that it was Randy’s idea! He saw George at Oilpressure ask his readers for questions ‘should I bump into Randy’ at the Barber round, and Randy came back and made it a meet-up in person for a real Q&A. And it is a top notch Q&A as well, good questions (as you would expect from the learned readers of Oilpressure), great answers – not banal PR fluff. Do also take a look around the rest of the site to see more photos and words from George’s weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. [...]

  21. [...] Randy Bernard Interview – Part I [Oilpressure]So George is the new Barbara Walters (you can even note the fuzzy photo treatment given to Randy… or was that just someone’s hand not being steady?), and I’m pretty positive that in part II he’ll get Randy to cry. HE’S JUST THAT GOOD. I’d have asked to interview Randy myself, but I don’t think he likes me after all those FarmVille invites I sent him on Facebook. [...]

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