Randy Bernard Interview – Part II

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The stance I’ve always taken with this site is that I’m not a journalist – I’m a fan. If I were a journalist, I could have come up with my own questions for a meeting with INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard. Fortunately, the readers of this site were able to come up with some great ones last week when I posted that I needed some help. I needed questions in case I got another chance meeting with Randy Bernard at Barber Motorsports Park. Unbeknownst to me, Randy Bernard saw the article himself and had his staff contact me to set up a meeting for this past Sunday at Barber.

Susan Scruggs and I sat down with Randy before the race and presented  questions from fans and readers of this site. The following is Part II of our conversation:

Given that you’ve created separate oval and non-oval championships, I imagine the intention is to keep the number of oval and non-oval races (roughly) equal. We’ve lost ovals and Japan is going away – if not this year, certainly next. Where will we find replacement ovals?

It’s essential that we have more ovals. Bruton Smith still has more tracks and you know that Bruton and us, we have a great relationship. But ISC has more tracks too. They are a for-profit corporation, a publicly held corporation, and it is their obligation to their shareholders to try to work with us. If we can make a deal with one of their tracks – Phoenix is the one I want the most. If Phoenix isn’t in the mix, I don’t know if I’m interested in ISC tracks.

That ties into the next question: ISC tracks Michigan, Chicago & Phoenix are popular ovals mentioned. Have INDYCAR and ISC parted ways for good, or just temporarily. Selfishly, I want Nashville back on the schedule. What are the chances that any of these might find their way back on the schedule?

First of all, ISC and us have a good relationship. I’ve always been friends with Lisa Kennedy and I’m good friends with John Saunders, their Chief Operating Officer. Because of schedules and some of the presidents at some of their facilities, I didn’t feel that there were some tracks that we wanted to play. That’s not to say we won’t play something in the near future, next year or the year after – I believe that we will. Because we all want the best for our sport, but we need to do it under our rules and how we want to see events promoted, marketed and sold.

Do you envision a time where the series will get back to more ovals than road/street courses; say a 60/40 split?

I never want to rule anything out. If we could get 50/50, that would be the ideal solution because then an oval racer doesn’t have an advantage over a non-oval racer, but doing that might take two, three or four years. We have some ideas on how we can do this too. A balanced series has to be our ultimate goal. Not to say that we might not end up with two more non-ovals than ovals on a year, because we have to do what is in the best interest of the series, but it’s our goal to keep it very balanced.

How many races will be on the 2012 schedule? And down the road, how many races maximum do you think INDYCAR should eventually race in a year?

I’m optimistic that we’ll have eighteen races next year. I think that realistically, we’ll have eight to ten new events wanting in our series. Now we’ll have to sit down with their promoters and find out which ones will do the most for us, and which ones are the best for the series.

What are the plans to schedule some road courses that can actually offer passing – perhaps a slam against Barber – and are suited to a top-level open-wheel racing series (Road America, please!).

Well, first of all, I think that passing has to be important. Barber had fantastic crowds last year, but Barber was right in the middle of the pack of our events on passing last year. It wasn’t the least place that had passing – it was right in the middle. So, with that – we think that as long as it’s not the bottom event…if it were, if George Barber were sitting here today, I’d ask him to please give us some passing lanes, because I think it’s essential…people don’t want to come to boring races. You know, this isn’t about a parade of cars and sometimes that’s what it can turn into. So I think we’ll be watching this pretty closely here.

On Road America – EVERYONE loves Road America. If everyone would buy a ticket that has told me about Road America, we’d sell more tickets than the Indy 500. But I don’t know where they all go after we put something on sale [laughing]. So what we want to do right now is make the Milwaukee Mile successful. If that can be successful this year, you know maybe we rotate – we go one year at Road America, then one year at Milwaukee. Road America, George – they’ve been very aggressive. Everybody wants it. It would be a key race for us if we could figure out how to make it financially successful.

What are your plans for getting INDYCAR drivers back into the main media (i.e. commercials on ESPN, articles on websites like CBS Sports or Yahoo!, etc.) so that people other than hardcore INDYCAR fans know who Simona and Will Power are?

Will Power and Simona are two great examples of…you have to be a winner before America will embrace you and want to learn about you. If you look at any sport in the world, Americans especially want to see success and want to learn more about their success. The only one I can think of that probably became very famous with non-success would probably be the Jamaican bobsled team. So, I mean, if you look at any other instance – you can’t make fictitious stars, they have to earn it. Once they start earning it, it makes it easier on us to get them accepted as stars. But if you’re running twenty-fifth out there on the grid, don’t expect to become a star because it’s not going to happen, unless it’s a controversy or something that’s negative or a positive story. You know, there are some positive stories, but you’re not going to become mainstream America without having significant success. If it’s controversy – it’s not going to last, typically. It’s a fad.

Ahem…or Paul Tracy.

But you know, he’s a winner. He has thirty-one wins. It’s going to be fun to see if Dario can overtake Paul’s thirty-one wins this year.

I think Paul Tracy is a great driver, or was in his day. I’ve been accused of being too hard on him on my site because I think his act has gotten a little old. But you don’t have to comment on that.

All right, it’s probably best [laughing].

Is anything in the works for people who cannot attend practice sessions to view online? Also what about the lack of coverage for international viewers?

Live streaming, unfortunately…INDYCAR has known for the last two years that they could pull live streaming at any point because it was always in the contract. I want to be the first one to say that when I was with PBR, we had the same contract. So I can’t blame that on past management, because we had the same thing. I know how hard we fought for it at PBR and they’re not giving in. It was something that – because of Comcast being such a big cable provider, the different cable affiliates out there demanded that they weren’t going to be competing with on-line if they were going to be paying for the cable channel. The average Versus gets per home, is something like twenty-eight cents per home per month. You can’t have your cake and eat it too on one of these things. If we wanted to be on a network and have prime-time live time, this is how these cable companies operate today.

You know, it really irritates me when I hear someone say that “content is king” and if you have content, you’re going to be in great shape. That’s B.S. GREAT content is king. The thing that these networks have understood is, as long as we control the great content, internet will never be able to take over, until they start spending hundreds of millions of dollars to compete with it. So I think that’s what it boils down to – that this is one way that television can continue to be relevant in networks.

How can we solve long-term viewership issues due to scheduling? Case in point, this year the Barber Race is a 3PM EDT start on Versus, which already will be less exposure, plus it conflicts with the final round of The Masters.

If we can’t stand on our own two feet, we’re not considered a mainstream sport, in my opinion. We’re always going to have competition whether it’s Sundays and the NFL or whether it’s The Masters or whether it’s NASCAR. If we’re going to look a sponsor in the eye and say “we’re becoming a mainstream sport”, then we need to say “Hey, we can stand on our own”. So saying that, of course we’d like to try to make sure we can reach the biggest audience, but Versus is in seventy-five million homes. They’ve proven with NHL that they can do 3.5 or 3.9 ratings with NHL playoffs. So those people found the network, so we just have to do a better job of creating new fans. I would hope our fan base continues to promote our sport and help us grow it.

One reader wants me to please ask Randy Bernard if he realizes most IndyCar fans are fed up with ABC’s coverage of the series and if he intends to re-up with them in the next television contract, or if he is leaning toward shopping the 500 and the series around.

It’s interesting to hear the reaction of our fans on ABC. I think they did a pretty good job at St. Pete. I loved their opening. Their pre-race was fantastic. I also thought that they missed a couple of storylines. I thought they didn’t give Simona the respect that she deserved, that she earned on that race. I felt that, possibly, they were trying to push Danica for no storyline. But for the most part, I gave it a B, as in boy, rating. I think that – can they do better? Yes. But I think that they’ve been a great partner for forty-six years covering the Indy 500, and out of respect for them – at least it’s network coverage.

Now, am I going to shop it? I was brought into INDYCAR to do one thing; to do what’s in the best interest of INDYCAR. Of course, we want to see what other opportunities are out there, and that we need to make sure that we take everything into account before we make a decision with one network or another. And that’s not just financial. That’s also how much are they going to market us, how many events they want. There’s a lot of questions that go into it and we want to make sure that we reach out to everyone and give everyone a fair shot. We know that there is sincere interest from other networks, which is exciting – and they know that.

What has been the most frustrating thing about your job over the past year and what has been the most rewarding thing about it?

The frustrating thing is that every time you take two steps forward, there’s always a major step backwards. There’s always controversy from the standpoint that people demand answers now, and they don’t want you to think it out and really come up with a solution – and that’s not how I operate. I’ll take as much time as I need and then make decisions. Because of that, I have to hear two to three weeks worth of complaining and griping and ripping me. A lot of it is behind closed doors, but I’m not the type of person that can be bought or persuaded – well, persuaded yes, if it’s in the best interest of the sport. When I finish, whether it’s five years from now, two years from now or ten years – I want to be the same way I was with the PBR – I want to be able to look in the mirror and say every decision I made was in the best interest of the sport. I didn’t protect the top drivers in the series, I looked out for ALL the drivers in the series. I didn’t protect the top owners in the series, I looked out for all of them. If I can do that at the end of this career, regardless how much I make, or anything, or how the series has done – I’ll know I’ve done my job and I believe I can grow this sport by doing it that way. So, that is probably the biggest frustration – how everybody is so impulsive and wants a decision [snaps fingers] now.

I think that the other part of that, the most rewarding part is – I think – the ICONIC advisory committee was very rewarding. To see these seven gentlemen determine what the next step of our sport would be, and to shape the sport and to be a part of that. It was like getting thrown into the Harvard of motorsports. It was really fun and an educational process. When we started the process, I thought to myself and I told my wife “why couldn’t I have come in after they decided what the next car was” [laughing]. But looking back on it, it was such a learning experience. I’m by no means an expert on engines or cars, and never will be. But one thing I did learn is that there are so many people that are. And there are so many people that have the best interest of the sport going for them – one of the biggest parts of my job is weeding through who has ulterior motives and who actually wants what’s in the best interest of the sport.

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I want to thank Randy Bernard for following through on his initial promise of thirteen months ago; to listen to the fans. I realize that I was very fortunate to be tabbed as one of several bloggers he has chosen to have conversations with during his tenure. Thanks to all that submitted questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t include every single one. As always, thank you for reading Oilpressure.com.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Randy Bernard Interview – Part II”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Very nicely done interview George…. Thanks….

  2. George – You rock, my friend. This was so interesting! I LOVE that Mr. Bernard found out about your call-out for questions and then had someone seek you out. Does this sort of thing happen in any other sport?! Indycar is a unique fan-friendly family that I’m so happy follow!

  3. Well done George! Thanks to you and whoever asked the question I never got around to asking. “Phoenix is the one I want the most. If Phoenix isn’t in the mix, I don’t know if I’m interested in ISC tracks.” Sign me up now for 4 tickets in the Petty grandstand exiting turn 4! (Or maybe turn 1 in the shade)

  4. Killer stuff, George. Seriously. Fab questions, well delivered, great answers.

  5. Kinda felt you coulda pressured him more regarding practice sessions/qualification online (the sessions that aren’t on tv!!), its hard to claim ABC/VS wants ppl to watch it on tv, when they don’t air it…

    • I wondered about the non-televised portions, like practice sessions or qualifying when on ABC. Oh well, I’d imagine we’re not the only who have complained!

      Happy that a couple of my questions got tabbed, although I did try to go for broad questions that many of us wonder rather than being silly.

  6. Wow, I really was shocked how he approached the Danica having no storyline deal, I am amazed that he would feel that way, maybe it is just the TV crew who has the Danica lovefest……

  7. Donald McElvain Says:

    Thank you, sir. Excellent interview!

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Wonderful interview George. Major kudos to you for conducting it and Randy for taking the time to meet with you.

  9. Mike Silver Says:

    Excellent interview, George. Great qustions from the fans. I know you had a blast doing it. Thanks for this insightful piece.

  10. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    You, sir, are a rock star. We are not worthy!

  11. Jim Gallo Says:

    Thanks George and thanks Randy for both the time and effort. A lot more postive responses than I had imagined.

  12. Can you imagine Tony George ever contacting a blogger and inviting him into his private motor coach for an interview? I really appreciate Randy Benard’s openess and willingness to talk. Good job George!

  13. Do you just wear those blindingly white shoes once and then throw them away or are you incredibly fastidious about the cleanliness of your footwear?

    (Just kidding, George–great job.)

  14. jerrycruz Says:

    great job!!! RB and George will help grow the sport…that is what we need: committed individuals who put the sport before any self interest!!!

  15. james t suel Says:

    Thank you George and Randy.

  16. What an awesome job, George. Thanks so much for this–one of the best Q&As with RB I’ve seen.

  17. Great job, George. Thanks to you and to Randy Bernard for doing this interview.

  18. [...] 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 [...]

  19. I was a bit confused with his take (or non-take) on your Nashville question. However while addressing ISC and stating that “without Phoenix” there is not a dea,l I can see that RB is on top of the series as well as very protective of it. I agree, too. Without Phoenix then it doesn’t work. Regardless of ISC, though, I think he should take another look at Nashville. Maybe the Nashville GM will do a better job of grinding the track to accomodate side-by-side racing and more passing.

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