Changes Are Afoot At INDYCAR

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Over the last couple of years, I have been one of many calling for the ouster of Brian Barnhart as Chief Steward of the IZOD IndyCar Series. I always qualified that position by saying that I considered Brian Barnhart to be a good and decent man. Having been in the employment industry for fifteen years and also being in the unenviable position of being unemployed myself at one point; I think people should tread lightly when publically calling for someone to lose their job.

As it turns out, everyone may get their wish. Last Wednesday, we learned that Brian Barnhart had been removed from Race Control on race weekends. He still retains his title of INDYCAR President of Competition, although his responsibilities have been greatly reduced. They needed to be.

For years, Brian Barnhart has made sporadic calls and inconsistent enforcements during race weekends. He made some unpopular calls in the name of safety, like spreading out the field at the start of the Indianapolis 500 – a move that angered many because it diminished one of the most electrifying moments in all of sports. Barnhart had a strong hand in writing and tweaking the INDYCAR rulebook in order to give him way too much latitude in race day interpretations. Simply put; he had put way too much gray into what needed to be more black & white.

While Barnhart had been an unpopular figure to drivers and teams for many seasons, things finally boiled over this past season when he completely bungled the rainy re-start at New Hampshire. For someone who defended all of his unpopular decisions by wrapping them under the shroud of “driver safety”, his decision to re-start an oval race in a steady drizzle confounded many. Although he later admitted that he had made a big mistake and he accepted most of the responsibility (albeit by denying that he had heard no complaints from drivers over their radios); the damage had been done. For good measure, he further cemented his future by allowing the Grand Prix of Baltimore to start while a safety truck was still on the track.

At that point, Randy Bernard had no choice. With all of the other inconsistent enforcement of the Brian Barnhart rulebook that had taken place, Barnhart had lost all credibility among drivers and, more importantly, team owners. Drivers are expected to not agree with track officials, but when the owners turn against you, your days are numbered.

Barnhart held many positions in racing over the years. He was a mechanic on Indianapolis 500 winning teams. He had been employed by IMS in various capacities, and served as Chief Steward for INDYCAR for the past fifteen years. Up until a few years ago, he pretty much held more power than anyone in the league offices other than Tony George. Then his duties were split when Terry Angstadt was named President of the Commercial Division, leaving Barnhart as President of Competition. With all of these duties comes a wealth of experience, and it would have been foolish to cast all of that racing experience aside. Randy Bernard was smart enough to realize this also.

Quite frankly, I think Randy Bernard did Brian Barnhart a favor. Being the Chief Steward in Race Control is a thankless, no-win job. After a lengthy driving career, Wally Dallenbach enjoyed a long tenure in CART from 1981 until CART’s bankruptcy in 2004. He didn’t always endear himself to the drivers, but he was always considered fair and consistent while always commanding respect in the paddock. What set him apart from Brian Barnhart was the aforementioned lengthy driving career that lasted from 1965 until 1979.

In sports, a figure of authority carries significantly more credibility when they have been there themselves. A football coach telling a player to make the tough hit is not very effective, if he has never made the tough hit himself. It’s the same in racing. Wally Dallenbach had thirteen starts in the Indianapolis 500, including one start in the middle of the front row and three top-five finishes. Brian Barnhart had never strapped himself into a cockpit and put himself into the positions that the drivers did, and it never carried the same weight that whatever Dallenbach did – even when it was right.

Contrary to what many fans think, I think Brian Barnhart’s racing experience in other areas make him a valuable commodity – just not in Race Control. He has pretty well seen just about everything there is to see in racing – on the track and off. With the new car and new engines coming on board next spring, there are many things to keep Barnhart busy while some other poor bloke handles the headaches in Race Control on race weekends.

While most of us suspected that a change would be made in Race Control after the many debacles this past season, most were a little more surprised at the other announcement made in the same press release.

Terry Angstadt is being replaced as the President of the commercial division at INDYCAR. Curt Cavin correctly pointed out that it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. His days were numbered ever since Randy Bernard showed up almost two years ago, since they both essentially did the same thing. Randy Bernard’s strengths pretty much mirrored Angstadt’s duties. There was no need for so much redundancy in marketing. Randy Bernard has been on board for two seasons. He has earned the right to bring his own people in.

Terry Angstadt had his hand in several significant revenue generating deals, including landing the IZOD sponsorship along with bringing in Apex-Brasil and the upcoming race in China. Those cheering his exit simply because he was connected to Tony George, may want to rethink that stance.

Angstadt is being replaced by Marc Koretzky, who has vast experience in sports including the NFL and the NCAA. He also was heavily involved with the promotional aspect of non-racing activities in Las Vegas leading up to the season finale in October. Other than what I’ve read, I know nothing about this man, but if Randy Bernard has chosen him, that’s all I need to know.

Time moves quickly in sports, especially racing. Drivers don’t stay in the same place very long. As we saw with the loss of Newman/Haas, teams don’t stay around forever either. The same applies to those in front office positions. We shouldn’t be shocked that Randy Bernard would want to bring in his own person to head the commercial division. As for Brian Barnhart, don’t feel too sorry for him. He gets to stay connected to the sport he loves, while doing away with the headaches. Those of us in our daily jobs should all be so lucky.

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Changes Are Afoot At INDYCAR”

  1. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    Good comments, George, and I have to say I agree for the most part.

    My one quibble comes with the notion that Barnhart invented spread out the starts at Indianapolis. I’ve watched the highlights of old races, and it looks to me like they started spreading ‘em out sometime in the 80′s (perhaps a reaction to the Kevin Cogan incident). I distinctly remember watching on TV as the rows picked up speed at the north end, maintained about 50 yards between themselves and were jostling for position on the front stretch — all while Barnhart was still working the pits with Rick Galles. Certainly, Barnhart didn’t make the starts better, and I think he went over RB’s head in helping the drivers get the start/restart cones moved back in ’11, but let’s make sure we’re not blaming him entirely for the Indianapolis starts.

  2. Tampa Joe Says:

    What is this great experience you say TGBB brings? He is a circus clown and nothing more. He’s the reason IRL has been a spec series for years. If he has any power left, its way too much. He needs to go.

  3. While I agree that Barnhart had to go after Loudon, I completely understand Randy wanting to get to the end of the season before making this public. For a job as difficult as chief steward/referee/wet nurse, you’re not going to find someone to replace Barnhart overnight. Even with his departure, someone had better re-write the rule book, as it is still open to “interpretation.”

    As to Brian being the reason “IRL has been a spec series…” I have TWO problems: First, team owners haven’t exactly been clamoring for something else. If this was THAT big an issue, Tampa Joe, why then would the owners push back the release of the aero kits to 2013.

    Second, “IRL” hasn’t been the title of the series for almost two years now. Get with the times.

  4. Justin Beeper Says:

    “I’ve watched the highlights of old races, and it looks to me like they started spreading ‘em out sometime in the 80′s (perhaps a reaction to the Kevin Cogan incident).”

    Probably had a lot more to do with the proliferation of road racers into the race itself. Many of those guys and gals weren’t used or aren’t used to actually having cars close to them. You start like that all the time in AOW oval racing.

  5. I also hate when people are hoping for someone to lose their job in these hard times (other than Colts coach Caldwell) and means to a living, so I am happy he is no longer head of race control, but still has a job. I agree with just about everything you say here other than one sentence – “I consider Brian Barnhart to be a good and decent man.” I am from where he lives and I know things that maybe not everyone does. The woman he has been married to twice is someone from here and a friend of my older brothers and I can tell you from what I know, that he is in fact NOT a good and decent man. That does not mean he should lose his job, but don’t be fooled. He is the same arrogant, pompous, unaccountable asshole in real life that he has been at the head of race control.

  6. M

    You are the younger brother, of a friend, of his wife, and know first hand he is as you described? Interesting. If so, maybe you should suggest to your older brother, to suggest to his wife that she divorce him twice because as the younger brother, of her friend, you seem to know him well, from Indianapolis, probably never met the man. This should remain a discussion about Indycar racing. Also probably why there are less than 10 comment. Who cares if he’s a jerk “in real life”

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