My Thoughts On The Palace Revolt

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Last week, I was probably as out of touch with the outside world as I’ve ever been. That should be understandable, since it was my honeymoon. Since this is a racing site and not a travel site, I will not bore everyone with all of the details. But I will use a word that I rarely use to describe our trip – fabulous! It’s good to be back on this site, but I’d be lying if I said I’m glad to be back in the real world. I could get used to the life of a beach bum – so long as someone would support me financially.

There was one racing aspect of our trip, that I’ll share here on Friday – but I did want to touch on the one bit of news I followed fairly closely while tucked away in my cocoon. That is the story involving Randy Bernard coming under fire by some owners. By now, this is old news and I don’t think I’ll add anything to what has already been said – but this has been on my mind, so I’ll take this opportunity to rant.

In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I’ll admit that I am a huge fan of Randy Bernard. I’ve met him and interviewed him as well as had chance brushes with him at the Speedway. In all those times, I’ve found him to be engaging, genuine and extremely likeable. His great personality traits aside, I also think he has done a world of good for the IZOD IndyCar Series. When you look at the list of forgettable leaders at CART and Champ Car over the years and the total lack of leadership from the previous IRL regime – I think that Randy Bernard has been a Godsend for our sport.

Does that mean that I consider Randy Bernard to be infallible? Far from it. Although Mr. Bernard has had far more hits than misses, he hasn’t connected on every idea. But, that’s what creative people in his position do. They come up with ideas, implement them and see how they work. If they don’t work, try something else.

From what I can tell, the teams running the Chevy powerplant think that INDYCAR and Randy Bernard in particular did their side dirty when they allowed Honda to make changes to their single turbocharger prior to the Indianapolis 500. I am not a gearhead and know nothing about turbochargers, so I won’t even try to explain what changes were made. But I’m not too ignorant that I can’t tell that the Chevy teams were peeved about it so much that they demanded a hearing to determine the fairness of such a change. When that hearing didn’t go their way, they appealed – this time, with a retired Indiana Supreme Court judge hearing the case. When he came up with the same result – obviously some Chevrolet owners decided to not stop there. Chevy had already won the first four races and the first four poles of the season, and they apparently felt that anything that broke that string was obviously un-American (no pun intended).

Based on what I hear and read, the alleged primary instigator in all of this is Panther Racing owner John Barnes. But Barnes has allies in trying to lead the palace revolt. Kevin Kalkhoven and Michael Andretti are apparently none too happy, either.

As with most things in racing, I think there is more to this than being upset over “turbogate” or the increased cost of running the DW12. Remember, John Barnes is one of the holdover owners from the old IRL days along with AJ Foyt and those at Dreyer & Reinbold. John Barnes has made his feelings about the direction the series has taken very clear. He got in when Tony George and his cronies were running things. John Barnes has his allegiance squarely with the ousted regime of Tony George, and not Randy Bernard. Now that Randy Bernard has made it clear that he is taking the series in a much-needed new direction, you can expect some of the old holdovers that were trained to hate the very existence of CART & Champ Car to resent that their series has taken on the same look of the very series that they despised.

Despite a flawed business model, CART had a lot of good things going in its day. What ended up being fatal to their existence was the fact that the team owners called all the shots, while the commissioner was just a puppet put in place for everyone to bully. How ironic that one of the old-guard IRL owners would pull a trick out of the old CART playbook and think he can create an uprising to get the CEO of INDYCAR fired. The difference here is that the owners don’t have a say in who leads this series. That is ultimately up to the board at Hulman & Co., who were the ones that hired Randy Bernard. Seeing how he has managed the bottom line, I would think the board is very pleased with his performance – as well they should be.

Now comes word that the owners are trying to reject the aero kits yet again. Is this over a concern over holding down costs, or an attempt to further embarrass Randy Bernard? Only the car owners know for sure, but it is certainly poor timing at best and extremely petty at the worst.

So if this sounds like I’m in complete agreement with Randy Bernard on this – well, you’re almost right. In my opinion, Randy Bernard handled this situation very poorly. This was an in-house matter that should have stayed in-house. When he tweeted that one of the owners was trying to get him fired, it exemplified everything that I think is wrong about social media. I can’t get into Facebook, but I love Twitter (@Oilpressureblog); but I know to be very careful and guarded on there. Even then, I’ve gotten my head torn off a time or two when I opined about things that weren’t considered politically correct. Such things are better left un-tweeted.

Such was the case with Randy Bernard’s tweet. It doesn’t matter that what he said was more than likely the truth. It never should have gone public. It reminded me of my ex-wife who felt compelled to share all of our family business with neighbors or even perfect strangers on an airplane. Such things need to be discussed and settled behind closed doors – not for the world to witness and gawk over. Plus, he set up a double-standard when he fined John Barnes $25,000 for something he tweeted regarding “turbogate” because it was considered detrimental for the league.

For what it’s worth (not much), my allegiance is squarely with Randy Bernard on this and any other matter. If John Barnes doesn’t like the way things are run, no one is forcing him to run in the series. But I find it difficult to justify Randy Bernard’s use of Twitter in this manner.

That’s my very late two cents on this matter. Please check back Friday, when I’ll post about my visit to St. Petersburg last week.

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “My Thoughts On The Palace Revolt”

  1. bernard isn’t totally blameless. maybe the tweet was ill-advised and maybe he should’ve ridden herd on Dallara to keep prices of chassis and parts at the proper and predetermined prices. but it’s my opinion that these owners–these anonymous owners–are not to trusted and do not have the best interests of Indycar at heart.

    but if they’re going to feud, at least do it in print and on television so we fans can once again be entertained while Indycar burns.

    • to be clear, I totally support Bernard in this fight. under strict financial restraints he has produced a good car, engine competition, the aero solution to a “non-spec” series, improved the Road To Indy, brought USAC (and American drivers) into the discussion and has listened to fans.

  2. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    It was bush league for RB to have tweeted this info.. Still think Chevy guys got hosed on turbo situation..
    Regarding Dallara and single point sourcing for chassis and aero-kits… As long as the series is going to allow single source for these components, you have a gun to your head and must pay whatever the folks at Dallara demand…

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      I have to admit that I was expecting a much better power to weight ratio with the new chassis and powerplant. lnstead it is much the same as when we left off in 2011… Increased turbo boost still seems to make relatively little difference in the level of hustle possible on road and streets. All that money being funneled into engine and chassis development, the added cost passed on to the teams and what do they have to show for it. Another vanilla open wheel race car for the series…. Give us a ten year old turbo charged Cosworth from CART. Then put these guys behind
      behind the wheel and you will find out in about 2 minutes who the race car drivers are… Like Mario says, you are in command of a rocket ship…

  3. Mike Lis Says:

    Randy seems like a nice guy and we all looked at him with hope and hype but, please take a step back and ask yourself what has really improved under this guys watch? The schedule? The costs? The television ratings? Sponsorship (IZOD is obviously on the way out)? The underpowered, higher downforce, easier to drive car? Angry car owners? I really wish people would stop treating this guy like he has done something that he hasn’t. It is reality folks. The series continues to backslide.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Unpleasant, agree-to-disagree debate about what has and has not improved under Bernard’s watch aside, fans don’t so much treat Randy like he has done something he hasn’t as they do treat him like he has done something period. After a decade plus of utter inaction, Randy is going to get credit for simply doing things.
      Should he? Well, unfortunately that goes back to the start of this reply…

      Bernard has built a reputation for being a decisive leader and for being a guy who listens to the fans. It’s easy to see why he continues to be popular with the IndyCar fanbase.

  4. Steve K Says:

    People in the media were already tweeting vaguely (Jenna Fryer comes to mind) about the uprising. By going public with it and Robin Miller’s subsequent article it makes the puts the embarresment on the Owners and not Bernard. It was never an in house matter and I feel Bernarf handled it perfectly. Time will tell if that us really the case. On to Texas!

  5. I agree with Steve. Randy is a media-savy professional and his tweet got the situation where HE wanted it to be. Frankly, even without that tweet this was going to explode and well it should have. As for the series, I think that RB is doing a terrific job and it is a fact that there is growth as well as more sponsor participation. As for his lack of racing experience, BIG DEAL. Gary Bettman was not a hockey guy, but look at what the NHL is doing under his watch. Everyone said that the NHL was over because of the strike, but it is better than ever. It is stable AND the TV deal doesn’t look so bad now.

    As for my tweets on this and other various topics I’m @JohnMcLallen

  6. Savage Henry Says:

    I’m happy with the job that Randy is doing. Nobody is going to be able to haul this series out of the deep hole it was in quickly. It is going to take time but I think Randy is putting the building blocks into place. Changing horses now would be pushing the series off a cliff.

    Randy has openly said that he believes that any publicity is good publicity. I don’t agree with that. He should have kept this quiet and dealt with it quietly, first by making sure he had the support of the Board and then by telling John Barnes to STFU or go race in GRAND-AM. It is also preposterous that Tony George should poke his head up in a situation like this.

    When I see the way the owners operate, I immediately think of Lord of the Flies. They have proven they can’t govern themselves and can’t play nice among themselves or with anyone else. I understand that they have real financial considerations that need to be addressed. However, it seems like any time they don’t get exactly their way (either individually or collectively) they go directly into 5-year-old hissy fit mode. Also, I think that they all really, really like to get their asses kissed. This reeks of a straight-up power play, where they hope to get their way more often and get their asses kissed more often. Also, the previous regime gave them free money for being in the seres. They liked that, too.

  7. NYCSusan Says:

    I agree with Steve and John Mc – why should Randy have to take an imaginary “high-road” and refrain from defending himself against their slings and arrows? This series almost annihilated itself because of this kind of behind-the-scene infighting that had nothing to do with the fans’ enjoyment of the sport and everything to do with moneyed people’s overinflated egos. New Track Record made a good point that Randy’s choice to air this out in public totally took the wind out of their sails.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Bernard’s decision to tweet about this does seem to be poor and unnecessary, but I do wonder about the circumstances leading to it.

    Was Bernard simply having a bad day? Did Robin Miller put him up to it? Was he finally personally confronted by Barnes or Andretti or Kalkoven or whoever about these long-running rumors? Had the alleged “revolt” gone much further than just a couple owners talking and Randy thought he needed to air the situation to the fans, who give congress a higher approval rating than the collective of team owners, in order to get the owners to back off?

    These are things we’ll probably never know, but I think it is worth considering that Bernard’s tweet, while it is unprofessional regardless, may have been important to maintain his position of leadership in the sport.

  9. james t suel Says:

    I support Bernard , i think the favor handed to Honda was nothing but patback for there being the only engine for years. Hell they would not help lotus, not that they desreved any.

  10. Your poll is one answer short. “Randy Bernard is doing a good job but needs an old racer as a consigliere to help deal with the owners.”

  11. 1. Happy Honeymoon, George! Yeah, you could’ve taken another week on the beach, and we here reading wouldn’t have had any reaction other than jealousy. Go back; get another tan!! :D

    2. Bang on with your column here. I, too, thought that going public with the debate was a little declassé, but at the same time I’d end up support Randy straight up on this issue. This is not to say that the owners don’t have any legitimate complaint whatsoever – the cost overruns on the tub and the missed guess on expenses involved has to be galling, and a business simply can’t be profitable with surprise expenses rearing their ugly heads. But at the same time, a palace coup is a rather Banana Republic way of dealing with things, and who’s to say that different leadership would solve the problem.

    Which is my issue with the idea of replacing Bernard: Would getting a puppet leader really solve the issue? There’s an old cliché about lunatics running the asylum that I think’s rather appropriate here. And heaven KNOWS how well costs were controlled under CART… (*rolls eyes*).

    Anyway, I’ve disagreed with ole George here before in the past, but I couldn’t agree more with him on this issue. I’m lockstep with him on this.

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