Who Would Take That Job?

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Whenever the IMS board stops congratulating itself on a job well done for ousting Randy Bernard, they will need to turn their attention to who his successor might be. Surely they anticipate their collective inboxes to be overrun with resumes from potential candidates. I mean, who wouldn’t want that job?

More precisely, who in their right mind would take that job? Since the formation of CART, the head of American open-wheel racing has been a carousel of non-progress. Over the last thirty-plus years, there have been countless CART Commissioners and USAC Directors come and go for tenures far shorter than Randy Bernard.

This is assuming that they get around to filling the position. According to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, there is no timetable or any real sense of urgency to fill the spot vacated by Bernard. This on the heels of the details of Tony George’s proposal to actually get the series out from under the board (and his family) and have it run independent of IMS. Who knew? Still, that strategy that we just learned would not have saved Randy Bernard’s job.

This firing parallels the firing of CART Commissioner Andrew Craig, who I considered to be the best open-wheel leader in the past twenty years. He actually lasted over six years, which may be the record – unless you count Tony George, who sat on his self-appointed throne for thirteen years before a family coup took place. As an outsider, I always thought Andrew Craig did an admirable job, considering he had to guide CART through The Split. He wasn’t exuding personality, but he did a decent and thankless job.

Other forgettable open-wheel czars came and went; some known for how little they did while others were infamous for the damage they caused. It was a thankless job thirty years ago and as we have been recently reminded – it still is.

I have followed this sport for almost fifty of my fifty-four years. By the time I attended my first Indianapolis 500 in 1965 at the age of six, I had already been following it for a year. In that time, I have known a grand total of two truly effective leaders of this sport – Tony Hulman and Randy Bernard. One has his face affixed to the Borg-Warner in gold, while the other was summarily tossed out on his face last weekend. Prior to that, he was left to die the death of a thousand public cuts as his future hung in the balance for weeks.

After his way-too-public execution, how many executives are going to be knocking each other out of the way for a chance of more of the same where that came from? Not many, is my guess.

Can you blame them? Even if they haven’t paid attention to what just happened, there is plenty of evidence out there to discourage even the heartiest of those that love a challenge. Some of the owners got their way with the ousting of Mr. Bernard. Believe me when I tell you that there is now a precedent. This was not a one-time thing. Those that have attained power are not prone to relinquishing it. This is the worst side of CART all over again. This is what was built into CART’s business model that practically guaranteed its failure – having the series run by the owners.

The most perplexing question in racing over the past several years is; “Why does NASCAR succeed, when IndyCar has a much better product?” It’s because of the differences in the way the sports are run. NASCAR is a dictatorship. It begins and ends with whatever the France family says. Mike Helton operates unquestioned with the full and obvious backing of the France family. All of the top owners in NASCAR, some from IndyCar, must adhere to the rules that Helton and the France family hand down. If they don’t like it, they can race elsewhere.

When Tony George broke away from CART and formed the IRL, that was one of the reasons he gave – to take control away from a bunch of greedy, self-serving owners. Unfortunately, the control went to the hands of a greedy, self-serving so-called leader who proved to be highly incompetent when it came to running a racing series. When his own family finally ousted him, they replaced him with Randy Bernard. Finally, the one remaining open-wheel series was in the hands of someone who actually made decisions based on the overall good of open-wheel racing. He was also charged with the task of improving the bottom line, although he was saddled with a botched TV contract that the previous regime had agreed to.

Bernard’s critics like to throw up the China race as an example of neglecting the bottom line. Granted, he should have gotten some money up front. But he inherited this project from Terry Angstadt, who had already begun negotiations with the Chinese. He also had to deal with a last minute Chinese election that saw the mayor lose a re-election bid , and a new mayor that didn’t want the race.

The point is, Randy Bernard did everything the board asked him to do and more. His thanks? He was run out of town on a rail. What is it about his treatment that will appeal to the next person?

The job is not easy. I always dreamed of a career in racing and I wouldn’t take it for anything – even if I was qualified. It’s a no-win situation, as long as rogue owners are going to lurk about in the shadows to get their way. Add to that a board that makes sure you have no teeth in whatever agenda you try to lay out.

Imagine the ad for such a job: "Wanted – CEO for dysfunctional and struggling racing series. Long hours and little power. Must be able to deal with back-stabbing owners, two-faced race promoters, while answering to an out-of-touch Board. Will be responsible for cultivating new fans, while maintaining quickly eroding fan base. Must be held accountable to bottom line, while working in the constraints of ridiculous TV contract signed to by a previous CEO. Those with original thoughts and ideas for listening to fans, need not apply."

IndyCar had what they needed and they ran him off. There are quality candidates out there. Some may actually be better than what they had in Randy Bernard. But the board is delusional to think that such a person would actually take the job. Instead, they’ll end up hiring some Marion or Vigo County crony to give lip-service to the fans, while the owners continue to take full charge of the series.

George Phillips

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16 Responses to “Who Would Take That Job?”

  1. …and furthermore:
    The problem worsens when you consider that Randy finally had the knowledge to function as leader rather than the period of time immediately after his hiring when he was still learning what-was-what in the series and with the history of the sport.
    Another new CEO will now have to go through the same learning curve (unless it happens to be someone previously immersed in the sport…which begs the question you ask in the article).
    I suppose the series will continue…but I have honestly lost much more than enthusiasm about it. I was all-in since the reunification, but I’ve pretty much lost all hope for the future of IndyCar at this point.

  2. No, they won’t find a suitable replacement for Bernard; they’ll find a crony.

  3. Carburetor Says:

    George, I think your want ad saved the board a lot of work. I would be surprised if they simply didn’t copy it and use it as it totally sums up the position. At this stage, one would expect that if they fill the position, it would be simply with a stooge. It’s pretty obvious they only care about the one race and not the series. It is all rather disgusting and very disappointing to those of us that simply enjoy the thrill of American open wheel racing.

  4. Given the same economic constraints, what the hell could Tony George do better than Randy Bernard? Answer: nothing.

  5. There are a few people out there that I would welcome as a CEO and there is an organization that I think would make terrific owners. Ken Hudgens with Feld Motor Sports would make a fine CEO for INDYCAR. He heads up the Monster Jam Series, Monster Energy Supercross Series and AMA Arenacross. He is a no nonesense person and his events are sell outs. I have attended the Monster Jam here in Nashville because my son, Jack, is a huge fan. I thought the show was awesome and the driver meet and greet thrilled my son. He had a smile on his face all night even though his favorite truck, “The Grave Digger,” wasn’t there because it was in a show in Milwaukee. I am buying tickets this weekend for the January show because Jack wants to take me for my birthday. I usually get a nice dinner with my wife, but I think this will be my best present ever.

    As for owners, besides their motor sports division, Feld Entertainment also runs the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus. I think these folks would know how to operate an Anerican Open Wheel series.

    • Their experience with circus clowns might serve them well.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Feld and Hudgens put on a heck of a show, and he would be as solid choice as nearly anyone for a new executive.

      I’ve attended both Monster Jam and Supercross events for over two decades now, and both are as popular as they have ever been. Feld has kept both on the top of their game despite going through a slew of different owners (AMA, USHRA, Pace, SFX, Clear Channel) in the late 90s/early 00s. I’m not a fan of the now questionable authenticity of the competition in Monster Jam (Feld now owns nearly all of the best trucks), but it’s undeniably entertaining and undeniably successful.

  6. George, your proposed help wanted ad nicely sums up awaits anyone who might consider, umm, well, hmmm, whatever position might be available now.
    Anyone brought in won’t get the attention Randy did.
    After living for the month of May and following the cars and drivers of the 500 from the late 50s until 1995, I completely ignored racing for about five years.
    This year I was back and excited.
    I’m gone again. Don’t bother leaving a light on for me.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    An excellent column George. If the IMS board (like the CART board) isn’t going to let the CEO exercise the power that a CEO needs to exercise in order to be effective, then I can’t see many experienced or highly-regarded candidates being interested in the position.
    Successful companies don’t undermine their executives, and true or not, that’s what a lot of people perceive to have happened to Randy Bernard.

    Anyways, David Stern will be available in early 2014…
    Ha, that’s in no way possible and might not be a good idea if it was, but boy would it get some attention.

  8. Don’t forget to add “must be able to work hamstrung and one arm tied behind back.” to the job description.

  9. George, check out autosportradio.com show “podcast” archives. Zak Brown was on there 2 weeks ago. He would make a interesting CEO to say the least. “Very Likable”. I liked Randy too.

  10. so you dont like wat you see huh? just remeber all you ex cart/ccw fans this wat you wanted another version of two failed seris of the past. so now how do you like it? bet mr hulman up in heaven laughing at all of you right now!! to your complaining and whining enjoy your new versions and be happy! this includes r. miller john orero and gordon kirby you have wat you wanted!!!

    • billytheskink Says:

      This is one of the strangest things I have read that does not reference Buzz Calkins.

      • Indygrrrrl Says:

        I think you begin to lose you effective communication skills when you respond in all lowercase and continually spell the word “what” with a missing h. Are you 15 years old or something?

  11. Someone will take the job. Its like taking the Raiders job in football, someone will step up and take it.

    Heck, I’ll do it.

  12. Who would want this job? Depends on how much it pays. In today’s economy you can’t shake a tree without unemployed executives falling out. Some of them think they could still save the Titanic. Very few people know who Randy Bernard is. I do and I didn’t go all Robin Miller over his ouster but I did wonder what the beef is? Journalists lead me to believe that the “rocket surgeons” on the board were tardy in dealing with an embattled and embittered executive who had lost the faith of participants and financial backers and apparently walled himself apart from those he served to support. I found the following quotes to be revealing:

    (Keith) Wiggins said, “Randy would only talk to lawyers that last few months,”

    “…they weren’t getting any response on any level from Randy and began to go around Randy and go straight to (IMS CEO and now IndyCar CEO) Jeff Belskus. …once enough people started to bypass Bernard and treat Belskus as the defacto IndyCar CEO, this movie was going to have an unhappy ending.”

    “Some big corporations—those with seven- and eight-figure sums dedicated to IndyCar—rang IMS last Friday to say, in very plain language, that the public turmoil regarding Bernard’s fate needed to be resolved immediately. ”

    I would think a host of executive types would look at this failure mode and scream “that won’t be me!” Is Randy Bernard Captain Queeg or is he a misunderstood genius? Probably neither. Did he misuse his time romancing Robin Miller while pissing off entrants, drivers and sponsors? I’d say so. Are there people out there who think they can do better than him? You betcha!

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