Who Would Take That Job?
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.