My Choice For IndyCar CEO
Now that the shock waves of the Randy Bernard firing have somewhat settled down, the lack of comments coming from 16th and Georgetown is still causing concern. What we do know is that IMS CEO Jeff Belskus is acting as Interim IndyCar CEO and seems comfortable in that role. There is some speculation that Belskus may take on both roles permanently. I don’t know enough about the daily functions of each job to speak intelligently about it, so I won’t speculate whether or not one person could or should do both jobs. Tony George held both jobs prior to his ouster in 2009. For the record, I thought that Tony George did an admirable job running the Speedway, but I thought his performance running IndyCar was abysmal.
Without passing judgment on Jeff Belskus, let’s assume for the moment that he will not permanently insert himself into the dual role of CEO of IMS and IndyCar. So who would be the best pick? I asked here a couple of weeks ago why anyone would want the job. Apparently, some do. Different sources keep coming up with the same short list of potential candidates. While the names of Scott Atherton and Ken Hudgens have been mentioned, they don’t appear to be the names on everyone’s lips. In order to keep this under 45,000 words, I’ll condense this down to the three names I hear the most and will offer my meaningless opinions of each.
Zak Brown – The founder and CEO of Just Marketing International has been involved with IndyCar in some form or fashion for many years. JMI is the world’s largest motorsports marketing group. The forty-one year-old is also a racer and team-owner. He is considered an innovator and deal-maker – qualities he shared with Randy Bernard. Unlike Bernard, his impressive racing background could serve him well in the job. He is considered one of the most influential individuals within the Motorsports industry.
There are reasons to believe he will not be the next CEO of IndyCar, however. First of all, there are bigger goals on his horizon. Many think that whenever Formula One czar Bernie Ecclestone finally steps down (whenever that may be), Zak Brown could be in a position to assume that role. Nothing against IndyCar, but that job would carry quite a bit more prestige and intrigue than running a series still trying to find its way.
I also understand that some of the key series sponsors for IndyCar are not that crazy about Zak Brown for a variety of reasons and that his selection might rub some the wrong way. I’m not sure how much sponsor demands weigh in on such decisions, but if the sponsor is big enough – I would imagine it certainly comes into play.
But probably the biggest drawback to Brown is that fans align him too closely with Tony George. It has been revealed that Brown was George’s choice to run the series if the board had accepted his proposal to buy IndyCar. That shouldn’t completely disqualify him, considering his extensive racing and corporate background, but if the fans and sponsors have a preconceived notion about him at the onset – he may not be the best choice.
Mark Miles – The man who headed up the host committee for the Indianapolis Super Bowl is a solid choice, but some would categorize him as a Marion County crony. That shouldn’t matter. Like Randy Bernard, he has fifteen years of heading up a sports sanctioning body. Also like Randy Bernard who was CEO of Professional Bull Riding, Miles comes from a non-racing sport – tennis (the ATP). Prior to those sports related duties, Miles was chosen in 1984, as President of the host committee for the Pan-American Games held in Indianapolis in 1987.
Miles is a Hoosier and a well-respected business leader. He is on the board of Hulman and Company. Miles is also President and CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, Inc., a non-profit, regional alliance of corporate CEOs and university presidents focused on long-term growth and economic development throughout the Central Indiana region.
Miles is not that well known to IndyCar fans and therefore, may not be the sexy pick – but don’t let that fool you. He is very capable and may ultimately end up with the job. There is one strike against Miles, however. He is perceived to have been an ally to Randy Bernard. Those that were successful in having Randy Bernard kicked to the curb may have the same feelings towards Miles. Those that wanted Bernard out had their reasons. Seeing Miles as the second coming of Randy may not be a good thing in their eyes.
Doug Boles – To me, this is the pick that makes the most sense. Some would call it a compromise pick, but I think Doug Boles as a candidate could win the job on his own merits.
Boles has solid credentials on both sides of the ledger. His background as an attorney would serve him well as IndyCar’s CEO. He also has experience in politics. Boles served as former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith’s assistant campaign manager. When Goldsmith was elected Mayor in 1992, Boles served as his interim press secretary before assuming the duties of Goldmith’s Director of Government and Corporate Affairs.
Just as importantly, Doug Boles is a racer and a race fan. He is a native Hoosier who gets it when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. He attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1977 and hasn’t missed one since. His passion hasn’t stopped there. He has raced vintage racecars in SCCA often accompanied by his father, Hendricks County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Boles – who at one time was a PR rep for USAC in the sixties. Growing up in a household revolving around racing sowed the seeds for Boles’ motorsports passion.
While in the Goldsmith administration, Boles was charged with tapping into the long term economic impact that motorsports could bring to the city. He formed the Mayor’s Motorsports Task Force which attracted several race teams of different series to locate to the Indianapolis area. This merged his passion for racing with his uncanny talents in the corporate and political sector. He proved to be very successful.
Boles took his passion to a new level. He became very acquainted with IndyCar teams and even traveled with some serving as a spotter. Then in 1997, he founded Panther Racing along with then-Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, Indianapolis car dealer Gary Pedigo and John Barnes. Boles was able to sign Pennzoil as primary sponsor. Boles sold his share of Panther Racing in 2006. Since 2010, Boles has served as Director of Communications for IMS and Hulman and Company.
Some have linked Boles to the spineless press release denying that Randy Bernard had been fired, just before he was dismissed. That would be a mistake. He was just doing his job under the direction of the board. That statement may have been crafted by Boles, but the message came from the board.
Doug Boles has the background. Every step in his career has involved Motorsports, communications or politics – or a combination of all of the above. The Zionsville resident has been a driver, albeit not an IndyCar driver. He has been a car-owner. He has been on the side of the sanctioning body. His experiences and track-record would serve him well to navigate the shark-infested waters that come with being the next CEO of IndyCar. But most importantly, he has been a passionate fan who has lived and breathed this sport for his entire life. If you’ve ever heard Boles as a guest on Trackside, you know what I’m talking about. His excitement and passion for this sport comes through every interview.
We need someone who is capable, obviously – but we also need someone who loves this sport and not treat it as a stepping stone to another job. My opinion amounts to what you paid to read this – nothing. But for whatever it’s worth to my two-dozen readers – Doug Boles is the obvious choice to me among the names we keep hearing. Stay tuned.