Isn’t It Now Time To Move Forward?
Last Thursday night, I listened to Trackside with great interest as the great Parnelli Jones talked about his experiences at the Indianapolis 500 as a driver, car-owner and fan. Parnelli is not some former driver that hardly follows the series anymore, or a disgruntled old man like Gordon Johncock that decries the presence of foreign drivers. Instead, he is fully engaged and at his ripe age of seventy-nine – makes it a practice to make the trip from his home in California to Indianapolis almost every May, and stay for two weeks through the race.
He is very bullish on the IZOD IndyCar Series and he also let it be known that he is a big fan of Dario Franchitti, who he thinks should be considered in the same league with some of the all-time greats – not a bad endorsement from someone who has been a legend at the Speedway for as long as I can remember.
However, when asked about the current state of affairs of the series – his tone turned slightly sour. As everyone has noted lately, Parnelli said it seems like the series can’t get out of its own way. He noted how memorable the past Indianapolis 500 was with all of the lead changes and the failed last-lap attempt by Takuma Sato. He also mentioned how special it was that an American driver won the last race of the season (Ed Carpenter) and another American won the championship (Ryan Hunter-Reay). But it was soon after that that all of the backsliding started with the ouster of INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard.
He went on to say that he thought Randy Bernard was doing a fabulous job. Now that he was gone, he wasn’t so sure of the direction of INDYCAR and was troubled that all of the momentum built throughout last season had come to a halt.
On one hand, I was glad to hear that it wasn’t just fans that were upset that Randy Bernard had been kicked to the curb. If someone with the stature of Parnelli Jones was upset with it, that certainly validated what we fans felt. But afterwards, I got to thinking and I asked myself; how long do we mourn the departure of Randy Bernard?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone not connected to the series that was as big a Randy Bernard fan as I was (and still am). I’ve been following this sport a long time. Without question, he is the most effective leader of open-wheel racing we’ve seen since Tony Hulman. He worked tirelessly and endlessly. He was always working on ideas to improve the series and bring in more fans. He worked well at building relationships with sponsors and was continually reaching out to fans. After Susan and I had our extended interview with him at Barber in 2011, he spotted us walking around the garage area at Indianapolis a few weeks later and made sure to walk across the way to come over and visit with us. While we were chatting, several fans approached him to thank him for everything he was doing. Even though they were interrupting our conversation, he took time to speak to each one. That’s just the way he was.
Like most fans, I was devastated when a handful of owners – led by a couple of the most underachieving owners in the paddock – engineered his ouster in such a cowardly way. I was angered, and voiced my displeasure about it here. Of course, I’m not naïve enough to think that any of the parties involved ever read what I wrote, but at least it was therapeutic for me to have an outlet in which to vent.
But at what point do we get over our frustration and move forward? Many fans took this as the last straw and have left to never return. Others have said the same, but they’ll come back – albeit with a very cynical perspective. Then there are those like me, who are angered and frustrated – but we’re so hard-core (or stupid) that we’ll allow the series to keep punching us in the gut and we’ll keep coming back, no matter what.
For those of us that have stuck around, how productive is it to continue the lament that INDYCAR shot itself in the foot by letting go such a talented and passionate CEO? It’s like when a couple goes through a divorce – how long do you keep pondering how you’ve been wronged? While it’s natural and even healthy to go through the grieving process of the doomed marriage, at some point it becomes counter-productive and even destructive to continue hating on your former spouse – unless, of course, she was like mine.
As Parnelli Jones was venting his frustration over the actions of a few clueless owners, I wish he would have ended it by saying “But, we can’t do anything about that now so it’s time to move forward”. Maybe he didn’t say it because he didn’t feel it, but a statement like that coming from someone as respected and revered as Parnelli Jones could have gone a long way in helping heal some of the division that exists.
As big a fan as I am of Randy Bernard and as frustrated as I was at his firing, I’ve got news for you – Randy Bernard is not walking through that door anytime soon. He has moved on and gotten a great job as CEO of RFD-TV. To those in New York City, that may not sound like much; but for anyone living in flyover country and in farming communities – it’s a big deal. Their studios are actually here in Nashville and it is a growing concern. If he puts the same energy and enthusiasm into that job as he did during his tenure at INDYCAR – they will grow much faster. I would keep an eye on that cable channel.
So if Randy can move forward, I’m thinking it’s time we fans did too. I’ve certainly done my fair share of criticizing the board of Hulman & Company, and I think I’m justified. But like it or not, it’s what we’ve got running this sport and the future hinges on what they do. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and anonymously second-guess every one of their actions, and it’s sometimes comical to watch them fail. But ultimately, if what they do fails – there won’t be much to laugh at.
To the amazement of many, Robin Miller may have said it best in his mailbag a couple of weeks ago. A fan had written in saying he had had it and would no longer watch or follow the IZOD IndyCar Series anymore. Robin responded with a very logical reply by saying “My rationale would be that you watch IndyCar because of the drivers, cars and competition and the management is secondary providing the racing maintains its appeal and the series retains the professionals that Bernard hired on the racing side.”
He’s right. As much as we all liked Randy Bernard, he was not the reason we followed this series or this form of racing. I don’t watch the NFL because of Roger Goodell and David Stern is not the reason that I don’t follow the NBA. You are ultimately punishing yourself by missing what was great racing this past season and promises to be again next season. I have great disdain for those few owners who selfishly put their own agenda ahead of the good of the series. But that won’t drive me away. I hope I’m still around to see them fold their tent and leave while the series continues toward eventual profitability. We may not see as much as we like from this new board, but personally – I like most of what I’ve seen in January.
I’m not trying to be a cheerleader for the board or the series – far from it. If Mark Miles or any board members mention any ideas like bringing a "Chase" format to the IZOD IndyCar Series, they should be publicly scorned. But I’m assuming most readers of this site and other sites are fans of the sport. Therefore, I’m also making the assumption that these fans want the sport to succeed – just as we did this time a year ago. Within two weeks after his firing, I know for a fact that Randy Bernard was on the phone to series sponsors pleading with them to stay with the series and not bail just because he was no longer there. He still believes in the series and wants it to succeed, when he has every reason to want it to fail. If he can keep that attitude and move forward, can we as fans not do the same?