Mark Miles Announces His Choice
Recently, another website accused me of being a cheerleader for all things IndyCar. Personally, I don’t agree with that sentiment – but if one person thinks that, there are possibly others that do as well. If you are one that thinks that way, you might want to skip today’s post because I’m going to give kudos to IndyCar on their choice to replace former IndyCar president Derrick Walker. But I’ll also discuss why some may not be all-in on this pick.
Yesterday, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles announced that IndyCar chief revenue officer Jay Frye has been promoted to president of the sanctioning body. He will be responsible for competition, technology and operations and will have Brian Barnhart, Will Phillips and Vince Kremer all reporting to him in those respective positions.
Miles pointed out that although Frye is not a former driver, engineer or mechanic; his racing background makes him an ideal choice to be Walker’s replacement. He has an extensive background in NASCAR, having built one team from scratch and completely revamping another.
After Miles assumed the role once held by former CEO Randy Bernard – Miles hired his self-proclaimed dream-team of CJ O’Donnell as chief marketing officer and Jay Fry as chief revenue officer in 2013. The problem was; it seemed that after these two celebrated hirings, you rarely heard their names mentioned. You wondered if Miles hired them, then never got out of the way to let them do the job they were hired to do.
Frye’s most notable achievement in his two years with IndyCar was probably signing Verizon as the title sponsor for the series prior to the 2014 season. That was exceptionally notable due to the fact that IZOD had just left the series at the end of 2013. While many predicted that the series would go a full year and possibly two without a title sponsor; they did not run a single race without a title sponsor due to Frye’s efforts.
The question is – How necessary is it for the president to have on-track racing experience? If you want my opinion, I don’t think it’s necessary at all. I always thought it was unique to have someone of Derrick Walker’s on-track experience as mechanic, team manager and team owner; as president of the whole organization. I often wondered if being too close to the racing side of things may have clouded his judgment on some of his more executive-based decisions.
I’ve long been convinced that being a good leader did not demand direct experience or knowledge from an individual. Instead, the best leaders surround themselves with those that have the knowledge and expertise. The best leaders set the course and then stand back and let the experts do their job.
Randy Bernard had no experience in racing, as an executive or a fan. Some in the paddock have justifiable reasons to disagree, but I still think he was on the right path. Now that we are more than three years removed from his ouster, I often wonder where IndyCar would be had he been left alone to do his work. Mark Miles had no experience in racing and the jury is definitely still out on the job he’s doing.
Although Jay Frye has no on-track experience in racing, he has a wealth of experience as a racing executive. From what I can tell, the position of president requires more executive business experience than prior experience wrenching or driving a race car.
The reaction from the paddock has been overwhelmingly positive. There are always the canned press-releases with a few token quotes to promote every announcement that comes from IndyCar, the NFL or any sporting entity. Yesterday’s announcement was no different in that regard. In this case, I think social media is a better gauge. Current drivers like Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti, along with recently retired drivers such as Dario Franchitti praised the hire – with praise that sounded genuine and unsolicited.
My understanding is that Frye has built strong relationships behind the scenes and is highly respected throughout the paddock. I’m not sure many have seen Frye interviewed on television or could even pick him out in a crowd.
I say this at the risk of sounding like I’m name-dropping, even though I’m not. I met Jay Frye, once – in May of 2014 and had about a five minute conversation with him. Again…I don’t say this to impress, but to let you know that he is very impressive and seemed very personable. In a way, he sort of reminded me of Randy Bernard. He had no clue who I was, but talked to me as if I was the most important person he would talk to that day. That’s the way Randy Bernard was.
Given his demeanor and that similarity to Randy Bernard’s personality, my hope is that Frye will use his position to do something that has not been done in the last three years – listen to the fans. That has been my top complaint of Frye’s boss, Mark Miles. For the past three years, Miles has fostered a bunker mentality and lets fans know what they need to know and that’s it. While Miles may have a lot of connections and the ability to make high-level business decisions, his inability to connect to the common fan has hampered his progress. If he’s smart and the leader that others claim he is, Mark Miles will make the more affable Jay Frye the face and voice of IndyCar.
I understand some fans may be lukewarm over this pick; either because of Frye’s lack of on-track experience as a driver, mechanic or engineer or due to the fact that they’ve simply never heard of him. But I’m excited over it. For the first time in over three years, I feel like fans will actually have some representation in executive management. Jay Frye will do for IndyCar what Doug Boles has done for IMS. Frye and Boles have never raced an IndyCar, but they are both passionate fans of the sport that happen to sit in key positions. It’s worked for IMS and it’ll work for IndyCar. To me, this pick is a win-win for fans and IndyCar, although I’ll now again be accused of being an IndyCar cheerleader.