One of the more disconcerting aspects of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series was the way Derrick Walker was unceremoniously kicked to the curb as President of Competition for the series. That’s not to say that I agreed with every move Walker made – far from it. But I felt that a man of his stature had earned the right over the years to be able to make structural and operational changes to Race Control.
But once IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made that move, there was no point in sulking over it. It was time to turn the page and move on to see which unfortunate person would be the next to be everyone’s scapegoat. As it turns out, they didn’t have to look very far. Chief Revenue Officer was already in the building when he was tabbed as the next IndyCar President of Competition and Operations.
When the announcement was made last November, I was happy with the move. Although he was brought to IndyCar in 2013 by Mark Miles, Frye seems to be the anti-Miles. While Miles operates with a bunker mentality and rarely interacts with fans, Jay Frye seems to be open and transparent, and engages with fans.
This was proven again in an article last week by David Malsher. The article points out that Frye has been having one-on-one conversations with drivers and seeking their input on Race Control and other subjects. He also says that his goal is consistency in enforcing penalties. That may be the best news I’ve heard this entire offseason.
Too many times last season, we wondered what Race Control was seeing that we in the TV audience didn’t see. The first example that comes to mind was when Graham Rahal left his pit stall at Fontana with the fuel hose still attached. It does not take a savvy racing fan to know that that is a penalty. Yet, Rahal was not issued an in-race penalty such as a drive-through.
There were other examples throughout the season last year that left fans scratching their collective heads. It was unclear if Walker and his rotating staff in Race Control was either blind or playing favorites. Neither one was good. Then, when some drivers complained about the enforcement of rules (or lack thereof), a new rule was put into place.
Another way that Frye looks to achieve more consistency is by having the same Race Control staff for each and every race. The rotating staff concept sounded good in theory. The idea was to have fresh ideas and ways of looking at things. Plus there would be no grudges carried over from previous weeks. In reality, it was a disaster because what one person would consider an infraction on one race weekend would be considered an obvious no-call by someone else at the next race. Consequently; drivers, team and fans became very frustrated at the inconsistency as the season wore on.
One part that may not go over well with fans is that Brian Barnhart will manage Race Control. But Frye maintains that the stewards will be independent of him. I’m not real clear on how that will play out, but Jay Frye seems to have a very good head on his shoulders so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt regarding Barnhart.
The article goes through and examines a list of potential stewards for the series. I won’t disagree with any of their qualifications, but they are all names we’ve heard before. They are all very capable, but in wondering if bringing in an outsider from another series might be a good move – I can’t help but remember that Beaux Barfield came from another series when he was named Race Director. By the time he left after the 2014 season, Barfield had made his own fairly sizeable list of enemies.
In one sense, I hate to see Jay Frye take this job. He is one of the best assets brought in by Mark Miles and I hate to see his name drug through the mud – and it will be. That’s the nature of the job. Quite honestly, I always thought Frye should be the face of the series since Miles seems reluctant to come forward very often. His personality and forward thinking could be better used than being head of Race Control where he will surely be criticized.
But it sounds like he is going to bring to Race Control what it has been lacking for years – consistency. Listening to the drivers and what they want certainly doesn’t hurt either. Level-headedness, consistency and listening skills – what a list of concepts for IndyCar!