Thru Noggles Goggles .::. October 30th
Bernard will stay with the company in an advisory role at least for the time being. Belskus termed the parting “amicable.” Bernard’s replacement is not expected to be Tony George, who hasn’t been a member of the IMS board since his ousting in 2009. He subsequently resigned from his IndyCar CEO role at the disappointment of his mother, IMS board chair Mari Hulman George. George resigned from the family owned company’s ultimate board, Hulman & Co., on Oct. 19 due to his pursuit of IndyCar. Belskus reiterated Sunday that IndyCar is not for sale, and the situations of George and Bernard appear unrelated.
Zak Brown, founder of Just Marketing International, a leading sponsorship-signing company based in Zionsville, isn’t sure where IndyCar goes from here. “In reading IndyCar’s statement it doesn’t appear they have a long-term plan in place,” he said in a text to The Star. “That’s not good. They need one quickly, and they need to communicate it and it needs to be good.”
Bernard was wildly popular with IndyCar’s fan base, starting with the distribution of his e-mail address to all who sought it. He helped bring a new equipment package and new venues to the series, but he was criticized for his handling of the Dan Wheldon tragedy and for a financial deficit increased by the lucrative China race not being held in August. IndyCar got nothing from an estimated $8.75 million agreement with the Chinese, and the signing of several race events to lower sanctioning fees also hurt the bottom line. Television ratings also reached a record low this season, although Bernard inherited the split contract — five races on ABC, the rest on NBC Sports Channel — from the George administration. Bernard often found himself at odds with IndyCar’s team owners, and that was never more evident than in June when he posted on Twitter that some were out to get him fired. None of them admitted to it.
Bernard wanted — and unveiled to incredible fanfare in July 2010 — bodywork kits that would differentiate the cars. Most of IndyCar loved the idea, but the team owners strongly opposed it due on the basis of cost. They won. The fight over cars and car parts was spread over Bernard’s time as CEO. The committee he hand-picked to select a car design for the future declined to accept the radical DeltaWing proposal offered by team owner Chip Ganassi, and in its place came a deal with Dallara to be the exclusive provider of cars and parts. The latter became the controversial part of this season with team owners insisting Dallara was charging too much for the parts. Eventually, Bernard negotiated a deal with Dallara, which previously agreed to establish IndyCar headquarters in Speedway, to reduce the costs. That deal continues through next season.
Bernard expanded IndyCar’s schedule to 19 races next season, but even the part about dual races on the same weekend in Detroit, Toronto and Houston came under fire from the team owners who believe they’ll be exposed to higher costs at the doubleheaders with little increase in weekend prize money.
One of the most controversial issues has yet to be resolved. Bernard was pursuing a tire supplier contract with a manufacturer other than Firestone, and that had nearly everyone in the paddock concerned given Firestone’s nearly impeccable safety record. Firestone also has arguably been IndyCar’s best partners since George started the Indy Racing League in 1996, and many in the paddock took their concern to Belskus and the board. Firestone’s contract expires at the end of the 2014 season.
Bernard earned praise for bringing Chevrolet and Lotus to IndyCar, although it can be argued that Chevrolet’s return was as much about returning to IMS for the first time since 2005. As for Lotus, that was a disaster almost from the moment the manufacturer was announced as a supplier of engines. The first Lotus powerplant wasn’t tested until January, putting it at a several-month disadvantage to Chevrolet and Honda for the recently completed season. Three Lotus teams negotiated contract exits before the 500, leaving only the smallest team in the series — HVM Racing — to utilize the underpowered engines that had inferior corporate support. IndyCar is believed to have negotiated an exit settlement with Lotus, although that has not been confirmed. HVM’s driver of the past three seasons, Simona De Silvestro, tested a Chevrolet with KV Racing Technology yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
Bernard faced more fire in July when one of his most significant hires, chief operating officer Marc Koretzky, resigned under pressure. Details of his hastily arranged departure were not given.
Bernard gets credit for getting Pocono (Pa.) Raceway to sign on for the 2013 season — it’s a three-year contract — and for bringing back the Triple Crown of oval races that includes IMS and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. He also put renewed emphasis on the Mazda Road to Indy program led by George’s son, Tony Jr. That resulted in Bryan Clauson becoming the first USAC champion to compete in the 500 since Tony Stewart in 1996.
George would only have been a board member in the proposal that expired Oct. 15, and offered $5 million cash and proof of $25 million in reserves for stabilization of the series, according to the document, which was obtained from a person familiar with the situation on condition of anonymity because the details have not been publicly disclosed. The offer was not considered and George resigned from the board on Oct. 19 citing a conflict of interest in holding a seat while trying to reacquire the series he founded in 1996.
IndyCar is owned by the Hulman-George family, and its portfolio is managed by the Hulman & Co. board of directors. That board has repeated several times in the last month that the series is not for sale. IndyCar itself is managed by the 11-member Indianapolis Motor Speedway board of directors, which voted in an emergency session Sunday night to have CEO Randy Bernard step down. Owner Roger Penske said the move showed the board “continues to show poor judgment,” and fans have been outspoken through social media in their outrage of the firing. Fans were just as opposed to George regaining control of the series, which was apparently never his intent.
It was believed he had rallied other team owners to pool their resources in a bid to buy the series and oust Bernard so that George could get his old job back. He was stripped of his power in 2009 by his mother and three sisters for spending millions of dollars of family money on the series and never turning a profit. But no other IndyCar team owners were part of the proposal.
ICS Acquisition listed a management team of Zak Brown, founder and CEO motorsports marketing agency Just Marketing; Mike O’Driscoll, chairman of Jaguar Heritage and a non-executive director of the Williams F1 team; Terry Angstadt, former president of IndyCar’s commercial division; and Claire Roberts, the CEO of ArbiterSports, an NCAA-owned sports technology company. George’s plan called for Brown to be the CEO and commissioner of IndyCar and O’Driscoll to be the president and chief operating officer. O’Driscoll would have also run the day-to-day operations of the series.
Belskus met alone with IndyCar staffers Monday morning, and spent much of the rest of the day contacting corporate partners about the change in leadership. Predicting the board’s next move is complicated by the fact open-wheel racing’s history is one of leaders without motor sports backgrounds. IndyCar has had Jerry Hauer, John Newcomb, Bob Reif and Bernard. Champ Car had Bill Stokkan, Andrew Craig, Joe Heitzler and Dick Eidswick.
Bernard’s lack of experience with the sport was often exposed, and there are many in the sport who believe the next IndyCar leader should know how to flow. “We need somebody who knows racing a little bit,” team owner Michael Andretti said Monday. “We’ve tried the experiment of getting somebody who didn’t, and I don’t think that worked well. But it’s a hard person to find.”
These are among the possible candidates:
Mark Miles: President and CEO of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and an IMS and Hulman & Co. board member who chaired Indianapolis host committee for the Indianapolis Super Bowl. His resume includes 15 years as CEO of tennis’ sanctioning body, the ATP. Loaded with credibility.
Scott Atherton: President and CEO of Panoz Motor Sports Group and the American Le Mans Series (for 12 years). Also the former president of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Nazareth Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, the latter two under Roger Penske’s ownership. What’s unclear is his role in sports car racing once it merges after next season.
Zak Brown: Founder and CEO of Zionsville-based Just Marketing International, a leading motor sports sponsorship-signing group. Is emotionally interested in the job. Loves IndyCar. Loves a good challenge.
Doug Boles: Vice president of communications for IMS and Hulman & Co. A lawyer and a former Panther Racing co-owner who has managed drivers. Bernard recently inquired about him moving to IndyCar.
Ken Hudgens: CEO of Feld Motor Sports, which operates the Monster Energy Supercross Series, AMA Arenacross and Monster Jam, among other properties.
It’s also possible, though unlikely, that Belskus maintains the position. Brown said the focus needs to be on more than just the CEO. That person will need help.“You can’t just lay it on the CEO,” he said. “You have to have a team around them, and pretty quickly that person will get the right team. That’s what CEOs do.”
Brown thinks Miles can do the job — and people say he’s interested — if he had someone on his team like Atherton or Boles to navigate the nuances of the sport. “Then you’re replacing Randy with two people and all of a sudden that starts to make more sense.”
“I sent him a text [Sunday] morning and he responded by saying he was better, but that his shoulder and mid-back were still quite sore. I sent him another message [yesterday] morning, but have not heard from him. I have offered to help dismantle what is left of his car, but have not heard if he needs help. If he does, I’ll let you know in case we might “marshall” a few guys to turn a few wrenches. Nelson told me he “might just retire early” after his incident at Eldora. It was a real scary moment for me, watching him tumble around in that car, and it is a miracle he was not hurt badly. Whew!!! I think Gary [Irvin] and I were in the car on the way to my house before I started to breathe again!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll keep you posted.”
As we look to the future, our next Race Chaser luncheon will be held on Saturday, November 17th at 1:00pm at Grindstone Charley’s, 5822 Crawfordsville Rd., Speedway, IN. Traveling from Knoxville, Iowa, our guests will be the curator of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, Tom Schmeh who will make a presentation about his beloved museum. He will also be bringing with him, historian Larry Ball, Jr., who will give a powerpoint presentation of the Des Moines Speedway board track (1915-1916). Cost per person will be only $10 cash ($20 for “walkups”) with the proceeds going to the “Racers at Rest Foundation”, an organization formed to locate the gravesites and purchase headstones for those deceased racers who have none. RSVP’s must be returned to this e-mail address so that the restaurant will have accurate numbers and name tags may be printed in advance.