Alcoholics have a sentiment about life and the bottle: ‘Taking another drink happens more often when you succeed than when you fail’. If you think about that statement in the context of CART vs. the IRL, it begins to makes sense. Awash with IPO money, the CART owners couldn’t resist taking another drink while running the series into the ground. What makes precious little sense is that when IndyCar is beginning to see daylight, a team owner, who is lobbying recruits in the mutiny, want to wrap their hands around that bottle, get rid of CEO Randy Bernard, and with shaking hands, slowly take another drink. It’s always someone else’s fault, right?
IndyCar had nearly experienced a mass extinction event when Tony George and the CART team owners of the day decided that hating each other wasn’t enough, they all ran to the cliffs of mutual destruction like Lemmings on acid. Funny thing about the ultra rich, they can prop up a dying horse for quite some time whether it’s the right thing to do or not.
Seeing Bernard tweet that ‘certain’ team owners were trying to oust him was a brilliant strategic move on his part. A new car that races well, the best television ratings in years for this past Indy 500, participation from different auto manufacturers and a competent, well run management team in place have everyone looking at IndyCar as a Phoenix while the fans are crossing every appendage available hoping it continues. It isn’t luck. Bernard has had a positive impact on the series and that cannot be denied. Bringing a posse of fans in with the fight thru Social Media is military strategy at it’s finest. Hearts and minds won without a single shot fired.
Now watching this little drama play out are the core fans, the casual fans and those on Twitter who love a good drama. Bernard’s tweet set off a firestorm of denials, most notably Andretti himself proclaiming on Twitter that he denies any role in the potential coup. Bernard knew that he could access the hundreds of thousands of fans and potential fans through Twitter and it’s a move that his detractors didn’t expect. He knows who the opposing team owners are and he knows that the best defense is a good offense. There will be a point where the insurgents will have no choice but to out themselves, if Robin Miller doesn’t get to them first, and be forced to defend their point of view. Bernard knows this as well. Niccolo Machiavelli would be proud.
In the case of Randy Bernard I watched carefully when they brought this soft-spoken man out of the bull-riding arena and into the modern day equivalent of the Roman Senate, auto racing. I didn’t have high hopes seeing someone outside the racing business trying to resuscitate a dying segment of the sport.
However, my concerns were ill conceived. He stabilized the sport in a time where the competitors were financially forced to race old Dallara’s to the point where people couldn’t stand the sight of them. The fans demanded that mule change and the DW12 was born. That’s one of the big gripes from what I’m hearing, the cost of the cars and spares packages. Yes, they’re higher than first thought. OK. Invoke the 3/2 rule here, which every single one of the team owners should know: “Everything costs twice as much as you think, is twice as hard as you think and takes twice as long as you think”.The team owners didn’t think. They and they alone have the burden of due diligence if they’re going to play in this sandbox.
Bernard inherited a television deal that was one step above infomercial status. Fortunately the media companies are in turmoil as well which has given IndyCar the potential for a better television package to negotiate. Time will tell if the mix of road courses and ovals will work to attract fans as planned. Filling the stands isn’t as important as filling the television sets, evidence this by looking at Formula One.
In Formula One this type of behind the scenes back stabbing is common and is life as usual. Treachery, Faustian pacts with the Devil, AKA Bernie Ecclestone, is all in a days work. One major difference exists in operating Formula One and IndyCar. The team owners, including giant manufacturers haven’t been able to oust Eccelstone. He knew early on that grabbing the television rights to the sport were key in retaining power. Bernard, however, knows that his stock is high with the fans and that is who ultimately counts in racing, whether on television or in the stands. The fans.
It was only after he took over as CEO did the talent pool begin to grow deeper. Competition does that. Brazil is now as much an IndyCar nation as the United States and all the while more American potentials have arrived on the scene to join the British, French and Samurai Sato. How can this be anything except a positive direction?
The owners, post USAC, have always thrown their weight around to get what they want. That strategy is natural unless you have a firewall in place to keep them from having too much power. Power grabs haven’t worked in NASCAR, just ask Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi. If anything, Bernard gave them too much say, too much power and the added burden of dealing with the auto manufacturers.
What’s next for Bernard? No one can accurately predict a battlefield situation, should it become one, but one things for sure, in his tenure at IndyCar he has improved a racing series that had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
Everyone needs to take a long hard look at the global political/economic situation as it stands. It’s going to be a long hard slog getting back to, or anywhere near, what we as Americans would consider normal. In fact, we’re looking at the new normal for the foreseeable future. Would you rather have a puppet in place that cannot make their own decisions or someone who recognizes where it all stands and can operate in that environment?
NASCAR took every advantage of the spilt, what could they be devising in Charlotte to grab more at IndyCar’s expense. Bernard should stay right where he is.
Maybe that team owner should think about another series, Chump Car comes to mind.