Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dearly Beloved #Indycar - So Long @RBIndycar

Ousted Indycar CEO Randy Bernard Deserved Better
We are gathered here today as witness to one of the most fearsome crashes in motorsports history. And I'm not talking about the "Big One" at Talladega or someone getting air in a sprint car. I'm talking about the IZOD Indycar Series as it appears to crash & burn right before our eyes.

It hurts to watch the Series management crawl from the mangled and smoking wreckage of Indycar. Its nonsensical decision making and the unsavory handling of the dismissal of Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard are just the latest in a litany of dumbfounding actions wrought by a Board of Directors which appears to be out of touch with reality. One can only hope that someone will bring sanity to the series at the top. And it needs to happen soon. But who in their right mind would want to take this job? I hope Randy got a nice parachute as you know he is still owed money with a five year contract only 60% completed.

I have had little time to write since shooting the Mid Ohio Indycar weekend due to my teaching and soccer officiating schedules, but this dreadful episode in Indycar history merits all the vitriol fans and media members like myself can spew. I have been an Indycar and motorsports photographer since 1984, although I have been loathe to use this blog forum to criticize the series, even when others were lambasting Tony George. Today I am so mad at what's happening with my beloved Indycar series that I could just scream. But I don't know where to direct that anger except at the Board of the Hulman entities which controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indycar Series.

Tony George
So the series is not for sale, according to Hulman & Company CEO Jeff Belskus. Who would want to buy it right now? Even Roger Penske said that Bernard's firing was "very disappointing". Robin Miller said on SPEED's Wind Tunnel "the sharks got him" and then wrote  on SPEED's website that there was "no cure for stupidity". Others I know have said "they were burning down their own house" and they "machine gunned themselves in the foot". I said it was a circus without a ringmaster and lord knows that Tony George's expressed interest in buying the series is not likely the answer.

Will the unceremonious and embarrassing firing of Randy Bernard be the last straw? What in the world will it take for the series to get its act together? Something is terribly wrong. But can anyone really say they didn't see this coming? Not if you're invested in Indycar as I am. If I know anything about the series, it's that when everyone is denying the truth of rumors, you just know whatever it is must be absolutely true. No amount of spin doctoring by the Hulman George family or the management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can rectify the damage this latest action has created. And for casual race fans who only know Indycar racing from the television broadcasts, they are probably just going to tune out. Ratings would seem to indicate that they already are.

Did Bernard always do the right thing? Of course not. The man who many derided as the "bull rider dude" was an outsider with no racing background so he had a monumental learning curve and was bound to make mistakes. In three short years he did a lot that was right, and I was a huge skeptic at first, but I give him kudos for his high energy level, as he made a great connection with fans, he showed a willingness to learn, he brought new ideas up for discussion and shepherded the new car/engine formula to fruition. I would have laid any odds against almost anyone doing all that, let alone someone with Bernard's background. Then to find in the 11th hour that he had just one supporter on the Hulman Board must have been a crushing blow to him after all he had accomplished. And you can bet that Bernard's settlement agreement muzzles him from making any kind of derogatory comments or the lawyers will come after him. Warts and all, Indycar is still the greatest and most competitive racing on the planet but this showing of public silliness and ineptitude on a critical personnel decision belies the capabilities of an organization with the financial wherewithal and history possessed by the Hulman clan.

If you believe that any publicity for the Series is good publicity, then put away the nitrous as you've been taking the gas for too long. Some say that controversy is good for media attention and I would agree if we are talking about competition controversy, but not controversy which smacks of a complete lack of vision by the people running the show. Most businesses try to add value and public airing of dirty laundry in an unflattering manner can only diminish a product's value. This could mean that the Series is truly not for sale as the bean counters would be trying to cut expenses and inflate the value before selling to get every dime they could. That's would businesses do these days in the current environment of mergers, takeovers and stock bonanza initial public offerings. Unless you're having a fire sale.

Perhaps no one outside of Indianapolis gives a damn, and that's a scary proposition. I was in Akron this past weekend, and not a word was written in local papers or spoken on Cleveland television about Bernard's firing. All the news I got about it came from Twitter and thank God for that. I still find it hard to swallow that Indycar may be descending (has descended?) into irrelevancy when one of the best Indy 500's ever occurred this past May, a deserving and charsimatic American driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was crowned  as the season champion just last month, and the "split" of open wheel racing recedes more into the distant past each year since the 2008 merger with Champ Car. I guarantee you that Firestone cares. The people that run the Long Beach Grand Prix surely care. I can also guarantee you that Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti and the other team owners care, as they have been asked to support a series whose costs have not  been reduced as promised, but whose crown jewel of the Indianapolis 500 is still the biggest prize in motorsports. I sure as hell care.

But as the saying goes, if you don't remember the past, then you are doomed to repeat it. So I hope the people running the Hulman family empire remember. Surely they must know that it is essential for them to control both the Indy 500 and the Indycar Series. Otherwise, the original split in 1979 between USAC and CART could happen all over again, and then what kind of value will the family properties have? Another saying I like is "old age and treachery will win out over youth and exuberance" but I dearly hope that is not the case in the Indycar Series. We need all hands on deck and visionary leadership that can clearly enunciate the future of this great sport. We also are going to need time to heal these new wounds so that someone can  direct open wheel racing's top American series into a position of integrity and renewed strength before it's too late. After all, the 100th running of the Indy 500 will be here before you know it, so let's do something about this mess which would make Carl Fisher, the other founding fathers, and the savior of the Speedway, Anton "Tony" Hulman, proud.

I'm not just praying for "Tony Hulman Weather" anymore:  I'm praying for Indycar.