“Darling you gotta let me know, Should I stay or should I go? If you say that you are mine, I’ll be here til the end of time, So you got to let me know, Should I stay or should I go?”
-The Clash – Should I Stay or Should I Go
On Sunday evening, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board of Directors held an emergency meeting. Depending upon whose version of the story you chose to accept, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard either resigned or was sacked. This occurred after multiple weeks of rumors that Bernard had been fired and statements from IMS that “At this point, Randy is not fired. That is the case in the moment and in the future.” Less than three days after that statement from IMS Vice President of Communications Doug Boles, Bernard was in fact gone. I’ve been a fan of CART/ChampCar/IRL/IndyCar racing since the late 1980s. CEOs have come and gone at the whim of series ownership throughout those years but this time it’s different.
How is this time different? Randy Bernard is the first CEO that I can remember that actually cared about the fans of American Open Wheel Racing. While he wanted to do what was best for the series, he understood that it was all about the fans not what was better for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, not what was better for the team owners, and not what was better for the sponsors. He understood that you can’t keep sponsors if the fans aren’t supporting the sponsors. Guess where the sponsors go if the fans aren’t doing business with them? They go away. Bernard knew that if there were no fans there wouldn’t be a series for very much longer. I’m not going to say he was perfect and did everything right because he didn’t. He made errors and miscalculations but he also did some good work. I’m not upset because Randy Bernard is gone; I’m upset because a CEO that put the fans first is gone. I’m upset because the best season in recent history has once again been upstaged by politics.
Not only did they get rid of a CEO that was working to improve the sport for the fans, they got rid of him dishonorably. For much of the last year it has been obvious that there was a coup in the works. There may have been denials but where there is smoke there is fire and since Fontana the smoke has been billowing. Throughout that time, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board of Directors, Bernard’s bosses, failed to publicly support him. Over the last few weeks in particular, Bernard has dangled in the wind as rumors of his demise swirled around him. There were weak, lukewarm statements such as the one above from Doug Boles but nothing that removed any doubt that the Board supported their employee. Nothing was heard from the Hulman-George family themselves or any other members of the board. The whole situation reminded me of how my church handled the ouster of a preacher some years back. It was marked by deceit and deception, by two faced people engaging in backhanded tactics. In the wake of that ouster, the church found it hard to find and keep preachers; it may be that after the way Bernard was ousted IndyCar finds it hard to find someone to take his place. That preacher’s ouster is what drove me away from organized religion and to this day is the reason I rarely go to a church. I’m still a believer but I can’t bring myself to support something that conducts itself in that fashion. It may be that I’m on a similar road with IndyCar. I don’t know that I have the stomach to continue supporting a series that doesn’t seem to care about its fans and betrays its employees.
IndyCar fans are owed an explanation as to why Bernard was sacked (Don’t hold your breath, it isn’t coming). IndyCar and IMS have been all but silent while this has transpired; it lends to the perception if not the reality that the fans really aren’t their concern. I imagine sponsors such as Izod, Verizon, and Apex Brazil would like to know why he’s gone. In these economic times, will sponsors be willing to re-up with what appears to be an unstable series? Promoters are probably wondering why Bernard is gone and wondering if the schedule he developed is going to change now that it has been announced. Will promoters and tracks continue to want to work with an unstable series? No doubt NBC and ESPN, who Bernard just finished negotiating new deals with, would like to know what’s going on. IndyCar has been in a somewhat uncertain state for years but now it is worse. The state of the series is bad and no amount of insistence from certain elements of IndyCar fans, teams, and the series itself can hide it. All is NOT well. The series is not going to attract new teams and new sponsors (or keep sponsors when it’s time to re-up) if the series isn’t stable. American sports car racing may be about to get its act together and if it does, it could seriously eat away at IndyCar’s fan base. A request to the leadership of the ALMS and Grand Am: please look at the way IndyCar reunified and learn from their mistakes. It will be tragic if sports car racing goes down the same road that IndyCar has gone.
I honestly don’t know if I will continue being an IndyCar fan. I’ve endured years of team owners who were sometimes the series owners caring about no one but themselves. I’ve endured years of unsteady series leadership. I endured the split and the all of the venom and enmity that came with it. This, however, may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. My heart says stay but my head says go. The racing has improved so much over the last few seasons but now the series just can’t seem to cure itself of its self destructive tendencies. Team Positivity is insistent that I’ll be back but at this point I really don’t know. I suspect my decision will be made by what IndyCar does now and the decisions that make in the coming months. I know this much, though – IndyCar needs to show me why I should stay. If they hire a CEO that continues to respect the fans, I’m willing to stay. If they hire a CEO that returns the series to kissing the team owner’s bottoms, I’m gone. I’m a long time fan who is close to walking out the door and I don’t think the powers that be at 16th/Georgetown care. IndyCar, it’s up to you; convince me that I should remain an IndyCar fan.