Randy Bernard has the toughest job in sports. He’s the man picked to guide the Indy Racing League for the foreseeable future. Tiger Woods’ image consultants might have easier assignments than Bernard’s.
Randy Bernard has the toughest job in sports. He’s the man picked to guide the Indy Racing League for the foreseeable future.
Tiger Woods’ image consultants might have easier assignments than Bernard’s.
Bernard, named chief executive officer of the IRL during the winter, is staring up a mountain while loose rocks come crashing down the hillside – some pebble-sized, others boulder-like. Scaling to the top isn’t impossible, considering open-wheel racing used to be a pretty big deal in the minds of Americans. Therefore, it can be again. However, the ascent isn’t without peril.
It only takes one bad decision to put Bernard in the Joe Heitzler File.
It takes a series of good ones to elevate him to a deity in the minds of race fans.
The big question for Bernard is: What does he want the Izod IndyCar Series to be – a successful touring series or national pastime? The newly crowned king of the IRL, and the first one without George in his name, told The Associated Press “major” changes could be in store for the IndyCar Series. He expressed a desire to have more than one marquee event – that would be the Indianapolis 500, in case you forgot – on the schedule and create some real buzz.
The press pounced on the idea of a playoff format like NASCAR adopted for the Sprint Cup Series. In response, he said, “I don't want to create too much excitement in something that's going to change the sport. We've got to get to second base before we can get to home plate, and I think we want to set ourselves up for the future on how we can determine and build stars as well as major events.”
Randy, I’ve got your back. There’s a few things you can do without reinventing the winged wheel at Indianapolis.
1) Identify three major races on three different kinds of race tracks – oval, permanent road course and temporary street circuit – and juice the purses to attract larger-than-normal fields. My suggestions are pretty obvious: Indianapolis, Long Beach, Calif., and Watkins Glen. All three are steeped in history and have hosted marquee events before.
People from Fort Worth, Miami and Toronto will play the big market card, which makes marketing types uncontrollably slobber all over themselves, but remember: Neither holds a candle to my ideas. In fact, throughout these ramblings, remember I’m smarter than them and this will go by smoothly.
2) Don’t stop there. Take a page from the Saturday night bullrings and award double points for this newly imagined “Triple Crown.” You can’t just tell people, “Hey, this is the new Triple Crown!” there needs to be some substance. More money and more points equals a greater desire to win. If you’re going to dangle a carrot, make it bigger than Bono’s ego.
3) A revival of the Triple Crown – mine, not anyone else’s – would be awesome. More awesome: Make the crown jewel as big of a deal as it ever has been.
Move the Indy 500 to Memorial Day afternoon to increase the odds of attracting a wide array of talent. Don’t be afraid of cheapening the event: The Indy car regulars will kick butt ... unless Juan Pablo Montoya plans a return.
Forget the fools’ jibber jabber about potential television viewers going out for picnics while the race is on. Dude, we live in the DVR era. Imagine if one fourth of the Sprint Cup and Formula One racers who claim to want a shot at Indy enter. That will dominate headlines and highlights over the weekend. The 500 was never better than when it was part of the F1 championship.
4) In case you don’t read blogs, watch “Wind Tunnel” or have tuned out Robin Miller, there’s an outcry to fill seats with more Americans. Well, of course, but how does a CEO legislate that without coming off like a xenophobe? Remember ex-LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens? Yeah, her decree that all the golfers must speak English was her death knell. This is more of a cautionary rule of thumb than an idea.
However, make the personalities you have a little more dynamic, without manufacturing personality. Some of the racers seem to suffer from rigor mortis in the press.
5) Proceed with the construction of new cars and engines, but don’t choose just one chassis and engine. Bring back some variety to the show by allowing the car owners to select what they want to race. If you want to rein it in a little bit, narrow down the concepts to three choices.
Remember, this isn’t NASCAR, so don’t try to emulate it. IndyCar shouldn’t be like other forms of racing.
Well, Randy, we’re done here. When these ideas have been employed and turn out to be wildly successful, just remember after you’re done with your champagne bath to make the check out to Chris Gill, c/o The Leader, 34 West Pulteney St., Corning, N.Y., 14830.
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader in Corning, N.Y., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.