Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Year Ago Today...

As Randy Bernard took the reigns of INDYCAR one year ago today, I'm not gonna lie, I was skeptical. Skeptical of the job that the former CEO of a completely unrelated sport with no racing background could do for a racing series that was in desperate need of direction. Luckily, I was wrong.

The last 12 months of been some of the best in IndyCar's history. You have the development of the next generation 2012 formula for example.  A year ago we were in the middle of a five way battle. Dallara, Swift, Lola, BAT, and DeltaWing had all made their IndyCar aspirations known. They each had their defenders and each had their protester. Each of the chassis had their positives and each had their negatives. The one aspect that all five entries had in common was exclusivity. Sure, some didn't demand it, but after taking a quick glance at the projected economic affect of multiple manufacturers, it became clear that a single supplier was a necessity.

Acknowledging his lack of INDYCAR knowledge, Bernard put together the ICONIC Committee. The 7-member team of experts including Brian Barnhart, Tony Cotman, Gil de Ferran, Eddie Gossage, Rick Long, Tony Purnell, Neil Ressler and mediator & retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III, were tapped to layout plans for 2012.

The ICONIC Committee's decision and July 14th, 2010 announcement was met with mixed results. Some loved it, others hated it, but everyone had strong feelings one way or the other. On the surface it sounded like the 5-year Dallara exclusive streak would continue. And it would have it others wouldn't of come on board to provide body kits for the Dallara built chassis. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Putting deals together to bring both Chevrolet and Lotus back into the engine fold also created two much needed body kit builders as well.

Did Randy Bernard have any impact on the ICONIC committee's decision? No, but the end result would have never came to be if Bernard hadn't put together the committee in the first place.

Although his tenure hasn't been perfect with the Edmonton fiasco, loss of Chicagoland from the schedule, and rumored exit by long-time tire supplier Firestone, their have definitely been more ups than downs. The replacement of what was a lackluster season finale at Homestead by what's sure to be a fantastic event at Las Vegas is at the top of the list.  Although the details need some tweaking, putting a ticket program together, alongside IZOD executives, should fill the stands for the season ending race. Add the much talked about $5 Million bonus to any non-IndyCar driver talented enough to put their entry into victory lane, and Las Vegas should be a race we'll not soon forget.

Entering the 2010 season one of the most disappointing developments was the loss of Milwaukee from the schedule. Remedied in 2011, not only was the 1-mile short oval brought back, additional events in Baltimore and New Hampshire will inject the series back into one of the sports most important regions, the American Northeast. Couple those with the new twin races at Texas, and the revamped 2011 schedule is the most diverse in history.

Another move which should of been made long ago was finally brought to fruition over the last year. The 'IRL' moniker, with a very negative connotation to some, was dropped in favor of INDYCAR. Although admittedly not an acronym and still not used by many, INDYCAR brings a much needed re branding to the sanctioning body.

Improvements to the pre-Bernard era ladder system were also put into motion.  Awarding each of the series champions in the rungs of the ladder a monetary scholarship to the next tier gives real legitimacy to the system. Implementing a new branch to the newly sponsored Mazda Road to Indy program through USAC was also a welcomed addition. Rewarding the USAC National Drivers Champion with a $300,000 bonus towards part-time Firestone Indy Lights season, could bring the under-tapped dirt track market to INDYCAR sanctioned events.

Will the changes have any affect on the car counts, TV ratings, fan base, or overall health of the series? Only time will tell, but a definite momentum is being felt.

No doubt Bernard has a done a fantastic job in his Freshman season as INDYCAR CEO. When rating himself on the other hand, Bernard would probably give himself a much more modest review, and that's probably why he's so good.


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