Its not a real surprise, but its now official. Randy Bernard, former CEO of the Professional Bull Riders Inc., recently accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Indy Racing League. The official word from the league is set to come out sometime next week, but if Curt Cavin says its so, that’s certainly good enough for us here at The Paddock. Many have deep reservations about Mr. Bernard’s qualifications as a CEO of the league given that he has no motorsports experience. Not only that, but he’s never even been to a single IndyCar race! The concern is that given his complete lack of background in the very unique business of auto racing, how is he qualified to lead the league and represent the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?
Quite honestly, his lack of association with IndyCar racing or motorsports in general, will be a GOOD thing. There’s been a LOT of bad blood between various factions within the American Open-Wheel Racing community extending all the way back to the mid 1970s. Having a leader that comes without the prejudices of the past just might allow the sport to begin to heal and grow. Will he have to come up to speed on the things that make the racing business unique amongst sports? Sure, but there are a lot more similarities between the challenges that face IndyCar and the challenges that Mr. Bernard had to overcome as the CEO of the PBR that people realize. The PBR was a small, almost invisible series when it began under Mr. Bernard’s leadership. It grew through its relationship with VersusTV to an international sport attracting a wide demographic of fans and sponsors. The IndyCar right now is in a similar situation as the PBR was when it started, although perhaps not quite so invisible. The same challenges confront Mr. Bernard now, growing a struggling niche sport on a small cable network by accessing new populations of fans and viewers. Even Versus last year knew that driving an IndyCar was not unlike trying to ride a bull. It was part of their intro clip!
To be sure, there are some unique challenges that will confront the new CEO, not least of which is dealing with the continuing 30-year old philosophic divide between the car owners and those in charge at IMS, and now the Indy Racing League. Negotiating that political minefield will likely be the toughest aspect Mr. Bernard’s new position. Not having any vested interest or affiliation with either side should serve him well, though, and I’m looking forward to what his leadership will bring to the sport.