(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)
Well, we’ve all now had the opportunity to meet Randy Bernard, the new CEO of the Indy Racing League. And — surprise! — opinions differ widely on whether he’s the right person for the job.
The point most commonly raised by those voicing concern is that having someone in charge of the League with no background in racing could put us at risk of losing elements of the sport that we love. After all, we’ve never trusted American open-wheel racing to someone this green before, and new things are scary.
On further examination, though, this argument has little bite. For starters, while there are many in racing who have been part of the sport since toddling around the paddock in their diapers, there are also plenty of folks who developed an interest at a later age. Given time, these people have managed to grow a passion and learn the ropes just as well as those who are born into racing. It’s clear that Bernard has at least some interest in learning about IndyCar — he took the job, after all — so it’s difficult to imagine that his experiences in this regard will be any different.
And, perhaps more importantly, he’s put himself forward as a public face right from the start and made an effort to reach out to the community. The idea that the person in charge might be willing to listen to outside ideas and communicate openly as he works to improve this sport is very encouraging indeed. That outlook, coupled with the fact that he’s already surrounded by a team that knows racing well and can assist him as necessary, means that his learning curve should be fairly short.
Bernard’s successful endeavor in building a niche sport from the ground up as CEO of Professional Bull Riders demonstrates that he offers assets to the League that are sorely needed: he has a keen business sense, he knows how to develop a brand, and he knows how to crank the marketing machine to his advantage.
What he doesn’t have, on the other hand, is any experience with the split or the vitriol and cynicism accompanied by that. He also doesn’t have a name or history that elicits strong emotions — good or bad — in anyone who will be affected by his decisions. He can move forward as a neutral party who will be motivated to do what’s best for the product, which is a novel position for the League and the best scenario we can ask for at this stage in its growth.
By all counts, the potential in Bernard’s leadership has the view looking rosy. This sport needs change, and he stands before us now as a clean slate with nothing standing in the way of letting him implement it.
However, if we dig deep down into the minutiae, there was one point raised today that some would consider early cause for concern – a tiny quote tucked neatly into the bottom of the press release.
“I don’t have a motorsports background,” Mr. Bernard is quoted as saying, “so Brian [Barnhart] is going to be the most important person in my life.”
The issue of whether Barnhart belongs in his current position — and is therefore the correct person for Bernard to be leaning on early in his tenure — is a very small point in the grand scheme of today’s announcement, but it’s one of great contention within the community. And it’s a shame that it had to come up immediately upon us meeting Bernard because it’s sure to start a shouting match.
But then, what greater indoctrination could we possibly give the new guy into the world of motor racing?
Mr. Bernard, welcome to IndyCar. Here are your earplugs. Good luck — we’re all counting on you.