(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)
The CEO of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Randy Bernard, was kind enough to sit with me this afternoon to discuss a few current topics of interest.
The first thing we attempted to talk about was his trip to Europe to meet with manufacturers about designing engines and aero kits for 2012. But as it turns out, no one’s been to Europe yet after all. Randy indicated that with so many people on holidays during the month of August, it was decided that it would be best to defer the visit. He and other Series officials will be leaving on August 29th and hope to meet with as many auto manufacturers as they can — and he says they have several appointments lined up already.
After that brief attempt to keep things light, the conversation quickly turned to the events in Edmonton and what the fallout has been from his perspective. “It was the call that Brian Barnhart made,” he started. “If you talk to the drivers, they believe it was the right call. You talk to most of the team owners, they believe it was the right call. My job’s pretty simple on that, and that’s just to support our Chief Steward.”
But he was quick to point out the positives. “The thing that I did like about it was it created a tremendous amount of exposure for the sport. Unfortunately, I’d rather have it in other ways. But it was exposure, and I think right now we see some tremendous momentum in our sport. Last year, the total sponsorship spend in our sport was about $34 million, and this year it’s going to be about $81 million. So, to see the swing on the sponsorship alone shows us that we have great momentum, and I think that’s what’s adding to the fuel on this is that there is that excitement. And when things like this happen, it just creates … sometimes more positive and sometimes negative, and just depending on what side of the fence you sat on is the way you took it.”
When asked about the impact of having the rules discussed behind closed doors, RB was quick to accept blame — even upon himself. “I think that’s my fault,” he offered. “As a League, we’ve got to fess up to when we see a mistake made.” But he also noted that swift action was taken once the problem was identified. “We didn’t have our television commentators in that meeting. Tuesday morning, when we got back and we reviewed the videos and watched what the commentators had to say, you can’t really blame them because they weren’t in the meeting. So, it’s a mandatory rule now that all your commentators sit through the drivers’ meeting.”
It’s great to have the media informed, but what about the fans? “I think what I’d like to do,” he suggests, “is create a fan club that would have access to the places that everyone else doesn’t have. I think that would be something that would be very good for the fan club. And I think that there are times that you want to have cameras in there and there’s times you don’t, but that’s something we have to sit down with Brian and the whole management team and really discuss in detail. But that would be how I would like to do it.”
One area he wasn’t prepared to discuss, though, was the terms of the probations for either Milka or Helio. “Those are between us and them, in my opinion,” he said. And what about the consequences of violating those terms, whatever they may be? “Wasn’t discussed,” he replied. “I think it’s open-ended.”
From there, our conversation turned toward the 2011 schedule — and it looks as though we may know when to expect it. “I think we’ll be able to release it before August 30th,” RB stated. “There will probably be one or two that we’ll hold because there’s some steps in there that we need to put in place beforehand, and a couple of them will require some board meetings, which would mean it would be into September. Mid-September, maybe.”
And where do things stand right now? “Until the NASCAR schedule gets confirmed, we don’t lock in with anybody because there could be like we saw this week with Kentucky. That change has already shifted three or four events. So, we really aren’t locked in until we have a secured date. Brazil, we’ve locked it in. Baltimore we’ve even had to change around a little bit in the last couple of weeks.”
Wait — but we thought Baltimore was confirmed. “It’s confirmed. We’re just changing the date.” What happened? “It goes deeper than us,” RB replied. “With these changes, we’ve got to talk to the baseball team now, so those are some of the complexities. But we have a couple of availabilities. [The August 7th date] could change depending on NASCAR and the baseball schedule.”
And on the subject of Brazil, all he would say was, “we have a date.” He wouldn’t say what that date was or whether it would be the season opener. (It seems that the IICS is doing a better job of keeping such things close to their chests these days.)
The question of whether any tracks would not be returning yielded similarly selective responses. “Yes,” he confirmed. “One or two.” But when asked whether they were oval tracks or road tracks, he simply replied, “I’ll leave it at that.”
On the topic of the potential season finale at Vegas, RB says all the right things. “We remain optimistic. I love Vegas. I’ve heard from a lot of IndyCar fans, they love Vegas. And I think it’s a perfect place because it’s a resort destination as your championship. But there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done with the city and the [Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority], as well as the casinos, to pull it off and make it as successful as it needs to be.” On this subject, though, his tone speaks far more to the current situation than his words — he sounds somewhat less confident than he did as recently as a month ago.
The final point that Randy and I touched on was a topic raised by him. It’s something that he’s working to get the word out on, and he asked if we could publish it for the fans’ consideration. “I think it’s very important for us to make the garage area family-friendly,” he asserts, “and it’s going to be one of my top priorities to make that change. I’d love to hear input from fans to see what their opinions are on that, too.” So, IndyCar fans, Randy would like to know what you think: would allowing families more open access to the garage areas have an impact on your race weekend experience? Contact him with your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear the full audio of the interview, click here.