[media-credit name=”Ashley McCubbin” align=”alignright” width=”200″][/media-credit]16 months ago, Randy Bernard took over the reins of the IZOD IndyCar Series, ready to get the series back in the spotlight.
Bernard got started in sports marketing back in 1984 with professional bull-riding. In the mass of 15 years, he turned the sport around from being worth $2000 to $22 million. Though once he did that, he decided he was ready for a new challenge, which was when the IZOD IndyCar Series was brought forth to his attention. Bernard met with officials for three hours to discuss being a consultant; though 24 hours later, he was offered the position of CEO.
“I was very intrigued with the opportunity, but I also wanted to do my homework,” he said of that moment during the media luncheon in Toronto. “I felt it was very important for me to fly out and meet with all the big names of the sport. I wanted to meet with Penske, with Ganassi, with Dario (Franchitti) and Danica (Patrick), with IZOD – I just needed to make sure that they’d give me the opportunity to work for ‘em and respect me as a promoter and marketer because I wasn’t going to go somewhere there wasn’t a trust level there. I’ve been on the job now 16 months; I absolutely love it.”
Since taking over the reins, Bernard has made many changes to the series that have brought it back to the spotlight, learning lessons along the way.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “It’s been like drinking water from a fountain. I’ve always said you’re always good as your last day of work. I learned that in this sport you’re only as good as your last hour of work. It changes so quickly and one day you think you’re on top of the world and the next day, you have the rug pulled out from under your feet. So if there’s one sport that can make you very humble, it’s this sport.”
In his time of being in charge, Bernard has instituted quite a few changes that people have debated, including the double-file restarts. Most fans like the drama that plays out as a result, however drivers and some fans say that it’s brought some unnecessary wrecks into play.
“I look at it as how our ratings are doing,” he said. “If our ratings were to decrease, I would say it’s probably it’s been an important factor to the amount it’s costing. With the fact that were up 24% on network and 14% on cable and that the blogs have been dominated with talk about double-file restarts; it was the number two story of this entire month of May in Indy. I think it shows that it is important and I think fans want to see IndyCar showcased at its very best and if we’re going to say we have the very best drivers in the world, the best drivers in the world need to showcase their skills and learn to deal with double-file restarts.”
Bernard spoke on Wednesday in Toronto of the future of the sport and what he had planned in further promoting it to more people. One of the keys to that promoting includes the title sponsor of the series, IZOD.
“IZOD has been remarkably great with us from several different aspects,” he said. “First, they are not an endemic sponsor so they’re reaching to a non-endemic crowd, which isn’t a motorsports enthusiast, and what IZOD stands for is very important to us. The fact that they’re a lifestyle, they’re pop-culture and they’re reaching youth, they’re very important to IndyCar. I think if we can use that and educate our fans and use them to bring new fans, a more of a mainstream fan, and use the Hondas, Sonocos, Shell Oils and Verizons of the world and help maintain and create more of a motorsports fan, I think that’ll be our strategy going forward.”
Bernard plans on reaching youth through making partnerships with the go-karting leagues and with the Boy Scout clubs to get the kids to the track via field trips and racing events. He also made a drastic move changing the minimum age of entry to the garage area from 18 to nine this year. They’ve also brought forth a new driver introduction stage, so therefore fans can see their drivers introduced in big style.
They’ve also brought forth the Road to Indy with their own ladder for drivers to climb to become involved in IndyCar Racing, unlike most series out there, as starts right up at the karting left to the top. Currently, Bryan Clauson is one of the drivers on the ladder as after winning the USAC Championship, he was given five free races in a Firestone Indy Lights Car to see if he could impress team owners.
As they try to attract more drivers and fans to the series, Bernard has made huge announcements towards the final Championship race in Las Vegas. Any fan who buys a ticket for any race during the season can get a free ticket to the championship as Bernard says it’s a way to build loyalty between the series and the fans. They’ve also released a challenge to drivers around the world that can award them $5 million.
“We think we’ve got the best drivers in the world – well, we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” he said. “We’ve challenged any race car driver in the world that thinks they can compete with ours and we’ve put up $5 million. All you have to do is come qualify for that race, win the race and we’ll write you a cheque for $5 million.”
The other big change that Bernard has made that has brought forth more promotion for the series is the brand new car, which is set to debut next year.
“It’s going to be a much more innovative car, relevant to technology,” Bernard spoke of during the presentation. “We decided to cut our engines from a V8 to a V6, take it from a 3.5 maximum displacement to a 2.2 maximum displacement. We’re going to be a turbo charge; we’re going to direct injected. We’re going from 630 horsepower up to 700 horsepower and we will be able to improve our fuel – we’re going from an E85 to an E90. The other big thing here on the cars is our aero kits. I’m not sure if we’re going to announce this this year or next year, but every car will have its own identity. Very important to our series – just not sure because of the cost and complexity of it if we’re see this in 2012 and 2013.”
In doing the promoting and bringing forth the new car in 2012, Bernard spoke critically of attracting fans to the sport and making the series its own, separate from other racing divisions.
“We need to define ourselves in the form of our motorsports – different and separate us from everyone else – F1 and NASCAR,” he said. “We are the fastest, more versatile series in the world; no one can deny that. The fact that we race ovals, road course, and street courses at the speeds that we do is what separates us. We’re going to be 40-50 mph faster than NASCAR. F1 doesn’t do ovals. Matter of fact, most of those drivers are afraid to get into an IndyCar to do an oval because of the danger element. The other thing I think that is very important is that we need to go back to our roots.”
He went on to add that the promoting is needed as during the Champ Camp-Indy Racing League split in 1996, they lost 15 million fans. His goal is to attract those fans as he knows that they’re out there and they still do support the series.
With the all the promoting that’s going on to grow the series, a lot of people are wondering what will happen if Danica Patrick chooses to go full-time NASCAR in 2012 and what effect that will have on IndyCar. To that, Bernard says the series is in a good state and he’s more worried about keeping Go Daddy on board.
“I think the world of Danica,” he commented. “I think she’s going to make the right decision for her and I will wish her well whichever decision she makes. She’s done a lot for our sport and that’s what we need to remember. I think that she’ll probably go where the money is the best and I think that’s what I would do, you would do as well, and I think it’s more important right now I focus my attention to Go Daddy and make sure that I can keep Go Daddy apart of our series. I think without Go Daddy, Danica Patrick wouldn’t have the fame that she has and I’m looking out for the long term of our sport.
“It’s not any different when Mario left our sport or when Jordan or Shaq just left NBA. I think there will always be drivers or athletes that leave their sport and we’ve got a great pipeline of great new talent. We just Marco win his second race, first one in five years; we see great drivers like Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, J.R. Hildebrand – he’s an American who almost won the 500 in his rookie year. I mean, we’ve got a great pipeline right now and I’m glad it was next year instead of this year. I think we’ll be more prepared for it, as well as the new car with Chevy, Honda, Lotus.”
Next weekend, the IZOD IndyCar Series will be center stage in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the Honda Indy, July 8th through the 10th.
“We’re going to celebrate our 25th Anniversary here this year,” Bernard said of the event during his presentation. “With one year it didn’t take place, and if it hadn’t been for Honda, Toronto and Savoree Green making sure there’d be something here, it could’ve gone away. The fact that they believed in it, we’re back on course. If there’s one message I hope you get out of here today, IndyCar is back.”
This year, Green Savoree Toronto invested millions into the track in updating the track barriers to the latest technology and to clean the facility up to present the best possible event as Bernard stated that he doesn’t want “to take IndyCar outside the country (United States) unless it’s going to be a big event.”
“I think Toronto, being one of the largest cities in North America, will always be a very important city for IndyCar,” he added later. “IndyCar is on the rise and we want to showcase our sport in great cities and that’s what Toronto does. I like to see the promoter here investing millions of dollars in his race because it’s only makes the racing that much bigger and better.”
To help with promoting the event, Honda Dealers Canada has created “Free Friday” where fans can get into the grounds and access the Paddocks (where the teams work on the cars), which has been used a good promotional tool to get fans to come back Saturday and Sunday.
“I think that what we need to do is continue to educate fans on what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I think the Honda Day out here is huge. Anybody can get a free ticket from Honda and come out to the track and see what’s going on, I think they’ll be blown away to see these cars go at the speed their going and have a beer and relax in the sun. How does it get any better in the beautiful city of Toronto?”
With all the hype going into the event, there are three Canadian drivers entered who each have the pedigree and ability to take the checkered flag.
“I think that James Hinchcliffe, Paul Tracy or Alex Tagliani – any three of those – could win this event and I think if it happens, it just sets the race up for the following year to be that much better,” Bernard commented. “But I think all three of them have a great shot this year. This year, with what we’ve seen halfway through the season, is that we have seven different team owners out of the top 10 and I think that’s remarkable. That shows you how deep our racing is going now.”
One of the big stories for Canadians going into this year’s event would be Tagliani, who won the pole for the Indianapolis 500, which is a highlight in Bernard’s book.
“Last year, he fought and fought to have that team and this year, he was able to partner Sam Schmidt – here’s a guy that was paralyzed in a car – and the fact that they’ve come together and been very successful,” Bernard said during the presentation. “They won the pole at Indy this year, which is no small feat at all. To me, in my sixteen months I’ve been here, I will say that’s in the top three highlights of my career here so far. The fact that I was sitting up in the grandstands and here’s a small team, not a Penske or Ganassi that just took the pole for the Indy 500, was a pretty amazing event. The fact that we’ll have these three Canadians compete here is big for us.”
The competition promises to be strong in Toronto as it has been all year with seven different team owners out of the top 10 cars. Bernard also put forth the promise that it’d be strong competition, especially with the double-file restarts.
“Going to the double-file (restarts), it’s created a lot of carnage and wrecks, which the drivers hate, and allowed us to see a lot more passing and overtake and see guys like last weekend, like Scott Dixon, going from 28th to 3rd, so you’ll see a lot more passing than you’ve ever seen before in Toronto and that’s a promise.”