Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 31, 2012

de la Bastide: Bernard’s departure leaves IndyCar Series in turmoil

Chase for Sprint Cup title down to two

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune columnist

Kokomo — The timing of the ousting of Randy Bernard as CEO of IndyCar couldn’t have been worst for teams and tracks looking to sign 2013 sponsorship packages.

After denying last week that Bernard was fired by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway directors, it was then announced on Sunday that his days at the throttle of the organization were at an end.

The IMS board has to act quickly to name a replacement for Bernard, someone who can take over the reins of the organization and restore confidence among the teams and potential sponsors that IndyCar really has a clue what is taking place.

Now is the time of the year that sponsors begin to decide whether or not to stay involved with a race team or event or look for another venue to spend their advertising dollars with.

It certainly didn’t help matters when car owner Roger Penske called Bernard’s dismissal poor judgment and stated that the board has no future plan to take IndyCar to the next level.

After a disastrous finish to the 2011 season, IndyCar bounced back with the new chassis and engine packages and one of the best Indianapolis 500s in memory.

Instead of building on that success, the IMS board has elected to part ways with Bernard and not immediately name a replacement.

Whoever becomes the next CEO of IndyCar has to be given a long-term contract, at least five years, with a no-cut clause. That’s needed to assure sponsors the series has long-range plans and there is a design for future growth.

With Indy Racing League founder Tony George wanting to purchase IndyCar, that might be the direction to take to save major open-wheel racing in the U.S. George recently resigned from the IMS board, eliminating a potential conflict of interest.

IndyCar cannot survive on the Indianapolis 500 alone, it needs to have a strong schedule of oval, street and road courses. Each race has to build on the rest to be successful.

There isn’t an announced timetable for the naming of a new IndyCar CEO, but it should include some input from the team owners and series title sponsor, Izod.

Open-wheel racing has gone through a crisis in the past with CART and IRL, a split that almost ended the racing for good.

An immediate and long-term solution is mandatory to alleviate the fears of the sponsors, team owners and most importantly the fans.

In other racing news

• The Chase for the Sprint Cup title is basically down to five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Johnson holds a two-point lead over Keselowski with three races remaining.

Denny Hamlin’s chances of the title ended when his Toyota suffered a mechanical problem resulting in a 33rd-place finish at Martinsville.

Keselowski salvaged a sixth-place finish at Martinsville after starting 32nd. The right pit strategy at the finish kept him in the hunt for the title.

• The United States Speed Association has announced that the Glen Niebel Classic for non-wing sprint cars will take place on Sunday, April 14 at Anderson Speedway. The 100-lap event will be the first of as many as eight USSA sanctioned non-winged sprint races in the Midwest.

Series officials are in discussions with Lucas Oil Raceway, Illiana Speedway, Limaland Speedway, Toledo Speedway and Angola Speedway about potential race dates.

If USSA can’t make the non-wing series financially successful in 2013, it could mean the end of traditional non-wing pavement sprint car races in the Midwest.

• Ken de la Bastide may be reached at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8580.