The IndyCar Series has appointed Randy Bernard, previously head of the Professional Bull Riders organization, as its new chief executive officer.
Championship founder Tony George lost his role at the helm of the IndyCar Series last summer, and in the intervening period new Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Jeff Belskus has taken charge of both the series and the circuit. But Bernard has now been recruited to oversee IndyCar and feeder category Indy Lights.
"Randy is the right person at the right time to head the Indy Racing League," Belskus said. "He brings a superb sports marketing and promotion background, proven CEO skills, energy and enthusiasm at a time when the IZOD IndyCar Series is positioned for growth."
Bernard has run the bull-riding series since 1995, having previously been an event promoter. He will take charge of IndyCar on March 1.
"I truly believe I can make a difference with the Indy Racing League, and I see tremendous potential," said Bernard. "The IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights have intense action, high-stakes competition, extreme athletes, a diverse international schedule, great sponsors and a very passionate fan base."
The change of leadership comes at a crucial time for the IndyCar Series, which is still struggling to build momentum after the deeply damaging 12-year war between the IRL and CART (and its successor, the Champ Car World Series). Even after reunification, American open-wheel racing has an extremely low domestic profile compared to NASCAR, and IndyCar's television ratings slumped further last year when ithe bulk of its race telecasts were moved to the Versus network. While the quality of Versus' coverage was praised, the network remains a relatively small player in U.S. sports broadcasting.
Many teams and drivers are still having difficulty finding funding for the 2010 IndyCar season, which commences on March 14 with a new street race in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. There is also uncertainty over the future of the technical regulations, with the IRL having committed to introducing a new car to replace the aging Dallara-Honda spec package in 2012. While the IRL has specified its preference for a fresh Dallara chassis and is hoping to rekindle competition between manufacturer engine suppliers, a group of team owners are backing a radical alternative known as the Delta Wing project, more details of which are expected to be revealed later this month.
On the other hand, the series has been boosted by the arrival of clothing company IZOD as an enthusiastic new title backer. IZOD has committed to heavily publicizing IndyCar as part of its multi-million dollar investment. Despite some teams having sponsorship issues, new entries are still joining the field, with Penske expanding to a third full-time car for Will Power, and new squad FAZZT bringing Alex Tagliani back into the fray.
Full Q & A with Bernard, Barnhart and Belskus