In a week where the IZOD IndyCar Series made several headlines in the aftermath of the disputed finish at Loudon and other off-track announcements took place, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard addressed the issues in a press conference at Infineon Raceway. His thoughts on all matters that have cropped up are below:
Randy, many are eager to get your thoughts on all the news, but let's get started with your thoughts on race control.
RANDY BERNARD: It's been a pretty busy week. I want to say that I have been very quiet on this whole matter because I felt that it was very important that I was not to be heard. We created a protest panel that we gave 100% authority to make the right decisions on what they felt.
The only thing I asked each one of those on that panel was to give a fair hearing. They made their decision and that's all I can ask for.
A lot of people have come to me, as you know, if you read blogs, if you say Facebook, not happy with Brian Barnhart, fire Brian Barnhart. I want to make it very clear. I'm 100% supportive of Brian Barnhart and his team. I think at the end of this season, we will reevaluate the rule book. I want to make sure that the rules in that rule book are what fans, the team owners, drivers want to see, and safety of course is a very important part of that.
But I think that Brian has done a great job. I compliment Brian on the fact that he said he made a mistake last week, he didn't try to hide it. He came right out and said, Hey, I made a mistake. It's much better he did it that way than tried to hide it. I appreciate the fact that he did that.
What can we do this year in going forward to help fans understand how professional race control is? I think that we're going to do something next week that has never been done before, that will showcase our race control and show their professionalism.
What we plan on doing next week is, if you download the IZOD IndyCar app, you will be able to watch race control live. We will set up a camera and you'll be able to hear Brian Barnhart and his team do what they do.
Why do we want to do this? Because it shows the credibility of the professionalism. They're not a bunch of guys just up there watching a race. They're doing an excellent job of calling it and we need to showcase that.
Andretti Autosport announced they're retaining Go Daddy as a sponsor. How important is it for us to retain a company like Go Daddy?
RANDY BERNARD: Before we go to Go Daddy, I have one more comment on Brian.
I watch blogs. I try to stay very interactive with the fans out there. I think there's one selling telling story. Fire Brian Barnhart, Facebook page, 305 people. You know how many there was for fire Donald Trump from the grand marshal of the Indy 500? It was I think 17,000. So I think it puts it in perspective here a little bit.
There's a few people out there that don't believe, but it's not everybody. I've talked to a lot of teams out here. They're very supportive. They tell me, Hey, do not fire Brian Barnhart. He's doing a great job. It's very important for me to get this message out there. I'm going to do everything I can now to support him.
When this whole process started and we knew Danica was leaving several months ago, I thought it was very important that we keep Go Daddy. Danica has been a great ambassador to our sport. I think she's brought a new demographic to our sport that we didn't have before. I don't think she's going to hurt us leaving. I think she'll help NASCAR because of that demographic.
That demographic she brings is a very big part because of what Go Daddy has done with her. The amount of money they have spent to promote and build her is unbelievable, millions upon millions of dollars just in Super Bowl ads alone.
When you can take a person, a company like Go Daddy, bring them into the series, make sure they're going to continue their support, it was a big win for us. We're very thankful they're going to be a part of us. I've had a big meeting with them already this morning about some of the new ideas they have going forward which I think will be very exciting.
Final question is, the championship is winding down. Quite a bit of momentum building up. Any updates you can share with us?
RANDY BERNARD: Next week. We have some big ones coming out next week. I'm not prepared to talk about them yet.
I will say that MGM and the City of Las Vegas have been a great partner. One of our goals is to have a major event Thursday on the strip. It's something that has never been done before, but I don't want to talk too much about it right now. I'd rather just tease that.
A lot of momentum. If you stay at MGM properties there, they have 13 properties there, you get two free tickets. That's going very well from early indications from MGM.
The big question that all of you have, I'm sure you're going to ask me, so I'll talk about it right now, Where are we at with the $5 million? I think our deadline is August 30th.
We've had over two dozen drivers inquire about that.
Out of those two dozen, all of them were great drivers. Don't forget, the most important thing we said, it has to move the needle. It's going to have to help us reach either a different form of motorsport or help move that needle on our ratings and attendance.
Out of those there were three names that came up that we felt we really wanted. Those are Travis Pastrana. He had signed his paperwork. We're very close to making an announcement. He breaks his ankle and unfortunately had to withdraw.
The second one was Alex Zanardi. Alex Zanardi you all know. The fact that he could overcome such big obstacles and get into a car that he could feel he could be that competitive with would have been a great story. I talked to Alex this week. He's still interested. He'd love to do it. He'll only do it for Chip Ganassi. I've talked to Chip. With respect to Chip, he's said the IZOD IndyCar World Championships is where he has to focus his attention right now. I'd love for you guys to go talk to him, too (laughter).
Then the third one was Kasey Kahne. Kasey has been very vocal that he wants to do it, would love to do it. He wants to do it for Penske. Again, Penske's eyes are on that IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship. If you want to talk to him, have at it. We have a week to go.
All I can say is I can lead a horse to water, but I can't make him drink. I've done everything I can. I promised the drivers we won't make this a circus. We're not going to bring drivers in that can't prove themselves. Travis was going to be a very stringent process where Dario and the driver leaders had the option to give him a thumbs up or a thumbs down. He had a stringent amount of practice time that he was required to do even to be eligible to do this.
We have a couple other ideas. We're not giving up. By next week, we will have a press conference and finalize everything because we need 45 days to make sure whatever our plan going forward is, we have a very articulate plan.
Q. You said you wanted drivers that will move the needle. If you can't get five, how many drivers would you have? Could it be less than five in the race?
RANDY BERNARD: It could be possibly zero. Those three are the only ones we're interested in. Those are the only ones that move the needle. We have some ideas on what else we can do. We're not giving up. We'd love to see Kasey Kahne. Kasey has not said no yet. I was texting him as late as last week. He was still very interested.
That's all I can say on it. We've tried everything we can to get this to happen. We love the promotion. It's created a lot of buzz and we're not giving up yet.
Q. Michael Andretti owns his race team. It's an independent business. Go Daddy is going to be with them. How important is it to you and will you work towards getting a star in that car as opposed to perhaps a driver that doesn't move the needle?
RANDY BERNARD: I think so. I think it's very important that Go Daddy and Andretti pick a great ambassador to the sport of IndyCar. I think that he needs to be a champ. I think that's very important. We've said it many times. I've said it many times. If you're going to be a star in this country, it's a lot easier if you're a winner. I think that has to be everyone's top priority.
Q. A couple questions about the live race control viewing that you talked about. Is there a way to see that or hear that if you don't have a smart phone? Can you do it from a laptop?
RANDY BERNARD: No, sir. It's going to be with Verizon. One thing we needed to be is we want to work with our partners as much as we can. We feel this is a great way to work with Verizon and helping our IZOD IndyCar app.
Q. Where is race control tomorrow stationed?
RANDY BERNARD: It moves. It's upstairs here. But race control changes. Next week in Baltimore, it's not in the best place, I understand. It's in different locations every track.
Q. What can you tell us about the schedule for next year? Will you be coming back here the same dates next year and will you be going to China?
RANDY BERNARD: Terry (Angstadt) could probably answer this better than I can right now. What we'll say right now is our schedule is changing on a daily basis. We know we want between 17 and 18 events next year. We think that that's very realistic. I would say there's probably 19 places that we could choose from right now.
Right now it's leaning a little more non-oval versus oval. Again, we're trying to keep it as balanced as we can. But I would say, just being transparent with you, that we have a lot more, of course, road and street courses that want to become part of the IZOD IndyCar Series than ovals at this point.
Q. How about China?
RANDY BERNARD: China? Terry, you want to put any odds on that?
TERRY ANGSTADT: We're well down the path. The agreement has been negotiated. Again, we don't announce anything until it's complete, signed, deposit secured. We're very hopeful by next Friday that will happen. That's our schedule. We're hopeful that can happen. I would put it at a 90/10. It's positive. It's a real process. We're dealing with a pretty big institution over there. But we're very hopeful. We think it's the right market. We've had a lot of excitement from our team owners when we asked them where we should go. So we're hopeful.
Q. Where do you stand with Baltimore next week? Do you have concerns that perhaps the facility will not be in order?
RANDY BERNARD: No, I think Terry and his team and Tony Cotman, we've had a lot of IndyCar officials out there making sure everything is in order. We're very excited about it.
Right now, our prayers are for the safety of everyone on the East Coast. We know there's going to be a lot of beaches closed next week for sure. We know it's Labor Day weekend. I don't see that as a negative. I think this event, from all indications, should be huge.
Q. Can you say where the China event will be if it gets signed?
RANDY BERNARD: Quindao. It's where they make all the beer. That's why I know.
Q. Can you comment on the ABC contract? Are you happy with that deal?
RANDY BERNARD: Yes, I'm very happy with the deal. You know, when you put it on paper, Curt, Rob, different guys have called me, they say, Hey, it sounds like the same deal. It isn't the same deal. I think there's a lot of areas in this we can grow our sport. Unfortunately, there's a lot of areas we can't talk about. I don't want to come out and promise something we can't deliver. But I think there's opportunities in this contract that we'll see next year that will be very big.
One thing is on our international side. In the past we've had to use ESPN around the world, if there was ESPN there. In our new contract, we're allowed to go out and sell or allow a terrestrial network to actually televise our events. That's big. We should be able to get at least double-digit growth on our international television.
Terry has made a big point that here very shortly we are going to start providing press our international numbers because I think it's staggering when you see how many people watch us outside of the United States.
Q. Randy, in regards to the $5 million challenge, was there any thought by the series brokering a deal to make something happen with another team or maybe fielding yourself with people you'd hire, like Bryan Herta?
RANDY BERNARD: With one of those drivers?
Q. With, say, Kasey Kahne.
RANDY BERNARD: We felt we were the bridge on a lot of that. We were putting Kasey with Penske. I was calling Alex. Of course, he has a great relationship with Chip. I think with Travis, we were doing the same thing. We were putting him with teams.
It was pretty impressive how many sponsors, when Travis said he was going to do it, in that three or four days there, I bet we had at least three sponsors call us asking how they could get involved with Travis. It was very impressive to me. He is a guy that definitely moves the needle.
I guess I was a little naïve on how big he is until you start looking what he's done on Facebook. When we get calls like that from sponsors, it's very impressive.
Q. I know Telemundo has been wanting to broadcast IndyCar races in the States. The existing TV contracts may have precluded that. Is that going to change now with the new deal in any way so the Hispanic market can hear the races in Spanish?
RANDY BERNARD: Actually, that's not true. The way it is, ABC, ESPN, has the international rights around the world, excluding the footprint of North America. Also on cable. So NBC Sports Network, owns their sister channel, Telemundo. There's a deal to be worked there if they want it.
Right now we've had some conversations with Telemundo. We haven't been able to get that far yet to try to get a deal done. But I think they'd be more interested in one-offs. We're not interested in that. We want the whole series if we could.