IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard addressed a number of the off-season issues and topics involving the IZOD IndyCar Series in a wide-ranging interview with Indianapolis radio station 1070 AM The Fan and show “The Ride with JMV.” Bernard's replies are below:
Q: So the schedule will be out…when?
Randy Bernard: The schedule will be out Thursday, with no surprises. There will be one TBA at a later date, to be announced in early February, as the last race of the year.
Q: Explain the reasons for the delay.
RB: We had planned to make the announcement on the day of the last race at Las Vegas for more publicity, but when we did that, we had the tragedy…that put the schedule on hold. We didn't know if we could run Vegas. It put us in a vulnerable position. I will promise you we'll have a schedule done in September next year. We won't have it with the last race as a publicity stunt.
We'd been keeping the teams up to date on where the races would be, so the sponsors understand it. Most races have tickets on sale already. We're not keeping it from anyone. Tomorrow we're formalizing it.
Q: Can you address the oval situation?
RB: I love the ovals. But it's sickening when you hear people say, 'Oh, Randy wants to take it back to CART/Champ Car with all street and road courses.' I know how important having ovals is – we want to define our sport as that. The ideal scenario was last year. But it's not there. They don't show up or watch on TV. We're up on our attendance, but down on ovals. We just had an extensive demographics and research study. We asked a question, as to what our fans would want to see more of, and only 15.7 percent responded more ovals. That correlated very well with the live attendance and TV levels. We need to focus on more ovals, but at the same time, position ourselves to do it. We'll take a small step back, and in 2013, you'll see more thought out and planned. It costs about $3 million to put on our events.
Q: Why do you think fans haven't come back to them in the same bulk?
RB: This blows my mind. It's a challenging question. We add Milwaukee and Loudon, and you see races like Kentucky, but it doesn't resonate in the numbers. I don't believe that about purely blaming the promoters for not promoting. For Las Vegas, I put together one of the best marketing campaigns I ever did – I had drawn 96,000 for PBR – but we had marginal success at best. We have to create successful events. It doesn't happen overnight.
Q: You haven't done much media since Oct. 16. What have been the reasons for that?
RB: I haven't done much press since Oct. 16. We can't go backward. A number of the purists or traditionalists want to question why I stopped the race. The mainstream would say it was the right call, but purists and traditionalists would say the wrong call. When it happened, the news broke out within seconds, and it would have been in poor taste to go on. The world is in a lot different place from a digital media standpoint, compared to the last fatality. It's very important to get back on our game.
It all put me on the defense for the first time in two years on the job; I prefer being on offense. I like to push new things out there. But until the investigation was done, you saw me withdraw. I don't like that, but it was what I needed to do. We had priorities we had to put in place: the schedule, the investigation, and moving forward with the new car.
We wanted to make sure we understood the problem well. Make sure it wasn't the oval that was the problem. We came away from the report, saying most ovals have one or two grooves, but this had multiple grooves.
Q: Did you ever think about quitting? Did you lose any enthusiasm?
RB: I never thought about quitting. I hear that all the time. I'm not a quitter. I have a five-year contract, and the only way I leave is if the (Hulman-George) family asks me to. I haven't lost any enthusiasm.
Q: Brian Barnhart has now been removed, so discuss that process.
RB: Brian was in the position for 16 years, and has done a great job. He has made mistakes. But everyone is human, and they'll make mistakes.
It's really no different from USAC or AAA in early days. After 16 years on the job, when you do it that long, you'll make enemies, and there's a time to go on. He's still here as president of operations. We have a brand-new car coming in, and if there was a time to bring in a new race director, this was it.
Q: There were calls Brian should be removed in season, why not do that?
RB: My opinion was that Brian did as good a job as he could and, with 16 years at that position, that's a heck of a long time. Why not replace him in midseason? That wouldn't be fair to the new race director. Whoever that is, you should let him write his rules and rulebook. By bringing them on then, and having them abide by the rules Brian set forth, would have been a mistake.
Q: Who's the name? When are you announcing that?
RB: You'll know soon, but not today. We're getting close on a name.
Q: What does that person need to bring to the table?
RB: I've learned one big thing, and that's thinking things through. This person needs to be forward thinking, strategic, responsive and quick to his feet. They need to have a very broad expertise on our sport.
Q: Where do you see the series at on the new car and improving it?
RB: The car is moving along great. There's been two very public challenges. One is the weight displacement to the rear. The front wheels will move back 2 inches and the rear an inch. That should fix about 2.5 to 3 percent of the displacement gap. We also have about 80lbs of additional drag. Our engineers believe it should be as quick or faster on road courses. The superspeedways have been about 6mph off. We have Jan. 12-13 for Windshear in Charlotte set up in the wind tunnel.
Last year's chassis cost $675,000. This one was $385,000. With $150,000 off for Indianapolis-based teams, that becomes $235,000. I listen to people like Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, and they've had many cars and chassis that have had problems. A lot was kept secret, because they worked to make it better. But now that it's a car IndyCar is in charge of, it's public, and we're not running from it.
Q: Where do you see things going now as we enter 2012?
RB: Whatever I do, there will be challenges. It was overshadowed this year that we increased TV ratings by 24 percent – that's big to get double-digit growth. We still had a 9.8 percent attendance increase, even with the ovals. Our social media has grown, for instance on YouTube we went from 6.2 million views to 13.3 million views. There are a lot of positives. The average age of our fan base decreased by three years. We need to get those things out there; in my opinion, the sport is thriving right now. Is it where it was earlier? No. But we're working on getting back there.