The owners of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship have strongly denied media reports that Randy Bernard, its chief executive officer, has been fired by the management board.
The rumours surfaced in the online version
of the Indianapolis Business Journal
on Friday afternoon, which cited anonymous "sources familiar with the situation" to assert that Bernard had been fired on Thursday and was currently negotiating a severance package with the owners, Hulman & Company.
However, a spokesman for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - also owned by Hulman & Company - immediately denied the report and said that Bernard had categorically not been fired, and nor was any such move in prospect.
"Randy has not been terminated and his employment status is the same as it was last week and last month," Doug Boles told IBJ
and SPEED.com. "At this point, Randy is not fired. That is the case at the moment and in the future."
The Press Association
also contacted Bernard directly, who himself flatly denied the reports of his sacking or resignation. Bernard added that nor was he in the process of discussing any financial terms with the board relating to any potential departure, having said many times in the past that he would see out the full five year term of his contract.
The former CEO of the Professional Bull Riders series, Bernard was hired in 2010 on a five-year contract to replace Tony George, who is a member of the Hulman-George family and a current co-owner of Ed Carpenter Racing. George last week quit the board of Hulman & Company after it was confirmed he was fronting a takeover bid for the IndyCar Series involving a number of other team owners.
Friday's report in the IBJ
stated that the alleged sacking of Bernard as CEO this week is not connected to the buyout bid but instead stems from board dissatisfaction about the overall recent performance of IndyCar. However, it could also be a case of other parties attempting to force Bernard out by making his position untenable by a relentless media briefings against him aimed at fanning the uncertainty over the series' management and ownership.
"Come on people. Either keep Randy or fire him but this is foolish and embarrassing for the sport," current series driver Graham Rahal posted on Twitter as the latest rumours swirled around.
Bernard was brought in to stem the heavy financial losses of the series under George, but after a reduction in the losses in 2011 the series has had a number of setbacks in the last 12 months. There was the tragic death of Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon in a horror accident last October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; the departure of the series' biggest star Danica Patrick to NASCAR; a sharp decline in race attendance and TV ratings; and the disastrous showing of Lotus as one of the three engine manufacturers Bernard had brought into the championship this season.
The cost of replacement parts for the new Dallara chassis introduced this season has also been a bone of contention between Bernard and team owners, and the prospect of tyre suppliers Firestone quitting the series has also been hanging heavy over the current administration. Recent moves have seen sudden exits from the series management team of commercial director Terry Angstadt and chief operating officer Marc Koretzky, although no details were given of their reasons for leaving.
Most crucially, the last-minute cancellation by local authorities of a valuable summer race in China which would have brought in nearly $9m in sanctioning fees left a big hole in this year's accounts. All in all, it's thought that the series made a loss of more than $7m this season, after Bernard had originally pledged when appointed that the series would break even in 2012 and make a profit in 2013.
With the Hulman-George family no longer willing to sustain such a financial drain on their resources, it opens the door to serious consideration of the George-led takeover bid that would assume all the series' debts.
George is no fan of Randy Bernard and the investment group behind the takeover bid is said to have the involvement of motorsports marketer Zak Brown, who is a potential replacement for Bernard as CEO. Other mooted candidates are Andretti Autosport's executive vice president and chief operating officer John Lopes, or Daytona International Speedway's president Joie Chitwood III, a former chief operating officer at IMS for seven years when George was the CEO there.
If Bernard were to depart, IBJ
sources say that the Hulman & Company board would put a short-term contingency plan in place to keep the series running, possibly with current IMS president Jeff Belskus stepping in as interim CEO until a longer-term solution - most likely the completion of the proposed takeover - could be enacted.
But fans and supporters of the series have been rallying around the widely-liked Randy Bernard and have been notably hostile to the idea of Tony George returning to a position of control of the series. For many, George is still responsible for the schism in US open wheel racing that resulted when he set up the Indy Racing League in the 1990s to break away from CART sanctioning, a split that wasn't resolved until reunification of IRL with CART's rump Champ Car World Series in 2008, by which time the sport's popularity had nosedived in comparison with NASCAR.
Bernard recently unveiled a 19-race season for 2013, including a number of "double-header" events and the addition of a new oval race at Pocono Raceway.