Interim CEO insists Bernard was not sacked
2 November 2012
Jeff Belskus, the interim CEO of the IZOD IndyCar Series and president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has written an open letter to fans of the sport insisting that Randy Bernard was not fired from his position last weekend at an emergency board meeting of the owners.
"There has been, and continues to be, speculation and rumours that Randy was fired," admitted Belskus. "That is just not true. A mutual separation and an advisory role for Randy was accepted last Sunday evening in a special board meeting.
"Randy brought us fresh ideas and energizing leadership at a time when it was truly needed, and he helped us overcome the challenge of getting new cars created and competing," he continued. "We thank him for his contributions. Today, we still face challenges and are moving to address them immediately, but we also have a great opportunity and reason for hope from which we can build.
Belskus admitted that "without a doubt, the last few days have been challenging for the IndyCar community," acknowledging the sheer volume of sharp criticism that the series management has come under in the last week from media and fans, particularly over the way that Bernard's departure was handled.
Although it's been widely reported that the team owners at least were keen to see the end of Bernard's tenure as series CEO, the feeling was certainly not unanimous. There was even criticism of the way that Bernard's exit was handled from one of the leading team owners in the paddock, Roger Penske, who told the Associated Press on Monday: "I'm very disappointed in this decision; the board continues to show poor judgement. There is no future plan.
"The series had momentum. New cars, new engines and new race formats, all brought about by Randy," he added. "No business can run with a senior management change every two years."
"What Roger said was spot on, no major corporation can succeed when there's a change of executives every two or three years," concurred Rahal Letterman Lanigan co-owner Bobby Rahal. “I've never seen a series with so many good things going for it consistently shoot itself in the foot.
"We've got great races, Randy put some great people in place there and got rid of a lot of the dead wood and I would just love to know the reasoning [for Sunday's board decision]. It's just embarrassing."
But broadly speaking the team owners backed the decision for Bernard to stand down as CEO, with Michael Andretti issuing a statement reading: "We believe that the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, IMS President and CEO Jeff Belskus and the Hulman-George family will make the right decisions that leverage the many strengths of IndyCar for the benefit of the fans, teams, drivers, promoters and sponsors."
Andretti was also careful to give his thanks to Bernard for his two and a half year stewardship of the series since March 2010. "Randy worked hard to further the series; we are grateful for his time with the sport and we wish him well in his future endeavours. We supported Randy just as we will continue to support the new administration."
One senior member of the IndyCar paddock speaking to SPEED.com under condition of anonymity suggested that the reason for Bernard's departure was because he wasn't able to reliably deliver on his ambitious plans for IndyCar since becoming CEO.
"Nothing happened. He didn't follow up on anything. He didn't do the things he said he was going to do. He didn't meet timelines," was the explanation. "We're in a timeline business. People rely on you executing things on stated timelines. When Randy says he's going to do this or that and nothing happens, as time goes on, his credibility wanes.
"Yes, he answered e-mails, yes he talked with all the fans, yes he spoke glowingly to the right constituents," the source continued. "But with the constituency he needed to work hardest on - the owners and the drivers - he didn't work hard enough to meet timelines with those people."
That quote underlines one of the biggest faultlines to emerge in IndyCar over the last few weeks: the perception that Bernard was too focused on the fans and the media, and not sufficiently accommodating to team owners on issues such as the soaring cost of replacement parts from Dallara for the new DW12 chassis.
Belskus was clearly keen to ensure that Bernard's departure wasn't taken by fans as some sort of proof that they are now being relegated to a minor side consideration by the series management going forward. He said that the fans were in fact "in the most important spot of all" in terms of how the series moved forward, and insisted: "The IndyCar community must remain together as one unit. And despite our differences, owners, promoters, drivers and the series must communicate as one.
"Without you – your eyes watching our races, your social media reminders to your friends as to why you are passionate about our drivers and events, your financial sacrifice to travel to and purchase tickets to our races, and your passion to stand up, be counted and tell us your likes and concerns – we will not succeed," he said.
"We watch racing because of our drivers and the on-track action, and this year the action and excitement were plentiful," he continued. "We watch the racing for the racing. We do not want it to be about off-track politics. It is my job and the job of teams, drivers, owners and others in the IndyCar community to use our energies to get the focus on our racing."
In his open letter, published on IndyCar.com late on Thursday, Belskus said that the series would continue with the plans for 2013 that Bernard had put in place before his departure.
"We are actively executing our 2013 plan that includes new events, an experiment with double-header weekends, the return of the Triple Crown, the introduction of the movie 'Turbo' that features IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, and the Texas race being broadcast in prime time on ABC," he wrote.
"The IndyCar racing journey began more than 100 years ago, and we plan on being here for another 100 years," he added. "Together, we will power through this. And with your continued support, we will grow our sport and make IndyCar as exciting as ever."