Pit Notes: Palace Coup

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Palace Coup

Randy Bernard personifies the visage of a rock star CEO. Youngish and handsome with a big, toothy smile who carries himself with healthy doses of confidence and folksiness, he possesses a certain charm that is hard to resist. You may not always agree with his message, but chances are you come away liking the man himself.

Many connected with the IZOD IndyCar Series – fans, track promoters, corporate sponsors, team owners, drivers and even somewhat cantankerous journalists covering the sport – feel this way about the former President and CEO who remains quite popular with the various factions that care deeply about North American open-wheel racing.

Unfortunately for Bernard's supporters, all of the goodwill he'd managed to create since being installed as its leader in February 2010 wasn't enough to keep him in his job after a group of disgruntled team owners successfully lobbied to have him removed in late October.

News of Bernard's decision to “step down,” as it was worded in a hastily-issued press release on a Sunday night caught many by surprise, myself included. In hindsight, rumours of Bernard's enemies within the paddock had consumed much of the 2012 season and several of the post-mortems in the days that followed suggested he was in trouble with some car owners as far back as late 2010.

The final month of Bernard's reign was a messy affair, kicking off with a 2013 schedule announcement featuring three doubleheaders at street circuit venues (Detroit, Houston and Toronto) that critics assailed as gimmicky and tipped the balance too much in the favour of non-ovals.

At almost the exact same time, persistent rumours that IndyCar founder and former president and CEO Tony George (a known Bernard critic) is attempting to purchase the series from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) begins to gather momentum.

Among those who are supposedly backing George's rearguard move are some of the same owners who are working to oust Bernard. George's pitch to the IMS board of directors (which has steadfastly maintained the series isn't for sale) ultimately fails, but it succeeds in drawing the board's attention to the unrest in the paddock and isolating Bernard, who proceeded to drop out of sight in the final weeks of his tenure.

So, what ultimately did Bernard in? A variety of festering issues all related to money – the cost of new cars and the parts needed to keep them running chief among them – and how much control the CEO has over the direction of the series.

In the face of mounting opposition and repeated rumours of his demise, Bernard remained defiant, stating he doesn't work for team owners, he answers to the IMS board. Besides, he could claim with some justification that he was largely responsible for the success of the new DW12 race car and the wildly entertaining season of racing it produced.

Be that as it may, the former CEO of the Professional Bull Riders learned a hard lesson about the brass knuckle politics that are as much a part of open-wheel racing as milk in victory lane at the Indianapolis 500. Team owners are notoriously hard to please and are often unwilling to bend to someone else's wishes – even if it comes from the sport's nominal leader – when they're convinced they're not being heard and it hurts their bottom line.

Wildly popular as he may be on the outside – especially among fans – Bernard found himself up against opposition that was not going to yield until he was forced out. And, while the series – now led by IMS president and CEO Jeff Belskus – has steadfastly maintained Bernard resigned, many believe he was fired.

With the help of executive search firm Boston Consulting, a committee has been struck by the IMS Board to help locate candidates to replace Bernard on a permanent basis, but no timeframe exists for the hire and no formal interviews had been conducted as of press time.

One thing seems fairly certain, however, now that the Bernard experiment has run its course. Whoever does succeed him won't be an outsider with no previous motorsports experience like he was. The team owners will want one of their own running the show next time around and it would be wrong to doubt their ability to make it happen.

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