IndyCar fired Randy Bernard Sunday after months of (not-so-quiet) whispers that his tenure was in jeopardy. No matter your view of the job Bernard was or wasn't doing, a great season of thrilling racing in 2012 was continuously overshadowed by junior-high levels of inanity from every corner of the sport. Times of tumult can lead to great leaps forward, but it certainly doesn't feel that way for IndyCar. Decades-long wounds are constantly poked and prodded, and could completely devour what small shards are left of the series.
What's right with the series? First, it features a deep roster of likable and relatable personalities. Second, it has a spirited duel between Chevy and Honda in a racy new chassis that produced sparkling competition. Bottom line: the racing is great. And the diverse mix of ovals, superspeedways, road and street circuits is second to none anywhere in the world. But no one seems to care.
How can a series succeed when no one involved (sanctioning body, team owners, race promoters, major sponsors) sees a profitable return? IndyCar faces a continuously shrinking audience that is aging, and is located almost entirely in or around the city of Indianapolis. While the 500 remains the greatest race in the world, the powers-that-be refuse to acknowledge the vast world that exists beyond 16th and Georgetown Road. It's not 1964... or 1994, but the echoes of those era are unmistakeable.
The next leader will have an immense climb to save the sport. One more mis-step could cripple the sport forever, swallowed whole by NASCAR and the newly configured NASCAR-controlled road racing series.
Clear, definitive leadership is needed to provide a direction forward if the sport is to regain relevance. A long-term view is essential to reach a new generation with an X-Games attention span and that doesn't share the same passionate love affair with automobiles that drove the sport after World War II.
The new leadership will have to correct television ratings that are closer to zero than whole numbers, will have to find a series sponsor that will activate and promote the sport, and create a schedule that allows promoters and teams to prosper without more than six months of downtime.
The corporate world abhors uncertainty more than nearly anything else, which means fewer sponsors on the road ahead. But, that won't be reversed until everyone in the sport agrees to let a strong leader LEAD. So, the challenge now is to hire the right person - and then give them the reins.
Who will take the helm? How will they change decades of in-fighting, immaturity and disfunction? I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I think I know where to start.