We’re coming off of the best Indianapolis 500 we’ve seen in years. The new Dallara DW12 is incredibly racy on all tracks, providing drivers with passing opportunities. Speaking of “DW,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave the late Dan Wheldon a fantastic tribute on Sunday, with former owner Bryan Herta driving his 500-winning car from last year around the track one more time. The payoff was an 8% increase in TV ratings and plenty of momentum as the series heads into its busiest month of the season.
So why are we looking at status quo?
Multiple sources – including AP writer Jenna Fryer as far back as May 21 and Robin Miller in a radio interview yesterday – are suggesting that, in the wake of Honda’s successful appeal to adjust the turbochargers on its engine, Chevrolet IndyCar owners want IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard out of a job. Bernard has confirmed it in a tweet:
Bernard, Fryer, and numerous others have said that the owner is not Roger Penske, arguably the series’ biggest power player and winner of the first four races of the season before Honda received its engine alterations. Rumblings suggest that the culprit could be Tony George, IndyCar founder and current co-owner of Ed Carpenter Racing, though Carpenter, his stepson, has taken to Twitter to vehemently deny the allegations and plead with fans to make 500 winner Dario Franchitti, not Bernard, the story of the week.
Beyond that, the culprit is anyone’s guess. Michael Andretti now promotes two races, Milwaukee and Baltimore, so unless he has a power trip in mind, it doesn’t seem like he would be the culprit. Kevin Kalkhoven used to run the Champ Car World Series before merging it into IndyCar in 2008, and could be unsatisfied with the sport’s direction. John Barnes of Panther Racing was recently fined $20,000 for a tweet critical of the series, but many have suggested that it’s not him.
Sadly, whoever is responsible for the unrest in the IndyCar owners’ community seems to forget how poorly an owner-led series has worked out for American open-wheel racing in the past. The hubris of the former CART series, especially in its ill-fated attempt to launch a rival to the Indianapolis 500, eventually led to its downfall as its biggest teams eventually began to defect to get back to Indianapolis. George, however, created a decade-long rift in the sport that utterly destroyed what had been a feasible rival in popularity to NASCAR and in talent to Formula 1.
The result is a series that struggles to attract attention, merely flirts with stability, and could be completely ruined with one stupid move. Ousting Bernard could prove to be that move.
While Bernard hasn’t been perfect since taking over IndyCar in 2010, the advances seem to greatly outnumber the detriments. He established the ICONIC committee, which led the series to select the car and engine specifications that have performed so well this year. He landed series title sponsor Izod, as well as a host of other partners, and has overseen a car count that has increased every season.
He took a lot of blame for creating the conditions that contributed to Wheldon’s passing in Las Vegas last season, but many factors – not just the ones that Bernard created by establishing a $5 million prize if Wheldon could win the race – contributed to that accident. This year, the chief complaint has been Lotus’ failure to provide a competitive engine, but that has very little to do with Bernard, who had no control over when the company began to build its engines or its sale, which halted development for 45 days as its finances were frozen.
So instead of celebrating Franchitti’s win in the most exciting Indianapolis 500 in years, we’re stuck with psychoanalyzing an ownership group that has lived up to the “psycho” end of the term for decades. Unrest in IndyCar management is an accepted part of fandom these days, and most fans are desensitized to the whining after 12 full seasons of two series whose initial sum was far greater than any of its parts. But that doesn’t make the complaints any less ridiculous – not after all that Bernard has done to help try and turn the series around.
Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail (perhaps if aforementioned anonymous owner’s team scores a victory this weekend at Detroit) and this will be a non-story by next week. If not, this may be a long year – and IndyCar may have a short future.
- Chris Leone