Bernard Year 2: Always looking ahead

By Dave Lewandowski

Randy Bernard’s bantam (by CEO standards) Indianapolis office is orderly with only a few mementos on shelves, which is a reflection of the detailed-oriented executive. Black-toned wood furniture and tan leather-upholstered chairs hint at an understated machismo.
It also has that scent of “new,” which is understandable. Bernard would be considered a guest at the front desk. Given a few extra flight miles and he nearly catch Steven Lindsey, commander of STS-133 that lifted off Feb. 24. In fact, on this day – his first anniversary as CEO of INDYCAR — the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights – Bernard is traveling in England and Italy.
On a recent flight to Las Vegas to unveil the IZOD Indycar World Championship program, Bernard (Southwest Airlines flight; Row 5, aisle seat … just water please) was seated long enough to answer a few questions. Did you know he admires Garth Brooks? Read on:
• Completion of Year 1, has the fire hose you were drinking from slowed to a garden hose?
A: If anything, the pressure has increased. I still have so much to learn. I don’t know in 10 years I could say I’m an expert because there is so much to learn in this industry. It’s all overwhelming when you start talking technical, and once you think you know something there are about 6,000 other facets to it that you don’t know. It’s so complex that I never want to believe that I understand it wholly. That’s why it’s so important to put good people around me. Right now, we have so many great things going for us. We’ve made quite a few changes and we’re setting up for 2012. It’s so important to make sure we continue to move forward.
• Completion of Year 1, what are your goals for INDYCAR in Year 2?
A: They are the same seven from when I started. The first one is to create a positive environment. I think we’ve done a good job, but we have to continue to grow. Second is learn the rich culture and tradition. I think I have gotten a grasp of how important it is and how we need to move toward it. Third, I want to make sure we have a consistent and successful marketing platform. I give our marketing team a great deal of credit for creating a duel-tiered platform that will go out to the endemic and the non-endemic, which means we’ll go after the motorsports fans and we’ll go after the urban dwellers and sports enthusiasts. Two different plans under one umbrella. I think it’s imperative that we reach those 15 to 20 million fans that we lost in the mid-90s, because that’s the easiest fan I think we should be able to get back. I’m hearing from fans and they’re really enjoying what we’re trying to do right now. Fourth, we have to be profitable. We have a ways to go, but it’s also something that I want to make sure that we’re not looking short term. It’s more important for me to lay a foundation and make sure that we don’t try to take short cuts in what we need to do to grow the sport to where we need to get. I’m very excited with how the industry and the sports property INDYCAR is shaping up. No. 5 was to develop relationships. I want to make sure that I’m working with team owners, drivers, sponsors, manufacturers, fans, promoters – the nucleus of our business – and address their concerns and ideas. The last is re-igniting open-wheel racing and INDYCAR. I think we did a pretty good job of re-igniting because of what the ICONIC Advisory Committee did with the new cars. We had some good storylines last year. This year, with the whole Comcast-NBC deal, I think we have some real positive things happening. I’m very optimistic that we can re-ignite and that we will become a very successful sports property.
• Looking forward, and building on those two years of accomplishments, what do you see for INDYCAR by the end of Year 5?
A: In general, I want to see our fan base continue to be as passionate or more passionate. I want to see our fan base average age about 37. Our sport has something for everybody, and we have to make sure we’re focused on delivering a great product. I want to make sure that when a fan leaves the racetrack that they’ve been entertained, they saw a great competition, they had great value and they want to come back next year. They go home and tell five people about it, and we can grow. I want to see a social media plan that rivals any sport. It is a big component of how we stay in the forefront of technology. I think at five years we’ll be rolling out a new car. I think technology and innovation is exciting for everyone; people want to hear the latest and greatest and it’s very important for our industry. I think you’ll see more than three engine manufacturers and I hope we see car counts where we actually have to have qualifications at every event to make the race. I may be dreaming, but that’s my goal. We should be profitable. We should have big ratings; we’ll have a new television deal.
• Overall, has Year 1 with INDYCAR been rewarding, fulfilling to you personally and professionally?
A: On a personal level, I didn’t have much of a personal life last year. I knew that taking the job. I don’t look back on it as a negative. My family has been very accommodating. In fact, I don’t like to look back on anything we’ve done. I’d rather look forward. In 15 years with the PBR, I never looked back until I left and it was a great feeling. And that’s the same feeling I want to have when I leave here. From a cultural standpoint, I absolutely fell in love with racing. The sport, the people, everything about it has been a dream come true. Basically, I stepped over a cliff and was told I would have a soft landing because it was such a completely different lifestyle from anything I had been in. Everyone has been very kind and helpful, and everyone wants to see the sport grow. It has that team effort, and I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent with INDYCAR.
• Who did you most admire as a youngster and who do you admire 30-plus years later?
A: From a celebrity standpoint, John Wayne. I was a huge fan of his growing up on a ranch. An athlete, Wayne Gretzky. How he captured the world in hockey. Los Angeles couldn’t sell a ticket before Wayne Gretzky, and how one person had changed a sport is pretty remarkable. From my family, my grandfather and my dad. Hard work, never afraid to work and humble describes them. As a kid, I was the type that never wanted to hang around with kids. I wanted to be where the adults were, and I got in trouble for it actually. I couldn’t grow up fast enough. I wanted to be 21 when I was 12, and not just to drink legally. I still have people I look up to. Today, it would be Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops. I love his humbleness. He’s a guy who started out selling lures out of his dad’s liquor store and turned it into a multi-billion dollar company and how he’s never changed. Sometimes I get upgraded to a big room and I want to sleep on the floor just to remember who I am. Roger Penske, I love his work ethic. He’s successful because he works hard at it. I get more calls from him than anyone. He’s been very helpful to me. The third one when it comes back to humility is Garth Brooks. He is one of the nicest guys and most humble men off-stage and the type of person I want to be like. The two other individuals who have sold that many records have overdosed and died, Elvis and Michael Jackson. Garth lives no different than you and I. I have great respect for him.

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