SBD/October 24, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard Comes Under Fire Following Wheldon's Death

Some racing execs are considering keeping Bernard on a "shorter leash"
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard in his short tenure has “signed big-ticket sponsors, added a popular street race and new car designs, and stanched the slide in attendance and television ratings,” but Dan Wheldon’s death has left behind "bitterness and finger-pointing," according to the N.Y. TIMES’ Belson & Garrett, who wrote under the header, “Aftermath: A Driver’s Death Has Raised Questions About IndyCar’s Leader.” Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dir of Communications Jeff Motley said, “This wasn’t even our event. But they’ve left us to be the only ones to answer for this. There is such a thing as Crisis Management 101. And they flunked it.” LVMS leased its track to IndyCar for the season-ending race. Eager to “shake things up, Bernard worked his Rolodex relentlessly, regularly held predawn conference calls and fired off e-mails while others were asleep.” Bernard previously had stated that he would resign if the Oct. 16 race didn’t triple the TV ratings from last season’s finale, but an IndyCar spokesperson “would not say whether Bernard would make good on his promise and resign.” Several execs in the sport have “urged caution about rushing to conclusions about blame or reforms.” Belson & Garrett wrote what “is clear, though, is that emotions remain raw.” Some racing execs who “were skeptical of Bernard’s tactics are mulling his ouster, while others are considering keeping him on a shorter leash.” ESPN analyst Scott Goodyear said, “I think this is going to be a wake-up call that could lead to some massive changes. There was the same reaction when Dale Earnhardt was killed and changes were implemented” (N.Y. TIMES, 10/23).

BLAME GAME: In L.A., Jim Peltz writes Bernard was "inundated with hate mail" following Wheldon's death. But as IndyCar began an investigation into the crash, others said that “neither Bernard nor his promotion was the culprit, although safety changes should be addressed.” Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker said, "The blame game needs to stop so the energy can be turned toward learning from this incident and making the sport safer and stronger." NASCAR driver Tony Stewart said, "Randy Bernard has been getting beat up over it and he shouldn't." Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach President & CEO Jim Michaelian said, "To ascribe blame in any way to Randy for what transpired in that tragic incident in Las Vegas I think is unfair" (L.A. TIMES, 10/24). The AP’s Tim Dahlberg wrote, “Sometimes it takes a death to change things.” Change “can't come about until the mistakes of the past are examined and measures are taken to make sure they're not repeated.” Change is “already underway with a new car for next year that reportedly will include a reinforced cockpit and partly enclosed wheels” (AP, 10/23).

BIDDING FAREWELL: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin notes Wheldon's “lighter side was on display in a memorial service at Conseco Fieldhouse,” and there were “more laughs than tears.” There were an “estimated 3,000 attendees at the 90-minute memorial” yesterday (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 10/24). In St. Petersburg, Jamal Thalji noted a funeral was held for Wheldon on Saturday in the city and IndyCar founder Tony George, team Owner Roger Penske and Bernard were “all in attendance.” Wheldon's pallbearers included drivers Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. Danica Patrick “was also there” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/23).
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