ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
Look in the dictionary under the term “Take Charge” and it will have a picture of Randy Bernard next to it.
Make no mistake, the new CEO of the Indy Racing League has taken charge and is prepared to make things happen in the IZOD IndyCar Series. And while some may have questioned how a man who made Professional Bull Riders into a growing sporting entity can do the same for IndyCar, there is no doubt Bernard is driven and determined.
And there is one word — actually a contraction — that he does not want to hear from his staff and that is “can’t.”
“I’ve been on the job now for 27 days,” Bernard said Saturday morning. “The thing I like the most about the series is the passionate levels of interest from team owners, drivers and the fan base. I love the momentum we have from Brazil with a sellout crowd and the improved television rating. We have IZOD as a title sponsor. There is a lot of momentum right now.
“My first and foremost job is to make sure we continue to build on that momentum. I’m a firm believer there is a rainbow at the end of the rainstorm.”
Those words proved to be prophetic because while Bernard spoke in the bright sunshine at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday, the dark clouds that brought heavy rain washed out Sunday’s scheduled race and move it to a soggy start Monday morning.
It’s going to take more than a rainout, however, to dampen Bernard’s enthusiasm and level of commitment for the sport. And that attitude has been evident to the team owners who have seen this sport decline during the bitter split between CART and the IRL in the mid-1990s before unifying in 2008.
“I like the guy because he’s a workaholic,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “He answers his own phone. He has a tall order in front of him.
“This isn’t his first rodeo. He gets it.”
Bernard’s 24/7/365 pace is reminiscent of a young Roger Penske.
“He is engaged every day, seven days a week,” Penske said. “Tony George did a hell of a job, but he had other interests by being a team owner and owning the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Randy is a breath of fresh air.”
Bernard isn’t afraid to meet anyone at any time and any place to determine what he needs to do to make the sport better. He called Penske on a Saturday evening and when Penske offered him a chance to speak, Bernard said, “I’ll be in your office tomorrow morning.”
“I had to tell my wife that I had to go to the office bright and early on a Sunday morning,” Penske said. “I got there pretty early and there was Randy waiting to meet me. He was like a sponge.”
Bernard describes his search for knowledge as “drinking from a fire hose” but that shows his sense and concern for getting up to speed as much as possible. And he has some big plans for the series that he believes will get it back on the front page of sporting consciousness.
“I have some ideas,” Bernard said. “We have to create bigger stars out of these drivers. I want to do that with the prize money. I think Americans are very goal-oriented. Without saying too much on what my ideas are we have to make sure that everyone understands that we are building the winners each and every week. That is very important.
“People want to see the very best drivers in the world. I want to see more Americans, but it’s important for the League to have the best drivers in the world on our tour.”
To focus on American drivers, Bernard wants to develop drivers from the very beginning of grass-roots racing — the go-karting level.
“We want the best karters, the best midget racers coming up and wanting to come back to open-wheel racing in IndyCar,” Bernard said. “That is how we are going to make sure we get great Americans over here.”