INDIANAPOLIS — Randy Bernard, the new CEO of the Indy Racing League, admits he knows next to nothing about racing.
The longtime head of the Professional Bull Riders Inc. feels he can turn that into an advantage.
“I’m not going to try and pretend I know anything about racing,” he said after an introductory news conference Tuesday. “If I can’t learn racing, how are we going to bring new fans into the sport and teach them racing? My job is to re-ignite America on this great open-wheel racing series.”
Bernard — whose family is from the Paso Robles and San Ardo areas and graduated from King City High School and attended Cal Poly — will get a crash course on the history of the series, which includes the Indianapolis 500 coming up in about three months.
“I will spend hours in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I will want to spend hours with past champions that will give me insight, and I will also want to spend a lot of time with fans. I want to hear their input. I want to see what they think of the sport.”
The 43-year-old Bernard spent 15 years overseeing the bull riders’ organization, helping grow the TV audience and attendance at events. He now will work with one of the biggest stars in U.S. sports, Danica Patrick, yet he said the IRL will need more than her to reach his goals.
“I think there is definitely a Danica factor, but I also want to say that it has to be our job that if there’s 22 drivers, we have to build bigger superstars with all of them,” he said. “Nothing against Danica — what she’s been able to do is unbelievable. That’s fantastic, and she’s helped open wheel racing more than you’ll ever know. I’ll look at it as, we need four or five big, big superstars like that. That has to be our job.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus didn’t mind going outside of the racing world once he saw Bernard’s accomplishments.
Under Bernard’s leadership last year, the IRL said, PBR attendance increased 12 percent and television ratings jumped 30 percent. Attendance is up 23 percent through five events in 2010.
“Randy is an experienced, successful CEO,” Belskus said. “He’s been in the sports and entertainment business. He’s a sports marketer, he’s a promoter. He’s had a lot of success with the Professional Bull Riders. We hope he can duplicate that here.”
The move caps months of turmoil. IRL founder Tony George was ousted last summer as CEO and president of the IndyCar series by the speedway board, which is controlled by his mother and sisters. Last month, he resigned from the board and the family business, Hulman & Co., and has since shut down his Vision Racing team.
Belskus said Bernard’s hiring provides stability.
“It’s very important, and Randy complements our team very well,” he said.
Belskus also said things have been looking up since IZOD became the series’ title sponsor last year, so he doesn’t expect Bernard to make sweeping moves.
“I don’t think you’ll see dramatic changes in what we’re doing, I think we’re just looking to ramp this up and change the slope of the growth here and accelerate it,” he said.
Bernard’s expectations of himself are high.
“I’ll market the sport the very best we can,” he said. “If we can’t fit more people in those seats and the ratings don’t go up, then I would say I didn’t do my job.