Picking candidates for IndyCar CEO
After a rough three years, Randy Bernard was fired as IndyCar CEO on Sunday by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board of directors Sunday; Jeff Belskus was named interim CEO. In the wake of the firing, I surveyed a number of well-known motor racing executive insiders, who all requested anonymity, about who would be the best replacement for Bernard.
Scott Atherton's qualifications make him an ideal candidate to become IndyCar's next CEO. He has 27 years experience in the motor racing industry, starting with administrating a high profile sponsorship program in CART Indy Car in the middle '80s, followed by stints running the Laguna Seca, Nazareth and California Speedway tracks and, for the past 12 years, President and CEO of the American Le Mans Series.
Atherton is well respected in the motor racing industry. His name popped up every time -- usually first -- during discussions with racing insiders, and it's easy to understand why Atherton is so attractive. He's negotiated every kind of deal, sanctioning agreements with race tracks, sponsorship and television contracts. He has the contacts to hit the ground running, which IndyCar needs.
But as good as he sounds, Atherton won't be on the short list. ALMS and sports car rival Grand-Am have announced they are merging in 2014 and he's working on putting it together.
"I am fully committed to what to we're doing here with ALMS and Grand-Am," Atherton said. "I have made a commitment to Jim France and Don Panoz. To be completely candid, this opportunity to put sports car racing under a single, powerful platform has been a goal for as long as I can remember.
"The combining of Grand-Am and ALMS is a merger of cultures of personnel, practices and protocol, and we recognize the importance of getting it right the first time. Nothing else matters now. If I wasn't fully engaged in the merger process, [IndyCar] would be tempting."
Atherton would have been a prize catch, but there are other executives with racing experience who are very capable of leading IndyCar to increased marketing and media exposure -- the two areas it needs to grow exponentially to regain the prominence it had prior to the infamous split into two series in the mid-1990s. The quality of drivers and teams, the new Dallara DW12 and engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda delivered exciting racing in 2012 and provides IndyCar with a viable product to build upon. But the series must get the public to recognize it and support it. That will be the challenge for the new CEO.
Here are four executives the IMS board should consider:
Werner clearly likes challenges and has a record of success of overcoming them. He also likes racing, which is obviously a requirement for this position. Werner is the Chairman of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS), which oversees and sanctions racing under the umbrella of the worldwide sanctioning body FIA.
Clarke resigned from HPD late in 2007 to be CEO of Gil de Ferran's sports car team. Since 2008, he has been the owner and president of Clarke-Works, a motorsports consulting business that works in driver management, racing series and team business planning.
Clarke has the racing experience and leadership ability to be effective in building the IndyCar organization, including developing a more effective marketing and public relations department.
Chitwood, whose grandfather drove in seven Indy 500s between 1940 and 1950, has the overall background in racing, and understands where IndyCar has been and where it must go. He'd be ready to lead IndyCar from his first day on the job.
Craig formed a consulting company after leaving CART and has been a senior strategist for the winning Olympic bids for Vancouver in 2010, London in 2012 and Sochi in 2014. He's also kept his hand in racing by becoming a member of the FIA Touring Car Commission in 2009.