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(File photo) Alessandro Zanardi of Italy pushes off from the start of the men’s road cycle individual time trial at the 2012 Paralympics games in London, in September, 2012. This weekend, he will get behind the wheel of a BMW M3 DTM car for a test run at Nurburgring, becoming the first person with a disability to do so. (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)
(File photo) Alessandro Zanardi of Italy pushes off from the start of the men’s road cycle individual time trial at the 2012 Paralympics games in London, in September, 2012. This weekend, he will get behind the wheel of a BMW M3 DTM car for a test run at Nurburgring, becoming the first person with a disability to do so. (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)

Motorsports

IndyCar needs a new boss – and a new plan Add to ...

IndyCar’s post-Randy Bernard era has begun.

What the departure of the series chief executive will bring is anybody’s guess because it doesn’t seem like anyone in the head office has a plan.

Although many fans and media expected the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) board of directors, which oversees IndyCar, to make some sort of mission statement quickly after Bernard’s “resignation” was accepted, none was forthcoming.

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Bernard’s demise was announced by the IMS board following a conference call on Sunday. So far, all we know is that IMS president and Hulman & Co. chief executive Jeff Belskus is the interim IndyCar boss.

There was no hint of a new plan, no promise to outline the changes to come, and no names offered as possible candidates to replace Bernard. That’s simply not enough. As team owner Roger Penske put it, all it does is show the IMS board’s poor judgment.

With Bernard now out the door, it’s obvious his plan was not acceptable to his Hulman & Co. bosses. But you wouldn’t know it from the release announcing Bernard’s exit, praising the outgoing CEO for his tireless work turning the series around. It was so glowing that it must have left the IMS board wondering why it had let such a hard-working gem go.

Sure, no man is the IndyCar Series and Bernard was not irreplaceable. But what he did have was a long-term strategy to get IndyCar out of the shadows and back onto the main stage. And it was working.

The series finally had some momentum after years of stagnating, it had new cars to showcase, engine competition to spice things up, and some new venues to open new markets, and brought back some old ones to capitalise on IndyCar’s history.

And let’s be honest: The guy who took bull riding from a nothing sport to a force to be reckoned with could probably work some magic with a racing series. Considering that IndyCar was once one of the top racing series on the planet, Bernard’s savvy should have brought it back up, had it been given a fair chance.

And while some in the paddock wanted him gone, Bernard’s down-to-earth style earned him huge points with fans and his firing has them mad.

None of that matters now because he’s gone and his vision for IndyCar is in the dustbin. But without the IMS board telling fans and sponsors what was so wrong with the course he chose, there is no direction.

Both are understandably nervous, which means the next CEO will need to be an inspired choice.

It seems the top candidate to replace Bernard is IMS and Hulman & Co. board member Mark Miles. There’s no doubt Miles has credibility through his role as chairman of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and as the head of the Association of Tennis Professionals.

But if the knock against Bernard was his lack of a racing experience, Miles has the same problem. He has eight months in racing though his board involvement with the Speedway, making him a full two years less experienced than the guy they just booted.

He may also be seen by fans as a board insider who pushed for Bernard’s dismissal so he could take his job. Being accepted by the rank and file who buy tickets would be tough.

The other front-runner is likely Just Marketing founder Zac Brown, who would have been in charge if the takeover offer from the group led by Tony George, former IRL boss, had been accepted by the board. George submitted a bid to purchase IndyCar last month but it was not even considered by the board. He resigned from the board in mid-October, a few days after the offer expired.

Although Brown has loads of experience and success in racing through his sports sponsorship company, he will definitely be seen as George’s man.

Judging from the reaction from IndyCar’s fan base when it was thought Bernard was pushed to make way for George, putting anyone in the chair that has a remote connection to him would be nothing short of a colossal blunder.

Then again, firing your top man with no replacement in mind and no plan in place doesn’t exactly sound like business savvy either. So, fans will just have to wait and see what happens, and then decide whether IndyCar is worthy of their interest and hard-earned cash.

Zanardi continues to amaze

Fresh off his two gold and one silver medal performance in handcycling at the 2012 London Paralympics, former Formula One driver and two time CART champion Alex Zanardi continues to amaze the world with his strength of character.

The 45-year-old lost both legs in a horrific accident in the 2001 CART event at Germany’s EuroSpeedway. The two-time CART champion lost control exiting the pitlane and spun onto the track before being broadsided by Canadian Alex Tagliani. The impact ripped Zanardi’s car in two, slicing both of his legs off above the knee. Despite his massive injuries and the loss of seven litres of blood, somehow Zanardi survived.

Since his accident, the way he dealt with his disability has been inspiring.

He returned to the cockpit full-time in 2005 and raced a hand-controlled BMW 320 in the World Touring Car championship and won four times. He also became the first person with a disability to drive an F1 car in 2006 in a test with the Sauber-BMW team. This weekend, he will get behind the wheel of a BMW M3 DTM car for a test run at Nurburgring, becoming the first person with a disability to do so.

While his determination and positive outlook keep him pushing every day, it is Zanardi’s boundless generosity that sets him apart. Just ask 17-year-old quadriplegic Eric Fontanari, who learned firsthand about Zanardi’s giving character in last weekend’s Venice marathon.

When Zanardi saw the young man at the start of the marathon, he decided to forgo his shot at winning the handcycle category and instead stay alongside Fontanari to give him encouragement. When the teen could no longer turn his pedals due to muscle spasms, Zanardi found a way to attach Fontanari’s bike to the back of his and then towed him the rest of the way.

Zanardi stopped centimetres before the finish and crawled from his bike so he could push Fontanari across the line so his name would appear ahead of Zanardi’s in the official results.

A video of the final few metres is available here: http://youtu.be/CDxoq0Ud5wc

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

 

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