Friday, February 17, 2012

Randy Bernard's Charge

There’s a point in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s regiment, who are defending Little Round Top for the Union during one of the decisive battles of the American Civil War, are exhausted. They’ve withstood repeated charges from the enemy, are low on ammunition, and have the enemy once again storming their position.

Both historically and in the movie, Chamberlain executed a maneuver that was extremely rare for the day and age; in layman’s terms, Chamberlain’s Union troops basically charged in a formation that acted as a door swinging shut on the also-exhausted Confederates. That maneuver helped save the battle, possibly the war, and by extension, the United States of America (yes, I’m a big history nerd. Stay with me here).

I’m not directly comparing INDYCAR to the American Civil War in terms of meaning or even as a pure analogy (although both certainly featured a bitter internal divide within their vastly different scopes), but I do think Chamberlain’s victory underlies an important point: when things look grim, sometimes the best thing to do is attack.

If you look at this Series around 2008-2009, there was a definitive sense of gloom, or at least a lack of overt, serious optimism. Yes, the American open wheel battle between ChampCar and the Indy Racing League had ended with a merger, but many folks didn’t seem to feel too great about it. Although there were still many good points, much of the fan base was still angry, confused, and seemingly waiting for something to change.

Since taking the helm in 2010, Randy Bernard has provided the impetus for plenty of change. Let us assess his position that cold February morning when he assumed command of what is now INDYCAR. We had a 7 year-old car, a single (albeit reliable) engine manufacturer, and more than a little concern for what might remain for American open wheel fans in a few years.

History will show when faced with this position, Randy Bernard attacked.

There's no passivity, no sense of resting on our laurels. No, not everything that's been tried has worked as intended. There have been struggles with the schedule, setbacks here and there with the new car, but the important thing remains that a flurry of directed, positive activity permeates what's going on these days.

And while much remains to do to solidify the gains made and push for new ones, INDYCAR and the IZOD IndyCar Series are entering this new season on an unprecedented upswing. Consider just a few of the items that seemed a pipe dream a few years ago:

-Full, quality car counts
-The start of an improved, viable open wheel ladder
-A new car
-Multiple engine manufacturers
-Tie-in sports programming
-Improved series financial situation
-Increasing TV ratings
-Race weekend enhancement proposals (i.e., heat races at Iowa)

Any one of those items would have seemed like a godsend just a few short years ago. We find ourselves now with a wealth of good news, victories that can sustain us and inspire us through the challenges that continue to present themselves. There's a sense that the status quo won't be good enough, and won't be accepted when there are still improvements to be made.
It hasn't all been smiles for RB, but he's stayed in the fight.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Bernard has a great team of folks around him to help make this happen, but if the buck stops at his desk for criticism, it must follow that it should do the same for praise. And while both honest fans and professional naysayers will always find items they don’t like, we can ask ourselves the same (slightly modified) question that always pops up in an election year: are you better off now (as a racing fan) than you were 4 years ago?

The battle for stability, improved racing product, and making American open wheel racing the best it can be will go on. Growth continues, but it will remain a measured, demanding task. The good news through it all is, we’re charging, and with Randy Bernard, there’s the sense that we’re at last getting to go back on the offensive.


  1. I think the thing that Chamberlin did that was so unusual was not the Hinge maneuver itself, but it was that it was led with fixed bayonetts. That tactic more common in wars 50 years before the civil war and the commonplace rifling of weapons.

  2. Not to totally derail the IndyCar topic, but talking about the Civil War is great with me!

    You make a good point in regards to bayonet usage. Although there were many charges in the Civil War, people often overestimate the lethality and usage of the bayonet in combat. Actually, the bayonet was responsible for less than 1% of all deaths in the American Civil War. Several sources indicate spades and other related entrenching tools were far more effective in close combat.

  3. I have to agree that the upswing (despite the vocal, and very negatively entrenched, minority's opinion) is good but also was needed immensely if Indycar were to survive beyond 2014.

    No question the overall result is by far a net positive thus far.

  4. I could not agree more. IndyCar needed someone who was bold and proactive in restoring the series to what it once was. There is a night and day difference between now and 2008. Is there room for improvement? Yes, but I choose to focus on the positive. Is it more productive to be positive or negative? Study after study shows being positive is more productive. Randy has the respect of the drivers, the owners and the sponsors. It has been awhile since that happened. I think the series is in good hands. Thanks for the article.

  5. I have felt very good about IndyCar the last couple years. Dans death stalled the momentum a bit but all indications are pointing to an upswing. I like the way RB carries himself and takes his position very seriously. Only problem I have is all of the negative comments posted on track forum. Not even about the series but aimed at each other. A weird battle for who is the crustiest oldest grumpiest open wheel fan. But hey awesome article keep it up. IndyCar Dominates

  6. An Indycar fan who's also a history and Civil War buff? I need to stop here more often.

    For the non history geeks among us: Joshua Chamberlain was a college professor from Maine who took a leave of absence to go join the army. If any of you all ever read Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels", you'll see Chamberlain prominently featured. Ditto if you watch the movie Gettysburg, where he's played by Jeff Daniels.

    It's worth noting that the famous charge on Little Round Top (the hill Chamberlain's regiment was defending) eventually ended up earning him the Medal of Honor. It's also worth noting that Chamberlain was highly regarded enough that he among all generals present was the one chosen to accept the "arms and colors" of Lee's army during their surrender at Appamatox. Despite not being a regular (i.e. professional career) army soldier.

    What does this have to do with Bernard? Not a blasted thing; I'm just nerding out for a moment. ;)

    1. Oh, Chamberlain's one of my favorites. Who would have thought that a history professor from Bowdoin College who volunteered for service would become one of the most distinguished officers of the war!

    2. Yep, exactly. It wasn't until I studied military history for a bit that I finally understood the significance of that. He was not a career officer, yet he was picked for that job. Over many a general who's ambition was to be in uniform for their entire life. It's like a temporary volunteer coming into your office and ending up becoming management as well as being one of the stars of the place: You have to be outstanding above and beyond what's normally expected in order to get that much recognition.

      I also loved how he was portrayed in the book. Kilrain's monologue praising him as an idealist was just amazing. Yes, true, that was pseudo-history (for people who don't know about Michael Shaara, the Killer Angels was actually historical semi-fiction in that the events really did happen, but Shaara manufactured the dialogue from scratch based on what he knew about the event) but it got across all that's known about Chamberlain in a terrific way.

  7. But going back to the state of Indycar: Sure, some purists are complaining about not enough ovals. Others are invoking the "trying CART's formula again" mantra. Still others are slinging mud mightily. Doesn't matter. There's an upswing. A driver people thought would be lost to financial reasons (Kanaan) ended up not only racing the last season, but also becoming the cornerstone of a team that appears to be adding Barrichelo this season. The new car may not be as bright, shiny a thing as people would wish, but it's *new*, is evolutionary forward in design, and is a step away from the pure spec race series that Indycar had become. What was the Versus channel suddenly has become a cable arm of a "Big Three" broadcast network, and because of that has position to advertise Indycar to a broader audience than before. There's plenty to be positive about. The only genuine, no question downer that is an undeniable step backwards from last season is the loss of Dan Wheldon. If it weren't for that, I'd say the horizon is completely sunny.

    Sure, Indycar isn't in the state where it's the unquestioned king of American autoracing. Sure, there aren't as many ovals as we'd like. Fine, the DW-12 isn't as exciting as those insane CART monsters of the 80's and early 90's. But at this point, the important thing about the series is that it doesn't feel like it's dying anymore. On the contrary, you actually get a feeling of growth.

    This is Bright Future So Nurture Now time. When you look at it that way, you can see why it's an exciting time to be a fan of the series.

    1. Obviously, Dan's loss will always be keenly felt. His being honored at St. Pete (and again at Indy, I'm sure) will be just a token of how much he'll be missed.

  8. Good article. As much as we hard-core fans bitch and moan about the specifics, it's important to keep our eyes on the big picture. Bernard isn't perfect but he's doing a great job moving the needle for Indycar.


    1. Agreed, redcar.

  9. Ken @AbuelosDeTreceFebruary 18, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    Zach, Excellent! I think it's very important that someone remind Indycar fans where we have been and how far we have come. Randy Bernard HAS made a positive impact on Indycar. Yes, we still have a ways to go, but we are heading in the right direction. Social media has enhanced this positive swing (Perhaps a new blog topic?) and the fact that Randy (and many of the drivers/temas as well) is there on Twitter... AND responds to the community is a big plus. This wasn't happening 3-4 years ago like it is today. As a fan of the Indycar series since before Mario (not Romancini) was a rookie, the last couple of years I have felt closer to the Indycar community than ever before. Imagine how I feel to have something that I suggested through Twitter actually said by Tony Kanaan at the Indy 500 awards Banquet last year... Asking the Hulman Family to "never stop having this race (the Indy 500)". This never would have happened five or ten years ago.
    Randy Bernard has experienced many of the high points of the series... and the lowest possible point Indycar has to offer (the death of a driver - Dan Wheldon RIP) and yet continues to lead in a positive direction. Many of his directed changes have helped the Indycar Series move forward, and the fact that he's willing to change or modify those ideas that aren't so great is a big plus. I like what I am seeing!

    1. Nice summary, Ken!