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Randy Bernard saddles up, takes reins of IZOD IndyCar Series

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Randy Bernard (Photo: Indy Racing League)
Randy Bernard (Photo: Indy Racing League)

A professional bull rider needs to stay on his mount at least eight seconds for a full ride. It's called the "most dangerous eight seconds in sports."

With all due respect to bull riders, eight seconds on a bucking bull may seem like child's play to Randy Bernard after spending some time trying to rein in the disparate factions of the Indy Racing League.

Bernard was announced today as the new CEO of the IRL, IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights Series at a press conference in Indianapolis.

Randy Bernard IRL CEO Press Conference

Bernard spent 15 years at the helm of Professional Bull Riders (PBR), which spun off in 1994 from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. His tenure has been marked by growth in ratings and attendance, including a 23% increase in attendance over the first five weeks of the 2010 PBR Built Ford Tough Series.

Bernard was approached for the job by Josie George, daughter of Mari Hulman George, sister to Tony, and member of the Hulman-George companies' boards. Ms. George apparently made a convincing argument to Bernard, because he agreed to take the IRL job without having ever seen an IndyCar race before and knowing next to nothing about the sport in general.

Inexperience aside, Bernard is fortunate that the PBR shares some characteristics with IndyCar racing - it is a specialized niche in a high-stakes, dangerous sport with a smallish but passionate fan base. But what is most interesting is that PBR began its life as an athlete-operated interest, established to give the bull riders more control over the sport and earn more money - a situation very similar to the formation of the CART series in 1979. Considering the similarities in ego and disparate interests that PBR athletes likely share with the IndyCar team owners, Bernard's ability to compromise and manage those interests and egos might end up being his greatest asset. Since PBR is also a VERSUS sports property, Bernard has a standing history with the network which should be a positive for the IRL.

IndyCar fans skeptical of Bernard's acumen might be heartened by the fact that Time magazine named Bernard as one of the best sports executives of 2008, thanks in large part to the fact that PBR is now a $100-million brand that is flush with sponsorship and celebrity investors like Wayne Gretzky and John Elway.

On the heels of the press conference, Bernard spoke directly to IndyCar fans in a brief YouTube video:

Randy Bernard's hiring comes at a critical moment in IndyCar history, just weeks after the resignation of Tony George from the league. While the series is flush with new money and enjoying an aggressive promotional campaign thanks to new sponsor IZOD, serious questions remain over the direction of the series and indeed its very viability in a slumping sports market and tough economic times.

The 43-year-old Bernard will take over officially on March 1, 2010.