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Holding on to hope for IndyCar's future

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INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Cars race during the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30: Cars race during the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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So there's this guy.

He's not rich. He doesn't own a Ferrari or a big house. In fact, he probably sees more of motels or his car than the apartment where his mail goes.

He doesn't earn a lot of money. He often relies on the good-heartedness of friends he has made over the years in lieu of cash. He writes his own press releases and e-mails them to a relatively small list of people who have stayed interested in his career.

He is a racer. And if you don't know his name, you probably used to.

It's been years, but at one point he was one of those guys who carried the label "promising young driver" as if it were stitched on his firesuit. He thinks about that sometimes and laughs. He's not bitter about it; there's just a bit of ironic nostalgia when he recalls it.

No matter - like many of his peers, he remains doggedly optimistic about his future. Perhaps not to the Tony Robbins-esque levels displayed like guys like Jonathan Summerton, who could probably write a self-help book from his Facebook updates and Twitter posts. But there's something about pursuing a dream - no matter how it sucks dry your wallet or forces you to live out of a suitcase for most of a year - that makes it hard to get too discouraged for too long.

He keeps in touch with some of the other guys. One of them is racing shifter karts out west and doing a hell of a fine job at it. Another one retired to pursue another dream of building a racetrack. A third barnstorms from race to race, helmet secure in its bag, seat inserts in the trunk of his rental car, hoping that someone will tap him for emergency duty.

When you think that all of them used to be fixtures on TV cameras and hero cards, you might feel a bit of the frustration that they felt as they watched their careers slowly atrophy. There are a dozen reasons why it happened. Politics, finances, younger shoes with bigger sponsorship checks... whatever the cause, the results are always the same. Critics call them "has-beens" or, more cruelly, "never-wases," and even their staunchest allies privately resign themselves to the idea that they may never see their heroes in the limelight again.

Circumstances have led some of his peers to be caustic in their criticisms of the state of modern-day auto racing. They reserve plenty of vitriol for the "bonus babies" who, they believe, have far less talent but far more ability to bribe car owners for seats that by rights should be open on merit. He's not one of those - he's perfectly content to let those other fellows crusade against the evils of ride buying. In his case, he races wherever he can until the funding runs out, and then when the next guy with a check takes over he goes looking for another opportunity.

It's not much of a career, but it's still one hell of a dream.

I'm telling you about this guy because there has been some criticism levied against Randy Bernard's administration since he took over the IndyCar reins. The "big splashes" people were expecting over the new car and engine for 2012 or for promotional ideas like the Twin 275 races at Texas aren't big enough, some say. Others say that Bernard is moving too slowly or not thinking big enough. As is typical for the IndyCar community, the initial glow surrounding the regime change has given way to second-guessing and cynicism.

This guy, however, won't be part of any of that. He's been trying for years to put together a ride for the Indy 500 and for years his proposals have met with mild interest but no follow-through. To give you an idea of how long he's been chasing down this elusive goal, Dale Earnhardt was still alive and ornery when he passed his rookie test at Indy.

This year, he's trying again... but this year is different from the past few. There is momentum behind this pitch. The interest he's getting is more than mild. The companies he's talked to have been impressed with what has happened this year in IndyCar. They see higher car counts, stronger promoter relationships, more corporate investment, fuller grandstands at most events. For the first time in a very long time, he senses that he might be spending the month of May in Gasoline Alley instead of his car on an interstate.

Anything can happen in racing. He knows that. But when hope is hard to come by, any sliver of it is something to grasp as tightly as possible, not snicker at.

So whatever Randy Bernard is doing, he hopes he keeps doing it. And maybe before too long, he'll be able to introduce himself to you again from where he belongs - behind the wheel, on the track, and balls to the wall.