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Two For Texas – Bernard, Gossage Fire Up The IndyCar Brand

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2010

The Indy Racing League's Randy Bernard and driver Helio Castroneves introduced the Texas twofer on Tuesday. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.

Dallas – Randy Bernard smiles when he says his five-month tenure as Indy Racing League CEO has felt like five years. As the self-described “new guy on the job,” Bernard has been running full-throttle.

“ ‘Drinking water from a fire hose’ is my favorite saying, and every day it’s a new adventure,” Bernard said earlier this week, after signing-off on an idea he is convinced will give the IZOD IndyCar Series and Texas Motor Speedway a unique brand-identity next season.

Confirming a rumor that had circulated for two weeks, Bernard announced that TMS and president Eddie Gossage would play host to the inaugural Firestone Twin 275 races on Saturday night, June 11, 2011, in Fort Worth. Formerly known as the Firestone 550k, the event will consist of two full-field 275-kilometer races (171 miles/114 laps each) with two race-winners recognized by the sanctioning body. Half-points will be awarded in both races, which will be the first events run after the 95th Indianapolis 500 in May.

The doubleheader format was pioneered by the U.S. Auto Club during the late 1960s, with the Firestone Twin 275s linking open-wheel tradition to Gossage’s latest “No Limits” marketing campaign. TMS will be the only track to host a twin event on the 2011 IndyCar schedule, and Bernard said Gossage didn’t have to deliver much of a sales pitch.

“I loved it because one of the first things I wanted to make sure is that we go back to our culture and our tradition and really start pulling from some of that,” Bernard said after the official announcement at the House of Blues. “I think in the early 1990s, even before the split (with Championship Auto Racing Teams), that we were alienating ourselves from the beer-drinker and the Wal-mart crowd, in my opinion. And what we need to do is make sure that we touch not only all fan bases (but also) do as much as we can to bring back some of the traditions of the past. I think this makes it fun. It gives it its own brand identity…it’s double-value as well.”

Gossage, who introduced IndyCar to night racing with the series’ first event at TMS in June 1997, said the doubleheader format is one he quietly has been pursuing for several years.

“When Randy and I had dinner in Fort Worth back in January – when he first took the job and was in town for his last Professional Bull Riders event – we talked for three hours,” Gossage said. “And one of the things he said was, ‘What is it you want to do that you haven’t been able to do?’ We talked about two or three things and one of them was the Twins. He said, ‘Why not?’ Once he did a little homework he said this isn’t without precedent. And I knew that, but he liked it a lot. Randy’s a promoter and I like that about him. He gets it.”

Prior to officially joining the IRL on March 1, Bernard served as CEO of the Professional Bull Riders, Inc., a post he held since 1995. Once on the job with IndyCar, Bernard implemented an across-the-board search for fresh marketing approaches. “I was a big advocate of this (doubleheader) idea,” Bernard said. “I said, ‘Eddie, this is exactly the type of thing that we need to do.’ We need to have some events that have their own brand identity, that give a reason why people will travel a distance further to pick one or two events in the year to go to.”

There were 17 doubleheaders (including nine on ovals) run under USAC and CART sanction from 1967-1981, with a driver sweeping both races 10 times. The grid for the second race was determined by finishing order in the first contest in all 17 events.

Brian Barnhart, IndyCar’s president of competition and racing operations, has yet to determine how the starting field for either or both races on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval will be conducted, along with the time allotment between races. Bernard, however, suggested that a one-hour break makes the most sense for an event that will be televised live on VERSUS beginning at 8 p.m., CDT.

“I talked to (a few bigger) teams and the one thing they wanted was to make sure that we put an hour in-between (races) so that if there was a problem with the car they had enough time to switch an engine out,” Bernard said.

Other issues to be addressed include the use of backup cars in the event of a first-race crash and repairs between races. “There’s quite a few open-ended (issues),” Bernard said. “I want to do some more polling to the teams. I want to make sure that our chief steward (Barnhart) and some of our key people, including Eddie, are involved in those decisions. I don’t want to make quick decisions that cost us in the end.

“What we really wanted to do here was make sure we put this out. We know it’s a great idea, but we also want to make sure we do it right. We’re going to have to take our time and make sure we get our rules exactly right on this.”

While three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves admittedly was unaware of open-wheel’s doubleheader history, the Brazilian was enthused by the concept.

“You know, nothing is created (new), everything is copied and kind of modernized. That’s probably Eddie’s philosophy,” said Castroneves, of Team Penske, who has won three of 12 starts at TMS. “I think it’s great for the spectators to have two races in one day. It’s definitely going to be a sprint, you know? It’s going to be not much of a strategy. You just got to position yourself in the front and try never to look back.

“It will be extremely hard, because if it is a 45-minute race, you have the fuel strategy kind of going away, you’re not going to save tires, you’re not going to save equipment. You’re just going to go for it. And probably that’s what the fans are expecting, too. And I have to say, for you to create some type of a buzz and spice it up a little bit, this is what we need. And you got to give it up to Eddie. Certainly, it’s a good idea. Certainly, you got to try.”

In addition, Bernard announced that IndyCar will return in 2011 to giving the teams an off-week between the Indy 500 and the Texas race weekend. That format was in-place beginning with TMS’ inaugural season in 1997 through 2005. The IndyCar Series has raced at O. Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. facility in Cowtown 21 times, including twice in the same season seven times.

“I think that we owed it to Eddie,” Bernard said of the extra week off. “Let’s give Eddie every opportunity to make this as big as he can. From my standpoint, it was a very easy call. It allows teams a chance to rest, it allows them time to rebuild their cars if they have a bad wreck at Indy. So there were too many positives in it to not give it the opportunity this race deserves.”

Gossage said the extra week of downtime will allow promotion of the new Indy 500 champion nationally and in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, as well as generate buzz for the series’ historic first doubleheader. “So now we’re going to have two weeks to celebrate the new Indy 500 champion to talk about his or her accomplishments and what’s going to happen next Saturday night,” Gossage said. “Nobody knows. Twin 275s…what’s the strategy…how’s it going to play out? The unknown is always a great promotional tool.

“I think it’s just different. Who knows, it may not be the thing we hope it will be, but we’re going to give it a try.”

Indy-car racing doubleheaders with race winners

U.S. Auto Club sanction

July 1, 1967: Mosport, Canada (road-course; Bobby Unser and Bobby Unser)

Aug. 6, 1967: St. Jovite, Canada (road-course; Mario Andretti and Mario Andretti)

June 15, 1968: Mosport, Canada (road-course; Dan Gurney and Dan Gurney)

July 21, 1968: Indianapolis Raceway Park (road-course; Al Unser and Al Unser)

July 28, 1968: Langhorne, Pa. (oval; Al Unser and Al Unser)

Aug. 4, 1968: St. Jovite, Canada (road-course; Mario Andretti and Mario Andretti)

July 27, 1969: Indianapolis Raceway Park (road-course; Dan Gurney and Peter Revson)

Sept. 14, 1969: Brainerd, Minn. (road-course; Gordon Johncock and Dan Gurney)

Oct. 19, 1969: Kent, Wash. (road-course; Mario Andretti and Al Unser)

Feb. 28, 1971: Rafaela, Argentina (oval; Al Unser and Al Unser)

April 15, 1973: Trenton, N.J. (oval; A.J. Foyt Jr. and Mario Andretti)

Sept. 16, 1973: Michigan International Speedway (oval; Billy Vukovich and Johnny Rutherford)

Sept. 22, 1974: Trenton, N.J. (oval; A.J. Foyt Jr. and Bobby Unser)

Championship Auto Racing Teams sanction

April 22, 1979: Atlanta Motor Speedway (oval; Johnny Rutherford and Johnny Rutherford)

June 10, 1979: Trenton, N.J. (oval; Bobby Unser and Bobby Unser)

July 15, 1979: Michigan International Speedway (oval; Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser)

June 28, 1981: Atlanta Motor Speedway (oval; Rick Mears and Rick Mears)

Note: “Twin” races were held as qualifying events for the Ontario (Calif.) 500-milers of 1973, ‘74 and ‘75, but they employed odd-and-even qualifiers rather than all contestants together in the same races.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2010
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