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The Big Kahuna at IndyCar

I like sobriquets like the big kahuna or the kingpin.  They personalize and soften the people in power.  They humanize them.  After the purges and pogroms in IndyCar lately, some softening seems to be in order.

The big boss man Mark Miles has made his presence felt in the offices of IMS and IndyCar.  After the releases of Randy Bernard, Steve Shunck, and Liza Markle, it seemed that Hulman & Co. was consolidating power and cutting ties with anyone who seemed to be connected to the previous regime.  Or maybe the bean counter in charge was just saving money.  Twitter was aflame with angst.  Robin Miller was apoplectic. The general consensus of those who had dealt with any of these people was that they were friendly, helpful, and relentlessly geared to customer satisfaction.  After years of perceived mismanagement, the few hard-core fans left felt loved and appreciated.  Someone was finally listening to them.  And then the roof caved in.  Bernard was released in a clumsily organized power play, and then Jeff Belklus took over in a scene reminiscent of  Alexander Haig’s “I’m in control here” verbal gaffe, deep diving the IndyCar offices to put the house back in order.  And then Mark Miles arrived.

It is clear that the new big cheese was in charge.  As Hulman & Co. CEO, Miles rearranged the remaining management team, putting Doug Boles in as COO of IMS and Robby Greene in as COO of IndyCar.  Belklus is their immediate boss as CEO of IMS and interim CEO of IndyCar.  Mark Miles is still the potentate of all.  What Miles did is called consolidating power, and it is always the prerogative of a new boss to do so.  He needs people loyal to him, or afraid of him, in his key management positions.  He now has that.

The hard-core fans are wondering the same things.  They all have the same questions:

  • Does Miles understand racing?
  • Does he appreciate the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway?
  • Is he a tool of the Hulman-George family?
  • Is he one more in a long line of compromised leaders?
  • Can he deal with the multiple constituencies of IndyCar?
  • Does he care about the fans?
  • Will he show the fans that he cares?
  • Will he communicate a vision for the series?
  • Will he be an ivory tower leader?

Are these all the questions?  Consider what the list looks like for other constituencies.  What questions do the owners have?  The drivers?  The sponsors?  The vendors?  You can assume a list of questions just as long or longer for each of them.  The basic question is who is this guy and can he do the job?

After listening to Miles on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, I have high hopes for the reign of King Mark.  Listen to the podcast.  He was smooth, articulate, knowledgeable, and sharp.  He gave his views on the current state of IndyCar and where the series needed to go.  He did not shoot from the hip.  In many ways he was the antithesis of Randy Bernard.  He only committed to things that he was already committed too.  If he did not know the answer, he did not vamp, stutter, or make things up.  He said he didn’t know.  Refreshing.

It is clear that Miles is decisive.  He jumped on board with the IMS Tax District concept and explained it in cogent terms on the radio.  He put people in the positions he needed them.  He has released people from their employment.  He has clearly stated that IMS and IndyCar are on the same team and need to work more closely together.  Translation: you all report to me.  And don’t forget it.  The family may have found their guy: Mark Miles can make them money, bring them good PR, and finally herd all those damn cats into the corral.  And that is something Hulman & Co. desperately needs.  The family wants to have the goodwill of the community and millions of dollars in their pockets.  And they need a man like Miles to give it to them.  History has shown they have trouble doing it themselves.

We all know time will tell, but a Henry Ford quote I’ve used before seems most apropos: ““Asking ‘who ought to be the boss’ is like asking ‘who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.”  Warm up those vocal chords, Mr. Miles, you’re on.

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