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Who’s the next INDYCAR sacrificial lamb?

August 7, 2015

Now that a week has passed since Derrick Walker announced he’ll be leaving the Verizon IndyCar Series a day after the 2015 season concludes at Sonoma Raceway August 30, there have been plenty of names tossed into the hat to be the next president of competition and operations for the series. One candidate notably demurred before the band had an opportunity to strike its instruments on his behalf – Mike Hull of Chip Ganassi Racing – while others still lie in the wings wondering if they should even bother to apply?

What does INDYCAR need in this position? My take is that, should the series choose a single individual, the primary necessity is passion. Passion for the sport as a whole, passion for INDYCAR and its dysfunctional community are necessary. A hide as thick as an elephant would be a good call, a complete engineering background – in particular with current cars – is advisable and the ability to let unnecessary evils roll off the shoulders is a must.

While Race Control needs to have a former driver familiar with current cars in the booth adjudging peers, the president of competition and operations doesn’t need to be a former competitor. What this individual does need is business sense, entertainment sensibilities and yeah, even a sense of humor (something Walker had before he came to INDYCAR and will probably regain on September 1) should be a prerequisite.

Some obvious names have already been tacked onto a wall (with darts at the ready, I’m sure): Dan Andersen, currently owner and CEO of the entire Mazda Road to Indy trio of series; Scott Atherton, IMSA president and COO; Jay Frye, chief revenue officer, Hulman Motorsports; Robert Clarke and Erik Berkman, former Honda Performance Development presidents; John Lopes of soon-to-be-shuttered Andretti Sports Marketing.

There’s also been talk of splitting the job between Brian Barnhart and Vince Kremer. The former has wide experience in the series but has managed to tick off every fan I’ve ever spoken to, as well as many competitors (one of whom gave BB a memorable salute at New Hampshire); the latter has wide experience running teams in both INDYCAR and with the Indy Lights series, but…

To those let me add this trio of underrated executives: Cal Wells, former owner of PPI Motorsports (where the late, great Jeff Krosnoff, Max Papis and Cristiano da Matta once drove) and recent employee of Michael Waltrip Racing, who got out before the team went toxic (smart move, Cal). Two former Ford Motorsports executives also come to mind: Don Hayward, who has also worked with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dan Davis, who ran Ford Motorsport when that company was extremely successful in its NHRA activities, both of whom have solid engineering background.

Also available but unlikely to accept (if even considered) is Briton Nick Hayes, former chief design engineer at Cosworth F1 and engineering development wizard with Richard Childress Racing. Hayes has all the right attributes, in particular that viable sense of humor. But would he give up his life in the UK to take on this field of schemes? I don’t think so.

It would seem to me that someone in this position needs engineering talents as well as sublime organizational skills. Walker had both of those but the piranhas in both the boardroom and the paddock helped hasten his departure – as is the norm. Although Walker signed a two-year contract and stayed a few months longer, missteps and disparagements likely shortened his tenure at this job. And those same dissensions will likely hound whoever follows him.

By Anne Proffit

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