New Year’s Resolutions For Mark Miles

After a nice break for Christmas and New Year’s, it’s always good to get back to normal. Part of normal for me is getting back to the routine of posting here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The offseason always seems to grind to a halt around the holidays, but now that we are into the new year – I expect things to pick up quickly. After all, just two months from today will be the first day of practice for the opening race in Brasilia.

But while we are still recovering from the past couple of weeks, I thought it would be appropriate to exploit one last holiday theme. I’m talking New Year’s resolutions. But not for me or other fans; but for someone who could probably stand to change a few things – IndyCar CEO Mark Miles.

I don’t pretend to know Mark Miles. I’m sure he is a good and decent man to know personally. Professionally, we know he did a great job spearheading the Super Bowl in Indianapolis a few years ago and he had a superb track record while heading up the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). On paper, Miles looked like an ideal choice to succeed Randy Bernard, who was unceremoniously kicked to the curb in the fall of 2012.

But the two years that have made up the Mark Miles tenure have been filled with curious moves and a return to the bunker mentality that marked the Tony George era. With helping to improve his image among fans in mind, here is a list of resolutions that Mr. Miles may want to consider posting up on his wall to serve as a guidepost for 2015. This is very unscientific, in no particular order and is based strictly on my opinion. Feel free to chime in with your own.

Stop the gimmicks – During the Miles era, we have seen an unnecessary revamp of the Indianapolis 500 qualification system, a convoluted points system stemming from the revamped qualifying format and double-points awarded at various races. All the while, fans are living in fear that a NASCAR-style “chase” format is right around the corner. Stop it, already!

Attendance and ratings are way down, but instilling silly gimmicks will do nothing but alienate the hard-core fans and not draw in any new ones. There isn’t much wrong with the current on-track product. What’s wrong is the long-term approach to promotion and marketing. It does no good to have close and exciting races if no one knows or cares about them. Manufactured and contrived drama is nothing more than putting a band aid on a severed artery. This is a more complex problem than double points at Sonoma can solve.

Discontinue the double-duty – When Mark Miles was originally appointed Chairman of the Board of Hulman & Company, it was thought that he would bring in a new CEO of IndyCar that would report to him – just as Randy Bernard reported to Jeff Belskus. Ultimately, Miles decided that he was the best man for the job at IndyCar as well as being Chairman of the Board. In my mind, that sets up a scenario of split loyalties.

Doug Boles is President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and does a very good job of it. Every fiber of his being is geared toward making every event at IMS profitable, while being a great experience for the fans. He reports directly to Mark Miles and the board. He is the layer that separates IMS from the board. He seems to be given carte blanche to do things as he sees fit, so long as he ultimately turns a substantial profit.

With Miles doing double-duty as Chairman of the Board as well as IndyCar CEO, there is no buffer. Miles is the board. There is no eye on making a great fan experience. Both eyes are on the bottom line. It seems that Mark Miles is so focused on doing things on the cheap, that the fans are the least of his concerns.

Mark Miles needs to step aside and serve solely as Chairman of the Board and hire a separate CEO for IndyCar. If he had another Doug Boles running IndyCar that reported to him, I have an idea that fans would be moved up in the list of priorities. If the new CEO went crazy with the budget, it would be up to Miles and the board to throttle things back. The way it stands now, Miles can be the voice of “No” before anything even gets tried.

Let the new-hires do their job – Fourteen months ago, it was announced that the Mark Miles “dream team” of Jay Frye and CJ O’Donnell was finally in place. Maybe my ear isn’t close enough to the ground, but it doesn’t seem that we’ve heard much from either of them since they came on board. Miles is the one who seems to always be in the forefront and at least appears to make all the decisions.

Both of these gentlemen came to IndyCar with outstanding credentials. Maybe they do their best work behind the scenes and choose to take no credit for their efforts. But fans have seen no evidence that Mark Miles is confident in turning the keys over to his team and delegating the authority that they need to effectively do their job. Running the Verizon IndyCar Series is a very demanding job, that no one person is capable of doing alone. Miles needs to realize that.

Listen to the fans and give them a voice – This may be the biggest shortcoming of all that has marked the Mark Miles era with IndyCar. One reason why Randy Bernard was so popular with fans was that he actually listened to fans and understood that with no fans, there was ultimately no series.

Please indulge me while I get on my personal soapbox for a moment. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the number of IndyCar blogs has dwindled dramatically since Mark Miles took over. Randy Bernard (or his staff) made a point to read the blogs to get a true perspective of what the fans thought and wanted. He sought out and embraced the bloggers, because he felt that they spoke for the hard-core fans of the series. The IMS Media Center had three full rows of bloggers in 2011. Just three years later this past May, three rows had dwindled to half of a row. Is that a function of bloggers being frustrated and quitting because they are no longer heard? It’s quite possible that that’s at least part of it, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

But there is no denying that the series no longer listens to fans first. Randy Bernard didn’t listen just to the wants of drivers or owners. He listened to the fans, too. Some of the things the fans wanted were good, some weren’t. But he was willing to try new ideas with the fans in mind. Standing starts and double-file restarts were just two of Bernard’s ideas. Since his ouster, everything that Randy Bernard tried has been undone due to the cries of owners and drivers. These have been replaced by playing freely with the points system. Now that the owners and drivers have their way, the buzz among fans is gone.

One prominent trait of the Tony George/Brian Barnhart regime was the arrogance shown toward the fans. They seemed to operate on the principal that this would be a great series if we didn’t have all of these fans to deal with. They operated from a bunker mentality that everything was a secret and the fans should be kept in the dark until the last possible minute. Randy Bernard removed the veil of secrecy and operated with true transparency. Sometimes that backfired, but we always knew what was going on.

This is not a “we want Randy back” rant. That ship has sailed. He is now living in Nashville and is much happier essentially serving as manager to Garth Brooks. But it serves as an illustration on how and how not to treat fans. If Mark Miles changes nothing else in his approach as to how to do his job, he needs to change his approach to fans.

Fans are not happy. They are not happy with the direction Mark Miles is taking this series. Fans feel like they are not being heard. They express their opinions on blogs, message boards, social media and other outlets; but the series keeps going in a direction that most fans don’t like – yet Mark Miles acts as if every move he makes is done with the fans in mind.

As big a fan as I am of Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee; they no longer take calls from fans. Kevin will read selected tweets and e-mails on the air, but several years ago they used to take the occasional call from fans. I would like to see them go back to maybe just one segment per week be devoted to unscreened calls from fans. Somehow, the voice of the fan needs to be heard at the top.

So, it seems I’ve started 2015 out on a contentious note. All through the holidays, I kept pondering what I would come back from my break with. When I thought about the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series season, I kept thinking about things that need to change and how those things can only change at the top. Will Mark Miles ever see this list? No, and I wouldn’t expect him to. But I think the series would be better off if he made some changes in his approach to his job. There’s no better time for him to start than at the beginning of the new year.

George Phillips

32 Responses to “New Year’s Resolutions For Mark Miles”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    Welcome back to the blogosphere. Have a prosperous, healthy new year.

  2. The problem for quite a while has been the car owners wanting to run the series.

    The gimmicks with the Month of May has been the worst because they basically have taken what has worked for many years, literally decades, and totally butchered it. This was unnecessary and I’m not sure even the car owners wanted these changes (although deep down I have to think they had their say).

    The one thing, if they did only one thing, that would have the biggest affect on the Indy 500 and Indy car would be to speed up the cars just enough to make new track records possible. I think that decision (to slow the cars down) was the worst decision made with regard to the Indy 500. And the Indy 500 is where everything begins in Indycar.

    I too noted how many blogs ended or “went dormant” in the last couple years. It reflects declining interest by the most hard core fans, as those willing to take the time to blog about the sport have to be among the most hard core fans. Its a big warning sign to those running Indycar. But I don’t think management cares, because I don’t think the car owners care.

    I think the league is in a much more critical period than they realize. Lose races like Milwaulkee or Pocono or Texas, and the league may well flatline.

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    Great post George. Wish there was an All of the Above choice in the poll. Miles is blindly following that Ill conceived consulting report which was not fan friendly. His interpretation of the ratings increase was way off the mark.

  4. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, Happy New Year to you and Susan!

    I don’t think what you wrote here is a contentious note at all. Passionate, well-thought-out opinions are why I come here and will keep coming here as long as you serve them up. You speak for so many and this stuff needs to be said, now if only someone would listen….

    You know, one thing that really bothered me about Mark Miles was this past May when things were hopping out at “The Track” and where was Miles? Helping with body and soul to move mountains so Indianapolis could stage another “Stupid Bowl” sometime in the future! On POLE DAY (I think… do they still do that?)! That spoke volumes to me.

    As far as Trackside and the fans who post comments to blogs, and others, haven’t you noticed they are pretty much all the same 35 people, half of whom are under the age of 25 and don’t really know ANYTHING about great auto racing (they weren’t around to see it) so their opinions mean nothing to me; I don’t want to read or hear about making the IndyCar Series Formula One lite! I don’t want to read or hear about reviving standing starts! I don’t want to read or hear about single file restarts! I don’t want to read or hear about how the IndyCar Series needs more and more Road and Street courses, there are about ten too many now! I don’t want to read or hear excuses why the IRL (still its real name, like NASCAR) cannot go back to ovals, MAKE them work 16th & Georgetown! Now I’ve co-hosted Trackside before and they don’t want to take calls because they would get the same ten guys calling in week after week, or month after month, and I understand that. You should listen to Donald Davidson’s The Talk of Gasoline Alley during May, it’s always the same ten guys who start calling a half an hour before the show starts (I have produced radio talk shows in my past, so I have some experience here). Can anyone say “Dave from Marion?”

    You want Miles to see this list (I DO!)! Send it to Robin Miller, he has NO PROBLEM forwarding excellent thoughts like these to Miles. Now whether or not Miles actually reads them….

    Keep it up!

    Phil Kaiser

  5. I think the biggest problem is the perplexing focus on the 500. As far as I’m concerned it is but 1 race out of many. If as much attention were paid to the rest of the races maybe the rest of the world would notice.
    Not all race fans live in Indiana, nor do they want to.
    Someone other than the owner of IMS should own the series and make the rules.

    • billytheskink Says:

      It’s all about that race. No schedule…

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      PERPLEXING? Are you serious? I really don’t care if you’re concerned or not but the Indianapolis 500 is HARDLY one race out of many. Perhaps you have missed the facts that the Indianapolis 500 is the LARGEST SINGLE DAY SPORTING EVENT IN THE WHOLE WORLD (NOT just in auto racing) and that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the WORLD’S LARGEST ARENA EVER BUILT? Do you have any understanding of the fact that if there weren’t 300,000 paid admissions in those stands on Memorial Day (have you forgotten THAT aspect of the 500 too?) that there would be NO IndyCar Series (gee, why do they call them INDY CARS?) at all? And do you HONESTLY think only people from Indiana go to the Indianapolis 500? REALLY????

      See George, this type of commenter and his posts are EXACTLY what I’m talking about in my post above: this kid obviously has NO IDEA about anything in US Open Wheel Racing and I’m tired of seeing posts like this given the time of day, I really am. I’m all for free speech (even though our Founders only meant POLITICAL SPEECH) but someone should look at these ridiculously uninformed posts and say “this is obviously a troll, there’s absolutely no truth, value or point to anything said here,” then hit the DELETE button, THAT would help all REAL Open Wheel fans’ blood pressure every morning, I assure you.


      Phil Kaiser

      • Phil, the commenter or “kid” as you call Pete1945 was merely expressing an opinion. That is allowed here. You might want to have one less bowl of grumpy flakes each morning. Sheesh!

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          And I have the right to be grumpy and call out someone expressing an opinion when they obviously know nothing about what they’re giving their opinion on. Opinions are worthless if the person opining has no actual or real understanding. Glad that’s still allowed here….

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          No Ron, he wasn’t, he was trying to stoke all us rabid “Indy 500” fans, it’s called being a “Troll.”

  6. Man I miss Randy Bernard. I remember when he was fired I told myself that I was done with the IndyCar series. That was a big deal for me because I’ve been an IndyCar fan most my life. I actually got on Facebook and announced it to everybody I knew (not that anyone cared). I just remember being very disturbed by his firing. I really liked his approach and the direction he was taking the series as some of his ideas. As you say George that ship has sailed. Unfortunately with that ship went fan recognition. I agree with you about the bunker mentality. I am completely perplexed by this all too familiar regression back to the Tony George, Brian Barnhart management style of clearly treating the fans like a necessary evil. What’s so ironic about this is if there aren’t any fans there’s no IndyCar series. Clearly Mark Miles understands this correct?

    I’d hate to be a conspiracy theorist but what if behind-the-scenes there are negotiations with the France family or someone else to buy the series? It just seems like the fans are far removed from any focus. It’s like that limbo present within a company before a takeover and employees are in a state of duress,not really sure how they are going to fit in. It seems like that’s the position of the fans are in at the moment.

    I too am concerned about the happenings in the blogosphere as of late. To me that’s disturbing sign. I’m with you George let’s start off 2015 by getting to the bottom of this. What the hell is going on!?

  7. Bruce Waine Says:

    Race what you brought ! ! !

  8. Doug gardner Says:

    Unfortunately, this will be the state of Indycar. It has been this way since the beginning and will continue. I have lived here in Indy. The powers that be could care less about anything that happens outside of 465. Sad but true. They see the series as a necessary evil and treat it as such. Yes the car owners want their say. They want to make money or at least break even. Without a strong support series this won’t happen. Thus, we must support the owners at least to help strengthen the series. NASCAR works due to their dictatorship and it wanting a strong series. The Hulman family and thus Indycar with Miles or anyone else picked by the Hulmans will never look at racing this way.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Lemme see if I read your post right… NASCAR works because of their dictatorship, buuuuuuuut let’s not have a dictatorship in IndyCar?


      Can you supply any proof the leadership at 16th & Georgetown sees the IndyCar Series as a necessary evil, or is this just another post filled with wishful thinking and supposition? Do you have an “in?” Tell us then and maybe we’ll believe you….

      Phil Kaiser

  9. Doug White Says:

    George, welcome back.

    The poll choice I wanted to see wasn’t listed: Listen to the would-be fan.

    The hardcore fans (myself included) have great ideas for making the sport more attractive to them. What IndyCar needs is new fans. Lots of them.

    I would hope that IndyCar marketing is inviting people to races, and to watch races on TV, and asking them what they like, what they don’t like, what would improve the experience for them.

    For example, I took a first-time IndyCar watcher, long-time NASCAR fan to a 1.5 mile oval race a few years ago. He LOVED the racing, saying it was far superior to any NASCAR race he’d been to. His complaint, he couldn’t tell the cars apart. He couldn’t see the numbers. The paint wasn’t distinctive enough unless the cars were right in front of you.

    Think about that for a minute… we hardcore’s know the cars by the pylon. How is a new fan to be engaged in the sport if they can’t even find the one driver he’s heard of, or met in the paddock.

    That’s just one example of what can be learned from the people that IndyCar needs to convert from one-time viewers to long-term fans. What do they like about the TV broadcast? What makes them stop and watch? What causes them to change channels? Would they sit through a 45 minute pre-race show?

    Growing the fan base must be job one for Mr. Miles.

  10. So the answer is trash the Hulman Family? If it was not for the Hulman Family and Wilbur Shaw, there would be no Indy 500 or Indycar racing. I am not saying all decisions made were correct, however Miles and his regime are taking an approach that is slow but yet steady. We all know the Car Owners can’t run it, they have already proved that. I certainly do not have the answers, but I agree with George, the fan should have a voice. Sometimes we all need to take a step back, look at the situation, evaluate before we make disparaging remarks, and go from there. Social media can be great, but in most cases, damaging remarks are made, and whatever the subject, we hurt the very sport we all love. I certainly am looking forward to going to New Orleans for the race there. Without a race there, I would probably never go to that city. I certainly am looking forward to attending both Indy races, Milwaukee and maybe Iowa. Since retirement is here, I certainly want to enjoy it. Hopefully we can all enjoy Indycar for many, many more years.

  11. do these promblems sound famailer to you? if not ill remind you wat its like. C-A-R-T. just the way it was then. if i remeber correctly one of the co-hosts of trackside said the reason they went away from the calls was youd never knew wat you would get and it could distract from the show.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      No, it’s not that, they have a call screener; it’s his job to screen out the kooks while letting Curt and Kevin know what’s up on the next call. I used to do that job in my past. The real reason they don’t want calls is because of what we see here and on other racing forums: the same 15 guys calling every week wanting to know when Road America, Phoenix or some other long gone track will be on the schedule or how many cars Indy will field this year or why isn’t Graham or Marco winning. BORING.

  12. I don’t see the series as being worse, but it certainly isn’t any better since Miles took over. Most of the improvements are the further implementation of RB regime ideas such as aero kits. The gimmicks are awful and losing standing starts is a travesty.

    On a positive note unrelated to IndyCar…How about my Buckeyes?

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      How is losing standing starts a travesty? They have them in Formula One, but the 100 year TRADITION in US Auto Racing is the Rolling Start, something invented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first Indianapolis 500.

      Formula One is on another channel….

  13. Holy crap. I’m glad to see that everybody is in a good mood to be back at work after a nice holiday break.

  14. I’d like to add to discontinue the 200-mile radius deal in the contract for Birmingham and let Andretti put on a race in Nashville.

  15. The problem with radio call in shows is you get too many boring blowhards that don’t have enough sense to ask a quick question and shut up. The audience doesn’t want to hear that.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      That is why there is tape delay editing in what is heard ‘live.’

      Any ‘boring blowhards’ are simply edited out with the flick of a switch and are not on the ‘airwaves.’

      • Maybe that’s the way it’s done now. I don’t know. But I’ve heard a lot of boring blowhards in the past on Donald Davidson’s shows, Colts call in shows, etc. I would rather just hear Cavin and Kevin and their guests on Trackside.

      • Phil Kaiser Says:

        The delay radio stations use is only from seven seconds to thirty seconds long, not enough time to take out a whole phone call….

  16. I second a lot of what George says. Alternatively, stop listening to random consultants from Boston. I would argue that Miles is worse to fans than George was, at least the Tony George of 2007-2009. But the fan thing is out of control. Yes, he needs to listen to and help the various stakeholders in Indycar. But at this point building an interesting product for fans appears to be the last thing on his list. It doesn’t have to be fans 24/7, but it would be helpful to have some sort of interest in growing the series and attracting fans.

  17. Same stuff, different year …

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      It’s been like this in IndyCar for over 40 years, it’s what happens when a family owns something of great importance to many people. Why would anyone think things will change anytime soon is beyond me, but I’ve only been passionately watching, reading about and loving auto racing since 1967, so what do I know?

      Phil Kaiser
      Home of the largest arena hosting the largest single-day sporting event in ALL THE WORLD, the Indianapolis 500! 🙂

      Same stuff indeed, Bill!

  18. […] 1/5: New Year’s Resolutions For Mark Miles […]

  19. […] few months ago, I wrote a post wondering why we rarely see or hear anything from the two “super-hires” that were hired by […]

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