Brian’s Song: The Return & Other Tidbits

There was already plenty to write about for today, with the return of Brian Barnhart. Then we heard about the cancellation of the season-opening race in Brazil, late yesterday afternoon. Since this is still a developing story as I sit down to write, I’ll continue with my plan to write about Brian Barnhart and what I think this means to the Verizon IndyCar Series. But by Monday, there should be enough facts in hand to have a pretty good handle on exactly what happened with Brazil.

Since the news broke less than forty-eight hours ago that Brian Barnhart would be named as Race Director for the Verizon IndyCar Series, there has been nothing but hand-wringing on social media for the past two days.

Wednesday morning – John Oreovicz, of ESPN, tweeted out a tease that Wednesday afternoon, IndyCar fans would be told news that would make us think it was either April Fool’s Day or Groundhog Day. I had no idea what it was. I surmised that either the aero kits were going to be delayed or else the opening race at Brasilia had been cancelled.

I didn’t know I was so prophetic, but as I mentioned earlier – we learned late yesterday afternoon that Brasilia has, in fact, been cancelled. That was not the news that was forthcoming Wednesday. We’ve had two bombshells in two days. Quite honestly, the loss of the Brazil race is the bigger bombshell. As I said – I’ll have much, much more to say about this latest debacle on Monday.

An hour or so after the teasing tweet, Curt Cavin broke the news about Barnhart. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a (bleep)-storm as I saw that day. The Legions of the Miserable were out in force. One thing was apparent – IndyCar fans are still very passionate; even in January.

I will admit, my initial reaction was not much different from those I was reading – it just wasn’t as strong. I wasn’t horrified like some, but I wasn’t particularly overjoyed either. Like everyone, I’ve taken my share of shots at Barnhart – some cheaper than others. Let’s face it – he’s a very easy target.

Most people associate Barnhart with a quick trigger for penalties and a very rigid and inflexible stance. He’s been given nicknames like The Iron Hand of Justice and TGBB (The Great Brian Barnhart). Those detractors are not incorrect in that association, but my bad taste comes from a slightly different direction.

Lately, I’ve referred to this current administration as returning to the “bunker mentality” of the Tony George administration. That is what I most associate Barnhart with – that bunker mentality. In the Tony George regime, my perception was that Barnhart was Tony George’s right-hand man and that he really enjoyed being that close to the throne. The two of them pretty much made all decisions, and if no one liked it – tough! To me, it seemed that their viewpoint was “this would be a great series, if we didn’t have all these fans we had to deal with”.

Since hearing Tony George speak was about as inspiring as a forty-pound bag of fertilizer; Barnhart was essentially the face and voice of the series. And more times than not, his messages were not pleasant. It didn’t matter who was the originator of the message – Barnhart was the messenger. Therefore he was always associated with negativity, deserved or not. If I had to narrow down the Tony George/Brian Barnhart era of the last decade to one word, it would be – arrogance.

When Tony George was ousted in 2009 and subsequently replaced by Randy Bernard in 2010, Brian Barnhart was operating alone without his main supporter. I am not a psychologist, so I don’t know if George’s absence exacerbated Barnhart’s behavior – but it sure seemed that Barnhart’s race officiating became a lot more visible…and more horrendous.

To make things worse, the more Barnhart was criticized – the more he dug in. His word was final, and he knew it. If anyone questioned his calls, his resolve strengthened and he turned a deaf ear to the criticism. Fans, owners and even drivers were scoffed at. They knew nothing and should not even be listened to – at least that was my perception.

After the debacle at New Hampshire in 2011, it was reported that Randy Bernard had fired Barnhart during the offseason. As it turned out, that wasn’t quite true. He was removed as Director of Race Control, but was still head of Racing Operations. Last year, he was in the rotation to serve as one of three stewards at IndyCar races.

As best I can tell, his new title effectively makes him Chief Steward of the total three stewards at any given race. It’s unclear to me if he is one vote of three or the deciding vote. Whatever the case, he no longer has the last word. That now belongs to Derrick Walker, his boss. As I understand it, Walker has the ability to override any decision of the stewards. That’s a good thing if points are taken away from a driver or if the finishing order is changed to reflect a penalty. I’m not sure what happens if Barnhart issues the random drive-through penalty for a foul a driver didn’t commit. Once the penalty has been enforced, they can’t really give the positions lost back to the driver. I suppose that remains to be seen.

Getting back to the big picture, is the angst that has been displayed throughout the IndyCar fandom really justified? Many feel that it is. I’m not so sure.

There are some that say that Barnhart has been rehabilitated and has changed his ways. I believe in second chances and all, but I also think that it’s pretty tough to change your core personality. To quote coach Bill Parcells – “You are what you are”.

Among what’s left of the IndyCar blogging community, I think I had less contact with Brian Barnhart than anyone. I’ve met him twice, just long enough to shake his hand; each time the morning before a race – and he had no clue who I was. Other bloggers and former bloggers have apparently had much more interaction with Barnhart than I have. But there is one common thread between those I’ve communicated with over the years – they all had good things to say about him. He is described as very accommodating, pleasant and easy to work with.

I also know some folks, whose judgment I trust, who count Brian Barnhart as a personal friend. They describe him as a good and decent man. They also say they are surprised he took the job that will throw him back into the spotlight he has purposely avoided for the past three years. It probably illustrates that not many people were lining up to apply for the job. It’s a very thankless job that few people would want. Who would want it? I wouldn’t.

The other night on Trackside, Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee made it a point to mention that even though this is not popular with fans, no one in the paddock is complaining. Barnhart is well-respected there – which is where it counts. I always questioned the integrity of a Chief Steward that had a Twitter account and wanted to be popular.

So while I think it’s tough to change your core personality, it can be controlled with hard work and discipline. People do learn from their mistakes. Over time, it becomes easier to control your emotions and resist your natural instinct. As we get older, common sense begins to override the first impulse to go through our head.

For example, I used to be considered an opinionated hot-head that needed a filter. Lately, I’ve grown into the tranquil teddy bear that everyone has come to know. I’ve learned to override my temper and my mouth with time and age. Only occasionally does the inner me surface. For those that are humorly challenged and tend to take everything literally – this paragraph is very tongue-in-cheek.

But it does prove a point. We may make it through the Indianapolis 500, Texas and Iowa without a problem. The system of three stewards with Barnhart in charge may work beautifully. But at some point, when there is a controversial moment that requires a tough call to be made, the inner Barnhart could surface. Will the new and improved Brian Barnhart be able to suppress the inner Brian Barnhart that lurks within? Let’s hope so. Time will tell.

Now that Barnhart has returned and we’ve lost the Brazil race, I’m hoping the aero kits are still on deck for St. Petersburg. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

39 Responses to “Brian’s Song: The Return & Other Tidbits”

  1. It is clear that the series was not willing and or able to secure a suitable replacement for the position. So BB once again takes one for the team and by doing so saves the series another large salary and transfers the headache to Derrick Walker. Mr Walker is going to be one busy SOB reviewing, explaining and overturning decisions made by BB and I dont envy him that job. One bright spot is that at east the season has now become one race shorter and that is after all what the brass over at the IMS have been shooting for….

  2. Doug Gardner Says:

    I am afraid that Miles and Walker are running the series into the ground on purpose. Sponsors, what little there are available hate the short season. TV ratings and package are terrible which leads to less money and less sponsors. And the churning in background and underground is that IMS would be fine with the series going down. Thus , making the Indy500 a stand alon event wioth very open rules and a massive top of the world purse to lure worldwide involvement. If that happens we essentially go back to the innovation go the 60’s-70’s which is great for the 500. The rest of open wheel fandom will be left with nothing.

    • IIf this was all about IMS running everything, Tony George would still be at the helm. So I don’t think that’s it. However they reelly should find a way to do just what you said (open rules etc. for the 500) while still keeping IMS part of the series. That is becoming harder to do because of the emphasis on road/street courses which is car owner driven.

      The series does seem to be on the wrong track, but so is IMS. That consulting group they hired should be sued for malpractice.

  3. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

  4. The one thing that worries me about the return of Brian Barnhart to the top of Race Control is the way in which a situation of parity between the two new competing aero kits is going to be established, not on road and street courses, mind you, but on ovals. Please: no more pack racing. Walker and Barnhart need to officiate the aero kits for each oval track very carefully. This has been one of the strengths of Beaux Barfield ever since Texas Motor Speedway is not a pack racing fest anymore. But maybe I should just shut up because I haven’t got a clue how much credit for that should really be given to Brian Barnhart for his work as Director of Racing Operations which he held then.

  5. As long as the owners and drivers are supportive of Barnhart, then so am I.

    • The Lapper Says:

      I agree with you 100%!!!

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      I haven’t read any legitimate QUOTES from any driver or owner (Barnhart’s former boss Penske does not count) saying he’s the right man for the job and should be welcomed back. I’d like to hear what Wil Power and Castroneves say IN PRIVATE about the guy. They are Penske employees so they won’t say anything about him in public these days….

      Phil Kaiser

  6. Addendum:

    I guess if Barnhart would re-introduce double-file restarts at all tracks and get rid of the restart line rule from NASCAR, the fans would suddenly love him.

    And a cancellation of the Brazil race had been on the cards since December when photos of the current state of the racetrack were tweeted. Here’s hoping they can at least finish the circuit for next year and that the event is not called off completely.

  7. sorry, I know it’s off-topic for now, but just read about the Brazil race being cancelled and that does bother me. it makes Indycar continue to seem unstable and amateur and I blame Mark Miles.

    After NOLA is cancelled, he’ll be down to about eight races, right?

  8. What is the definition of … INSANITY?

    We all will be treated to MORE WILLFUL EGO from Race Control as opposed to less.

    So, so stupid this IndyCar Series decision is:

    A definite step backwards!

    Lack of evolution and competitive maturity of the IndyCar sport – I contend, the only real aerodynamic effect that will matter in this 2015 season will be the HOT AIR of penalties emanating from the Race Control tower … not the monolithic nature found in the DW12 aero-kits manufactured exclusively by Dallara, the requested kits by Chevy and Honda (also manufactured exclusively by Dallara), and lastly, the team modified suggestions that are then fed and discussed with Chevy and Honda (also manufactured exclusively by Dallara)!

    Anyone have an “in” at the NSA?

    The depth of the point being made centers around the minor variances in the nature of the aero-kits (the vast majority of the aero-kits will be standard and dictated by Dallara as per Honda engineers during the VICS finale at ACS). More races will be decided by Race Control with this latest appointment (based upon a well known history) than will be decided by the potential and perceived advantages provided through variances of the added aero-kits.

  9. Surprised by Barnhart, not surprised by Brazil. Neither elated or despondent over both events. Amused at the extremes of the reactions. Agree with others that there probably weren’t a lot of resumes flooding in for the chief steward spot in IndyCar.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Wow, that was insightful, and really going out on a limb there…(yawn, stretch…)!

      Don’t strain yourself there, Bill! So glad you could take the time out of your busy day to share that non-opinion with us!

      Can you tell I’m pi$$ed you don’t still do your own blog?

      Phil Kaiser

      • Phil maybe you should start your own Indycar blog. You seem to be the smartest guy in the room. Please share your vast knowledge with all of us.

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          I’m glad you finally caught on, lol!

          I don’t pretend to be the smartest guy in the room, otherwise, I’D HAVE A BLOG, LOL! DUH! Besides, I actually have a full and vibrant life and cannot afford to put in the time to do it right (right P’Dog?). But I do have a vast knowledge of Open Wheel racing from over 40 years of attending, watching and reading voraciously (that means a lot) about it. Sorry I was there and you weren’t!

          But, see, when someone comes on here who obviously has mega-skills in the blog world (I’m talking to YOU, P’Dog) and delivers a non-opinion to me smacks of someone who just likes to read what he wrote on someone else’s blog when he should be taking his time to think his opinion through then post it on HIS OWN BLOG! Re-read what he posted: “Surprised by Barnhart, not surprised by Brazil (wow). Neither elated or despondent over both events (yawn). Amused at the extremes of the reactions (who cares?). Agree with others that there probably weren’t a lot of resumes flooding in for the chief steward spot in IndyCar (now THERE’S a tough stance).”

          Oh boy! Now you guys can all be mad at me for pointing this out, but I expect more outta P’Dog, I’m sorry. I have never put myself out there as some know-it-all blogger; I just respond to what I read here honestly, whether I like you or not. HE decided to pack in his Blog then comes on here to dish out some half-baked nothing because he cannot completely step away from this world. And you’re mad at ME?


      • Blogs are free and easy to do. you should fire one up, Phil. Fill (har) the void.

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          I was leaving that up to people like you who did it VERY WELL!

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          If they are so easy why did you pull the plug on your incredibly good Blog? Don’t bother, I already read your “goodbye,” and it irritates the hell outta me 🙂

      • Phil, It seems that perhaps you have too much time on your hands, unlike Bill. I am amused by the extreme of your reactions. Perhaps you could find some footballs to inflate. I reacted exactly the same way as Bill. Neither develpment was unexpected. I was not surprised by either.

  10. billytheskink Says:

    Barnhart is badly damaged goods with the fans, and considering how clearly unpopular many of his decisions were with drivers and teams in the past, I cannot imagine that he is quite as well-respected in the paddock as is claimed.

    That said, I do not expect his officiating to be as consistently controversial this time around, because he likely learned something from his demotion and because Walker and the other stewards will provide a bit of a safety net for him. Still, the moment race control makes a bad decision, the fans and drivers will lay the blame at Barnhart’s feet, and understandably so.

    I think the worst thing about this news is that at best we are discussing how it might not be that bad. That’s more than we can say for the Brasilia news.

  11. I know that my post will p*ss some of my fellow IndyCar fans off, but I don’t think it was about the lack of resumes. I think that Barnhart was the right man for the job. Why? Because Derrick Walker said so. I know that in some cases a manager can not do a proper job with a superior who is an idiot. People blame BB for everything, but when those bad decisions took place he was NOT in charge. Think about it.

  12. After the Randy Bernard fiasco I pretty much drifted away from IndyCar and under the influence of my girl friend started following NASCAR. NASCAR has its warts but my perception is that one of the primary differences between the two series and may explain why NASCAR has a bigger following is that NASCAR management does what the fans want regardless of what the drivers and owners want whereas IndyCar management does what the drivers and owners want regardless of what the fans want. The Barnhart appointment and the Penske and Cindric quotes, whether accurate or not, reinforces this perception for me. The Brazil situation is just another fiasco in a long line of fiascos and makes the management look like they can’t keep things under control. The whole situation is made even worse when one gets most of their information first from sources outside of the series. Does IndyCar not have a PR or media department? Why can’t they get out in front of this stuff so they at least appear to know what’s going on?

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Because they’re a “mom & pop” business that is used to having the biggest pie in the world (the Indianapolis 500) and nobody telling them what to do because it always worked so well in the past. They don’t care if people think they know what’s going on because in the end people will still flock to the cash cow every Memorial weekend. It really is that simple….

  13. The series needs to get its act together and make coherent statements, and stop this BS of stating one thing and doing another.

    There is no “chief steward”. There is a Race Director and a panel of three stewards, one of whom is appointed Senior Steward for the event by the President of Competition and Operations (DJW.)

    The 2015 rule book states there are three stewards and defines the qualifications and duties of the stewards but does not state that the Race Director must be one of them. On the other hand, the rule book doesn’t similarly spell out all the duties of the Race Director in any section (someone please correct me if you can find that.)

    And Walker stated this regarding Race Control as now organized to RACER when the announcement was made: “The process allows the Race Director to focus on running the race, without the double-duty of reviewing multiple replays and simultaneously trying to make a call. …” He also commented last fall, I believe after attending the USGP, that the steward program would be “expanded” in 2015.

    Seems to me that implies BB, as Race Director, is not necessarily one of the stewards at all.

    As far as I am concerned, Indycar should follow the lead of F1 and other series, in that the Race Director’s attention is never diverted from the immediate issues on track….and leaves the entire assessment of infractions and penalties to an independent panel of three stewards.

    But then again, with BB’s record of questionable calls on track condition, or open/closed pits, or extended yellows for certain individuals, he’s always going to be scrutinized and second guessed in that role in and of itself, too.

  14. Wow. What a delightful set of comments. I think maybe I’ll just see everybody in March, when we have an actual race to talk about.

  15. hey george . normally we agree on most things but when i hear this that tony and brain were defesive cant you see why ? most of the open wheelpress was beating them on everything they did. arrogence thats a word that did and still does apply to both sides. look at the ics now and look back at cart and tell me you dont seealot that looks he same. as brain goes ive had more then one interaction with him always polite and classy. as was beau barfield. as far as brainreturning from everything ive read brain never left. i wish him well. disappointed about brazil . maybe they will talk to phoenix or on the outside homestead to start the season earlier.

  16. IndyCar sucks! Bring back the split!

    • The split’s still is still with us it just changed – instead of a split between CART and the IRL we now have a split between IndyCar and the fans. Throw out the rule book, throw out management and start racing again.

  17. Anybody that says “give me 4 good ones” to a driver minutes before a stressful qualifying run for the Indy 500 just screams to be scrutinized. The fact that Mark Miles made this decision, knowing the contempt fans and drivers have for Brian Barnhart is thoroughly baffling. We obviously don’t have the full story here because this decision doesn’t make any sense. Could they really only be one guy standing in line for the job? Really?

  18. Surprised about BB and Brazil. A little maybe. I am just disappointed on both counts.

  19. as long as we’re all in a good mood, just read that Fillipi is going to CFH Racing instead of the projected JR. Very disappointed that ride-buying is becoming so obvious and detrimental to the good of the series.

    and yeah, I know Indycar doesn’t make money. just tired of hearing it. have a great weekend everyone.

  20. Bruce Waine Says:

    Anyone checked the site recently – ?

    As of 5pm eastern time today -January 30th, web site is still advertising the Brazil race ! !

    Perhaps they will update site by Memorial Day………….

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Keeping INDY CAR fans updated on their INDYCAR WEBSITE………

      February 1st – INDYCAR Web site still lists the Brazil race as a “Go.” ………….

      The Memorial Day deadline is approaching for their web site to be updated…………..

  21. Indycar has just been really disappointing to me over the last 7-9 months. I really thought things were improving despite the Mark Miles/Boston Consulting Group stuff, but since the Indy 500, it’s all been downhill for me. 2015 schedule sucked, and that was before the races started going away (though I don’t really like the international races so not really sad about that). Car count and interesting drivers might be up this year, but I’ve found optimism and Indycar don’t really go well together so I’ll reserve judgement on that one. But otherwise things have either been more of the same, or worse. Barnhardt? Really? I mean, yeah race control for Indycar is not a destination job, but I bet it pays a six figure salary and I’m sure there’s someone in Lights/PWC/TUDOR who could have done the job. I don’t really like the multi-person program in place now anyways, but why give BB the main role? Let Walker take it publicly, even if secretly BB is doing most of the work. Brian at wrote the perfect critique of Brian Barnhardt’s decision. It really does feel like Indycar is giving up. We will see what aero kits bring. Perhaps they will make things better, but I’ve got a bad feeling they’ll turn it into pretty spread out and processional “racing.” I guess that’s one way to go back to the good old days…

  22. Wow, not often I see these type of comments of this blog! BB definitely evokes strong feelings in us fans. lol
    I have no problem with putting BB back in the hot seat, maybe he has learned a thing or two and now Derrick Walker will be overseeing things. However, his margin for error is going to make it a rough year. ANY penalty will be micro scrutinized and rehashed to the point of me tuning out social media. While I realize there may not have been a lot of applicants surely they could have found someone, relatively unknown, to keep the heat to a minimum. It is almost like they wanted everyone to focus their anger on one person instead of those responsible for the series. Possibly doing some intentional misdirection?

  23. If any publicity is good publicity, I guess we’ve got it. even if the diehards are the only ones listening.

    In 3 months if we have another mandated single file start at Indy I’m giving up on him.

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