Less than a month after announcing the IndyCar Series wouldn’t be coming back to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2011, series CEO Randy Bernard didn’t mince words.
On his inaugural – and perhaps last for the foreseeable future -- trip to Homestead, Bernard said he liked the track, but he was clearly dismayed the stands were far from full.
“It’s beautiful. It’s fun to see it,” Bernard said Saturday just before the start of the IZOD IndyCar Series finale -- the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300. “They’ve got to promote it. I went downtown [Miami] last night and not very many people knew about it.”
Bernard makes a distinction, though, between Miami and Homestead. “I think there’s other cities in this country that will play well to having a championship,” he said referring to the series finale. “I’m not convinced it’s here.”
Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer didn’t mince words either in speaking about the series departure. He’s disappointed personally and for the fans and drivers – more than 10 of whom make their homes in South Florida – but he said hosting the series doesn’t make financial sense. And once IndyCar chose to raise the sanctioning fee to host the series by 30 percent, the track couldn’t justify the expense.
“The reality is we need to make sound business decisions,” Becherer said Saturday.
“And in this kind of economic time to try to go up 30 percent. All we’re asking for is the deal we have, we’re not asking for a break. We’re just asking for the deal we have, and they stuck to their guns and wouldn’t waver so at least for the next year we’re out.”
Becherer said it costs the track to host the IndyCar Series, but he likened hosting open wheel racing to a car dealer carrying high-end, low-demand models.
“If you look at the car business, certain models of cars don’t make money for the manufacturer, but they add prestige and cachet and bring people in the doors,” Becherer said. “But they ultimately buy the four-door or the mini-van.”
Becherer also blamed Bernard for hamstringing the finale at Homestead by announcing in July the series wouldn’t be back.
“How anybody expects a promoter to be successful … when they essentially torched the event, three months out,” Becherer said. “Can you imagine the chairman of the Orange Bowl Committee lamenting the matchup for that year? Can you imagine [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell talking about what a miserable host city they had to go to that year?”
Neither Bernard nor Becherer has closed the door on the IndyCar Series returning to South Florida one day. Bernard said he’s already spoken with promoters about a potential street race in Miami. He said the series could return to Homestead, if the promotion was in place.
“We want them back, the drivers want to come back, the fans want them back, the community wants them back, but they’ve got a business model they presented us we can’t make work,” Becherer said. “My hope is people will settle down, over the next six or seven months, and maybe we can talk about ‘12, worst case ‘13. It could be longer, but the opportunity is there if we want to get together and try to work it out.”
Becherer wanted to make sure the IndyCar Series went out in style. The decision to have drivers Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan put their twist on the grand marshall duties – they said, “Gentlemen, start OUR engines” – was a nod two locals with an important relationship to the track.
Driver Graham Rahal, who struggled this season without a full-time sponsor, will drive full-time in the IndyCar Series next year thanks to a two-year sponsorship commitment – announced at Homestead on Saturday -- from Juno Beach-based TBC Retail Group, which includes automotive brands Service Central, Tire Kingdom, NTB-National Tire and Battery.