IndyCar prez Derrick Walker defends promotion of Brian Barnhart

BY foxsports • February 7, 2015

When IndyCar President of Competition and Operations Derrick Walker decided to name Brian Barnhart as Race Director he knew the announcement would draw criticism. He was shocked, however, at just how loud that outcry would become.

"I'm not surprised by the reaction; maybe I'm surprised by the volume," Walker told FOXSports.com. "I anticipated and said so internally here at IndyCar there will be some pushback by some of the fans. ... We've had some fans that want to criticize us but everybody has the right to speak their mind -- us included."

During Barnhart's first term as Race Director of what is now the Verizon IndyCar Series from 1997-2011, he was often a controversial and polarizing official. He was in charge of conducting the race, officiating and assessing penalties.

At times he alienated competitors and the fans with some of his decisions and that led Randy Bernard, at that time the CEO of IndyCar, to replace him with Beaux Barfield before the 2012 season. At the end of that year, Bernard was out at IndyCar, but Barfield remained.

When Walker was named IndyCar President of Competition and Operations in May 2013 by current IndyCar boss Mark Miles, Walker believed a change was needed in how the series officiated its races. He moved away from having a Race Director as a "dictator" and implemented a three-steward judicial system where two of the three race stewards had to agree on a penalty during the course of a race.

Barnhart was one of those three stewards last season when Barfield was the Race Director. Walker decided to look to Formula One for a way to change the way IndyCar operated Race Control.

"If you go back to last year Brian was a part of our Race Control," Walker said. "He acted as a steward and assisted Beaux Barfield in running the race events. He was part of the support team. There are a dozen people in Race Control and they all do different jobs but they are all part of the whole process making the calls.

"We introduced the steward system because I didn't believe that the model we were using -- a singular person deciding, running the race, making the calls, deciding the penalties was really the fairest system. I looked around and looked at Formula One and Charlie Whiting let me come into the Formula One Race Control and see it close up so I saw a lot of what they were doing and a version of that is something we should embrace in 2014.

"So Brian was part of that whole system then."

While IndyCar embraced the Formula One method of Race Control, Barnhart's critics did not embrace him regaining the title of Race Director last week.

Fans were already infuriated with the decision and the only thing that deflected criticism came 24 hours later when government officials in Brasilia, Brazil -- site of IndyCar's season opening race scheduled for March 8 -- canceled the race because of a severe economic crisis in Brazil. With federal workers not getting paid, the Prosecutor for Brasilia was not going to allow the allocation of $100 million that would be spent on improving the race course.

Walker, Miles and the rest of the IndyCar management has moved on from last week's turn of events and Walker decided it was time to explain his full support for restoring Barnhart to the position of Race Director.

"Maybe I underestimated how much that impact was that we needed to respond to as much as we are right now," Walker said. "That's a mistake on our part and maybe I'm wrong on this, but I hate the fact the officials are part of the headlines. ... I hate it because to me the cars, the stars and the events are what it's all about; it shouldn't be about the officials."

Walker believes criticism of Barnhart's appointment is completely irrelevant because the mistakes of the past were made when the IndyCar Race Director had fully authority to rule during the race. Under the current format, the Race Director has only one of three votes.

"When I look at the Race Director I see a guy who is like the team manager of a team," Walker said. "He is the guy who makes the calls on yellows and things happening on the tracks but people around him weigh in on different viewpoints, which he takes into consideration.

"When I looked inside our immediate group and people in the paddock and some offered their name to put in the hat I didn't believe we had anybody better than Brian Barnhart, who in the Race Director role understood it as well as anybody and could do it."

During Barnhart's previous time at the helm he was not only Race Director but had the title of President of Competition. After he was removed as Race Director following the 2011 season, he remained with IndyCar as a vice president of competition.

Walker is now the ultimate authority in the competition department and vows the mistakes of the past will not happen again.

"I will also say as a team owner back then that I thought a lot of what Brian was criticized for back then really happened. I don't go away from that. I recognize that," Walker said. "Believe me, if I thought that was what we are going to back to I would tear out what little hair I have left. There is no interest in my part for IndyCar to go back to the way it was back then. There was a different environment and a different Race Control and I think the system we have right now needs somebody at the head that can run the Race Director role effectively.

"I don't see that Brian shouldn't be given a second chance, however. I don't want to go back to those times. ... But I don't see that we should have a character assassination of Brian for as long as he lives. We all make mistakes and there were more people involved in that process than Brian. He got singled out because he was the lead guy. Much like what goes on in IndyCar now, if it doesn't get done right everyone will blame me and I expect to take my fair share of blame and be responsible for it. Brian was there then and he did what he did and thought what he thought, but it was a system that we no way want to replicate (now)."

Walker also has a strong message for the angry comments he has received from IndyCar fans who have been vocal with their comments, and critical of what Barnhart was part of in the past.

"I don't expect the fans to take what I'm saying that it will be fine -- you're going to have to wait until I prove it to you and I intend to," Walker said. "I intend to stand by the decisions but if they are not wise ones or the right ones I will change them, I guarantee you. I will not be talking a year from now saying I did not jump in and make a change if necessary. All of our staff in Race Control is a competent group.

"We in Race Control want to do it right. I don't hear anybody in our group that wants to do it the way it was back then."


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