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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Track officials pull up asphalt on Turn 6 during IndyCar’s Detroit Grand Prix auto race on Belle Isle on Sunday.

How worse can it get IndyCar?

– Poor IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. Man couldn’t get out of his own way if he had a police escort.

He brought his traveling circus to Belle Isle in the Detroit River last weekend, and it was supposed to be a warm fuzzy about IndyCar returning to one of its signature courses for the first time since 2008. Instead it turned into a multiple-choice question.

What was the best thing to have on Belle Isle this weekend?

A. A Chevy.

B. A Honda.

C. A cement mixer.

The correct answer is “D,” an orange Right Lane Closed Ahead sign. Or Left Lane Closed Ahead. Or Speed Limit 45 When Flashing.

Long story short, a reported sellout crowd went to an IndyCar race, and February in Minnesota broke out. Large chunks of the course – in some cases, entire strips – started coming up midway through, necessitating a two-hour red flag while course workers tried to re-patch what should have been patched right to begin with. Eventually, a light rain began to fall, and they called the thing 30 laps short of the scheduled 90.

None of this is directly Bernard’s fault, but it adds to the perception he’s in way over his head here. Good things have happened since he came over to do for IndyCar what he did for professional bull-riding – TV numbers are up, and the Indianapolis 500 was a rousing success this year – but not enough of them. And the bad things keep coming.

The skinny here is, that road going to pieces is more a metaphor for Bernard’s reign than those 34 lead changes at Indy. And so you’ve got to wonder just how much road has to come up before IndyCar’s board says enough.

It started going bad for Bernard with the whole Bonus-For-Bubbas fiasco in Las Vegas, which was supposed to entice some NASCAR stars to run an IndyCar race but only ended up costing the sport Dan Wheldon. Then Danica Patrick left, and Lotus got sold, and suddenly the eagerly awaited competition between Chevy, Honda and Lotus turned into Chevy, Honda and Jean Alesi trying to keep up in Barney Rubble’s Family Truckster.

Rule changes followed, but all that did was tick off the one guy you never want to tick off in IndyCar, Roger Penske. Then came all the fines during qualifying at Indianapolis. Then Bernard was compelled to respond to rumors that a palace coup was afoot.

Last thing he needed was the Fines Doubled In Work Zone Grand Prix, whose signature moment was James Hinchcliffe raining F-bombs as he wheeled around a corner and saw part of the road lying in the, well, road.

“What the (bleep)?!” Hinch yelped as his car slapped the barriers.

You can pretty much make that IndyCar’s tag line right now. And that’s most assuredly not what the IndyCar board envisioned when it brought Bernard aboard.

You can’t drop everything on his doorstep; Lotus getting sold in January was out of his purvey, and so were the road crews who apparently patched the course on Belle Isle with chocolate pudding. But he is the place where the buck hits the brakes.

That’s why he draws the chunky paycheck he draws. And it’s why, even if there isn’t a palace coup afoot, perhaps there should be.

“I felt like a dead man walking last week,” Bernard said.

Yeah, well. Seems the “walking” part is the problem.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.