AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s apparent already that INDYCAR’s new president of competition and operations, Jay Frye, has the right temperament, focus and skill set to serve him well in his new role with the sanctioning body, moving on from being the chief revenue officer for last two years.
Speaking with NASCAR Talk editor Dustin Long at this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event from Phoenix International Raceway, Frye is determined to translate some of his efforts in the past to make a healthier paddock and continue to grow the sport and avoid some of the turmoil that existed internally in the past.
“Once you build consensus and become consistent as a league, there will be times where you have to make decisions,” Frye told Long at PIR. “Whether it’s an 80 percent agreement or 50/50, or whatever, you have to make the call.
“You’re not going to make everybody happy all the time. But if as a league, you have to have respect, and they get it; they might not agree, but they understand why you’re doing it.
“The next time it could be the opposite end. The same group that might have previously not agreed before but respects it, actually agrees. As long as you’re all in it together, that’s the key.”
Derrick Walker, Frye’s predecessor in the role, had entered in 2013 with high hopes but struggled to maintain a happy paddock as the 2015 season went on.
A particular sore point occurred at qualifying for this year’s Indianapolis 500, where a series of accidents in the lead-up to qualifying led to INDYCAR deciding to qualify the cars in race downforce trim, a much higher downforce package that produced slower average speeds.
Frye will address race control as one of the elements of his new role, although he noted how challenging officiating is, regardless of the discipline.
“Officiating is very difficult, no matter if it’s NASCAR, NFL, whoever,” Frye told Long. “We’re going to try to eliminate some of the debate. Debate is good, but sometimes there’s too much debate about things that are black and white.
“We need to create a package the teams understand, and know what the consequences are for certain actions.”
Frye said one of the areas that will need to be explored further is race control within the race. Far too often this year, in-race incidents were subject to post-race reviews, and later post-race penalties issued on Wednesday.
“This is more during the game, during the race (we’d be looking at),” Frye explained.
He hopes to have personnel in place within the stewards system, which will continue, by the end of the year. He said it’s “hugely important” that a driver participates within race control, in his opinion.
“Drivers know better than most what’s going on,” he said. “You need a group with great knowledge. Consistency is being there every week. Maybe you have your core group, and a few alternates available if someone isn’t able to come.”
One of the other areas Frye has been able to re-establish is an increased dialogue with International Speedway Corp. (ISC) with regard to future races.
Frye’s presence was instrumental in getting Phoenix back on an IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2005, and he hopes it’s the start of more ISC tracks returning in the years to come.
“We had a group that participated in a schedule committee, and I’ve been on it the last several years,” Frye told Long. “So somewhere in June, I didn’t understand why we weren’t doing more in particular areas of the country. So I called John Saunders of ISC and we went through some different ideas and scenarios, and he was enthused.
“We basically called (PIR track president) Bryan Sperber, and then Bryan and I started working through the process for how the deal could look. And Bryan and his group have been phenomenal. There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm from us, from INDYCAR; we’d been coming here for 40 years, but we haven’t been here the last 10.
“We were already doing business with them, and that was one of the things with my call to John was, ‘What can we do to make something happen?’ Say it’s 2-3 events going forward, and we can come up with some sort of formula. There’s a whole menu of different facilities throughout the whole country.”
Other elements Frye touched on during a wide-ranging conversation were a presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 and potential tethers for wings coming on board in 2016.
There’s no announcements on either front yet, but said the presenting sponsor is something INDYCAR has been actively pursuing and attracted a lot of interest, as Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles told MotorSportsTalk back in May. Tethers, he said, fall under the day-to-day process of making INDYCAR safer in any way, shape or form.
On the whole, Frye said the product is good and building the sport from a people side is key to growth going forward.
“We have in INDYCAR, a great racing product. We don’t want to affect that in any negative way. That’s the first thing on the list,” Frye told Long.
“Part of this, coming from a racing background or perspective, particularly on the team side, our teams … we have some great teams, some great people. It’s very important to do the right thing with the teams. Some cost containments, and getting the teams more involved in the decision-making processes. That’s something I’ve always done.
“And from a team background it’s all about the people. As a league, we need to make sure we have the right people in the right spot, doing the right thing.”