It may have come as a surprise to some that Kyle Novak was hired as race director for the Verizon IndyCar Series, replacing the outgoing Brian Barnhart, now the president of Harding Racing.
A fixture in the IMSA paddock with a history as race director for several series under IMSA sanction — such as the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA — Novak’s name may have been unfamiliar to those who follow IndyCar.
However, as INDYCAR president of competition and operations Jay Frye explained, the series couldn’t help but circle back to him as they sought a replacement for Barnhart.
“We looked far and wide and did a lot of research, did a lot of different things, and Kyle’s name just continued to come up, so at some point we figured his name has come up enough, so this must be a really good kid,” Frye quipped during a press conference at last weekend’s open test at ISM Raceway.
Though his most recent experience was found with sports cars in IMSA, Novak is very familiar with open wheel racing through previous exploits with CART and the Champ Car World Series.
“My first thrust really into the professional racing side was street course construction, street course design and construction during the Champ Car days,” Novak said of his time working with CART and Champ Car. “So I had the opportunity to build the Cleveland event, Houston, Denver, and consulted on several more design aspects for many more.
“And that’s really what gave me the first knowledge of the operational aspects of what it takes to put race control together, and really the nuts and bolts of what it takes to put these courses together and get them up and running and up and running efficiently, especially.”
Novak also noted that his time with IMSA has in no way negated any open wheel knowledge he accrued. In fact, he emphasized that the two disciplines are more similar than they are different and that the role of race director involves constant communication, no matter the discipline.
“The one thing about running a race, running every session, is the core people and the core roles and the core responsibilities are largely the same,” Novak explained. “I think one of the common misconceptions about being a race director is you’re up there by yourself with one radio, kind of running, pointing and being a dictator up there.
“It’s really just as much about almost a mission control type scenario where you’re managing the room, managing the information flow, just as much as you’re managing the particular sporting aspects of the series.”
He did acknowledge, though, that directing oval races will be a different animal, and that he’ll lean on the team around him to help adjust.
“The ovals will certainly be new to me,” Novak admitted. “I’ve never called a race on an oval before. But we have such a great support and great operational structure here at INDYCAR, and just hundreds of years and thousands of races of experience that will really help me through that transition.”
That core group, which includes Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis, was also instrumental in bringing Novak on board, as Frye detailed.
“There’s a really great group of people in race control that are around a long time, and when this all happened, they were the first people that I called, asking them the best race directors you’ve ever worked with,” Frye added. “They’ve worked with all kinds of different series. Who’s the best ones ever, not just current ones; just give me a list. So we come up with this list. And again, Kyle’s name was on everybody’s list.”
The overall look and process is expected to remain the same under Novak – he’ll be in charge of the event while the panel of race stewards will be in charge of reviewing incidents on track and recommending any penalties – though they will remain open to new ideas and technology that can help officiate events cleanly.
“The bottom line is we officiate just like any other sport. We’re no different,” Novak asserted. “We officiate with the resources we have and what we can see, and we’re always looking at ways to improve that, but I’m pretty sure we have as much covered as we really can at this time.”