MILLER: Frye takes the helm...and the hot seat

MILLER: Frye takes the helm...and the hot seat

IndyCar

MILLER: Frye takes the helm...and the hot seat

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Jay Frye (ABOVE) is a 25-year racer with an engaging demeanor who can BS with the best of ’em and might be the only person in IndyCar’s current front office that always returns emails, texts and phone calls the same day.

He’s enthusiastic, aggressive and has contacts all over North American motorsports.

He personally re-opened the lines of communication with ISC/NASCAR and that’s why IndyCar is returning to Phoenix International Raceway next year.

He seems to have a good grasp of racing situations and, as a former car owner/manager in Sprint Cup, understands the challenges and pitfalls of fielding an Indy car.

He’s been in the IndyCar loop for the past three years so he’s familiar with all the players.

But, in becoming IndyCar’s newest director of competition and operations, the 50-year-old native of Rock Island, Ill., would be wise to invest in a few truckloads of copper sulfate. Also known as shark repellent.

Because, regardless of his qualifications, past performance and best intentions, Frye is now an endangered species swimming in shark-infested waters. If he looks close enough he can probably still see the bloodstains of Randy Bernard and Derrick Walker on the IndyCar floor on West 16th Street.

The one constant in open-wheel racing for the past 40 years has been for the car owners to cannibalize the front office. Nobody is ever smart enough in their collective eyes and it only takes one snub or perceived wrongdoing to bring out the call for the vigilantes. It’s one of the main reasons IndyCar lags so far behind NASCAR and Formula 1 in terms of leadership and structure.

And Frye can’t succeed unless he’s given enough time and support and all the backstabbing ceases.

“Everyone in the paddock second guesses everything that is done,” said Bobby Rahal (RIGHT) back in August when Walker announced he was quitting. “Everybody is expressing his opinions, good and bad, whether they know the facts or not.

“If a decision goes against you, then you gang up and try to hang the guy. Until we actually change this culture, nobody is going to be able to succeed.”

Both Bernard and Walker lacked the necessary resources to surround themselves with enough competent people and they also got sniped by some of their “co-workers” and even from across the street. Frye appears to have Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles’ support and that’s the first step. But he needs to hire a chief steward or stewards that’s respected by the drivers (no easy task) and that will go along way to “minimizing the debates” after races, which is one of Frye’s goals.

“Race control needs to be the best that we can find,” he replied when asked if the new chief steward would be an ex-driver or a committee like the past two years.

He also needs a solid, smart right-hand man to help with aero kits, future rules, new cars, etc.

The tech staff is solid and looks likely to remain in place and the public relations department could use an upgrade and more people on both sides of 16th Street. The job Frye left, chief revenue officer, may be as challenging as unifying the paddock because as good as the racing has been the past few years it’s still a tough sell as Rod Davis (LEFT) will soon learn.

And marketing and promoting the series remains unsatisfactory compared to other major sports, so that’s another area in need of help. But, for now and at least until the first race, Frye has the support of the paddock.

“I believe if you treat people right, that’s how they’ll treat you,” said Frye on Thursday afternoon.

Yep, right up until somebody’s car is late for the qualifying line or a suspension part breaks, the price of a front wing goes up or a rule interpretation goes against them. Then, suddenly, Frye will be hearing the theme song from “Jaws.”

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