Presented by Racemaker Press

"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ The end of an era

by Gordon Kirby
The last few years were tough ones for Newman/Haas Racing. Paul Newman and Carl Haas remained loyal to CART/Champ Car to the bitter end but as Sebastien Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car titles Newman/Haas found it harder and harder to sell sponsorship and their ultimate move to the IRL in 2008 did not help the situation.

With Newman passing away later in '08 and Haas ailing in recent years one of America's great race teams was reduced to running paying drivers in recent three years. For six or seven years the business of racing Indy cars has been a losing proposition for Newman/Haas and last week Carl and Berni Haas took the difficult and painful decision not to continue in Indy car racing after 29 years of operation.

Carl Haas Auto remains in business and a skeleton crew has been retained by the race team. Newman/Haas's general manager Brian Lisles hopes to pull together the support or sponsorship for the slimmed-down team to race in a lesser category whether it's sports cars or Indy Lights. Lisles stresses that Newman/Haas has not closed its doors.

"That is totally incorrect," Lisles said. "We have been compelled to let a good deal of our work force go but we are not closed. Unfortunately we let a lot of people go but we're still in double numbers in the team so we are still a substantial team compared to some other IndyCar teams. But we have had to downsize because we are not going to do the IndyCar series."

© Racemaker Press
"We have some racing projects in the pipeline that we have been pursuing in the background and those come more to the fore now. We have at least two very interesting potential projects in other categories which would enable us to use our expertise. Again, we are not closing our doors. We are still in business and are working to re-expand the business."

"The last chapter of Newman/Haas has not been written," Lisles added. "We are going to do our best to regroup and reasses the realities of modern motor racing and see if we can't pick ourselves up and reinvigorate ourselves and see what the world brings in the future."

"This is not an obituary of the team. The announcement is a reflection of the state of open-wheel racing. It's not the announcement of the end of the team."

Berni Haas and Lisles worked their tails off trying to find sponsorship but with IndyCar's tiny media footprint in today's economic environment it proved an impossible task.

"We very much upped our marketing efforts in August of 2010," Lisles said. "We realized we needed a marketing agency with global spread to try to promote sponsorship. That's been an ongoing effort since then. The Telemundo deal was the first visible sign of that but obviously we've been unsuccessful and we got to the point where we have responsibilities to our employees and our potential drivers to let them know what's going on."

"This year there's a lot more to it than just putting your cars on the track in March. You have to take delivery of your cars in December and make commitments to buying your cars and to your engine agreement. So December 1st was our last date to make a decision and assess where we were and we decided it wasn't going to work."

This past year Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe were able to promote partial sponsorship to keep the team in business and Servia, Hinchcliffe and the team did a superb job in threadbare circumstances with both drivers running at or near the front in many races.

© Paul Webb
Servia made the podium three times, led eighteen laps at Indianapolis and finished a rousing fourth in points. Hinchcliffe also ran well at different tracks, led a bunch of laps at Mid-Ohio and finished twelfth in points beating JR Hildebrand to IndyCar's rookie of the year honors. But none of this was enough to keep the wolf from the door.

Newman/Haas is renowed as Indy car racing's second most successful team behind only Team Penske with 107 wins and 110 poles. The team came together at the end of 1982 when Haas convinced a skeptical Newman to become his partner in an Indy car team. The catalyst was Mario Andretti who agreed to drive as long as it was a one-car team for him only.

Mario had quit F1 the year before and Newman/Haas proved the perfect place for him to rekindle his career in Indy cars. Tony Cicale was brought in to engineer Mario's car and Nigel Bennett designed an all-new Lola for Newman/Haas's second season in 1984 and Andretti took CART's championship in style with six wins and eight poles.

The team went on to win three more CART titles with Michael Andretti in 1991, Nigel Mansell in '93 and Cristiano da Matta in '02 followed by Sebastien Bourdais's four straight Champ Car titles from 2004-'07, including one-two championship sweeps with Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira in '04 and Bourdais and Oriol Servia in '05. Other drivers to win CART or IRL races for Newman/Haas were Paul Tracy in 1995, Christian Fittipaldi in 1999 and 2000, and Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson in '08.

But there's much more to the team's heritage than 29 years of Indy car racing. Newman was a renowned amateur racer of course and also ran his own Can-Am team from 1978-'82. Newman's team won ten races during that time but was always beaten to the championship by Haas's team.

Carl started racing in 1952 aboard an MGTD before racing a series of Porsches, then Elva sports cars. He grew up in Lincolnwood, an inner Chicago suburb, and started selling race car parts and gearbox pieces out of the basement of his mother's home. In 1960 Carl formed Carl Haas Auto and moved into a small showroom next door to Loeber Motors a Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln dealership on North Broadway Street in Chicago's Northside selling Elva race cars and Hewland gears and transmissions. A few years later Haas Auto moved half an hour north to Highland Park where Carl sold McLaren and Lola Can-Am cars and became Lola's US agent and distributor.

Haas sold thousands of Lolas--Can-Am and F5000 cars, FAtlantics, Formula Fords, Super Vees and Sports 2000 cars and later would sell Reynard Atlantic and FF2000 cars. In the sixties and seventies in the days before FedEx he operated "Haas FasPac', an overnight delivery service for Lola and Hewland parts establishing himself as the country's leading supplier of road racing cars, parts and gearbox components.

© Dan Boyd
Carl retired from driving in 1966 and fielded his first professional race team in 1967 with Masten Gregory driving a McLaren Can-Am car in the United States Road Racing Championship. The following year Carl's team ran both the USRRC and the Can-Am series with Chuck Parsons and Skip Scott, and in 1969 Parsons finished third in the Can-Am championship behind Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme.

Peter Revson drove Carl's Can-Am Lola in 1970 and in "71 Carl hired F1 star and two-time world champion Jackie Stewart to drive his L&M Lola. Stewart went on to score Haas's first two Can-Am wins and finish third in the championship behind Revson and Denny Hulme's factory McLarens.

Carl turned to Formula 5000 in 1973 in a partnership with Chaparral man Jim Hall and Haas/Hall won three F5000 championships in a row from 1974-'76 with Brian Redman driving. F5000 was replaced in 1977 by the 'new era' Can-Am and Haas's team continued to dominate winning four straight titles with Patrick Tambay (two), Jacky Ickx and Alan Jones. So in total Haas's race teams have won fifteen major American racing championships and more than 150 races.

Nor can we forget Carl's role in the SCCA. He was chairman of the SCCA's board of directors from 1993-'96 and served on the club's Pro Racing board of directors from 1993-2001. And of course there was his brief foray into F1 in 1985 and "86 with bountiful sponsorship from Beatrice and turbocharged engines from Ford. His design staff included Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn with Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay driving but Beatrice was taken over in a leveraged KKR buy-out and the team came to a quick end before it could achieve its potential.

By then Newman/Haas Racing was in full flight and the fleeting Beatrice sponsorship allowed Haas Auto and the team to move into much larger new digs in Lincolnshire, a short drive west of Highland Park. Newman/Haas has resided in Lincolnshire for a quarter century and the team's remarkable racing heritage is evident in the superb collection of trophies won by the team on display in the lobby. I wish Brian Lisles good luck in his efforts to keep the operation in business but it appears the era of Newman/Haas being a major player in the sport have come to an end.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved