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

The Way It Is/ Celebrating Carl Haas's life

by Gordon Kirby
Carl Haas's devoted wife and business partner Berni organized a wonderful memorial service and reception to celebrate Carl's life the weekend before last. Following the service at St. Mary's Church in Lake Forest we walked a couple of blocks to the Deer Path Inn, Carl's favorite local hotel and restaurant, to enjoy lunch and share some reminiscences from many of Carl's friends and drivers.

Among Berni's many guests were Roger and Kathy Penske, Jim and Sandy Hall, David Hobbs who drove Carl's Can-Am car in 1972, Brian Redman who won three consecutive Formula 5000 championships in the mid-seventies with Haas/Hall Racing, engine wizard Franz Weis and his wife Kathy, and former Lola man Jim Chapman who was a key man in running Carl's Can-Am cars for Jackie Stewart in 1971 and Hobbs the following year.

Also among the guests were many former Newman/Haas managers and engineers such as Brian Lisles, John Tzouanakis, Kenny Siewick, Peter Gibbons, Mark Handford and Craig Hampson as well as a deep collection of chief mechanics, fabricators and crewmen who formed the inner strength of the team.

© Berni Haas collection
John Szymanski was a longtime Carl Haas employee who sold cars for Carl Haas Auto and worked on Carl's Can-Am and Formula 5000 teams as well as Newman/Haas Racing. Szymanski went on to work in public relations for Tom Walkinshaw's IMSA GTP team and Chip Ganassi's CART team before spending half a dozen years working as Dan Davis's point man in all forms of racing from NASCAR to NHRA when Davis ran Ford Racing.

Szymanski was the perfect choice to play master of ceremonies for the day's stories about Carl. He started by trying to define Carl's approach to racing and his broader overall impact on the sport.

"Carl created an environment that enabled guys like Darrell Soppe, Tony Cicale, Ray Wardell, Adrian Newey, Peter Gibbons and so many people to come through his organization and to prosper and grow," Szymanski observed. "They demanded engineering excellence and that was Carl's first priority too versus the commercial side.

"I worked with Ralph Hansen on the commercial and sponsor side but I also sold race cars for Carl. He put a tremendous amount of time and effort into the sales of race cars and supporting Formula Ford, Atlantic and Super Vee drivers like Eddie Miller. Back in the seventies Bertil Skollenskog built Super Vee engines in our shop and all that stuff went on in addition the Can-Am and Formula 500 teams.

"Another part of Carl was all the work he did with the SCCA in his role on the board of directors. He contributed so much to the sport from the lower levels to the highest levels and the work he did with the SCCA was as important to him as anything he did with Newman/Haas Racing or any of his race teams.

"I have to say to have had a working relationship and high level of trust with Carl and Berni has been a very special part of my life. It was so rewarding and I'm sure everybody who's here today feels that way. And in the end there was only one thing you can say about Carl and that is he was a racer. That's all there was to it."

Szymanski added a half-joking quip about Carl and Berni's unique relationship.

© Zach Hansen
"Personally, having worked for Carl all those years I can say that if Carl fired you just go back to your office and continue working. But if Berni fired you, go get a box!"

Everyone guffawed.

Frank Connor was one of Carl's oldest friends and Szymanski asked Connor to say a few words.

"When I first met Carl he was fifteen and I was thirteen," Connor related. "We lived on the south side of Chicago and a bunch of kids would get together and build model airplanes. There were four of us that pal'd around together and Carl was one of us from our mid-teens through our early twenties.

"I remember when we were in college and Carl was working at the Ford assembly plant on the south side of Chicago the rest of us used to wonder how Carl was going to make it and what he was going to do with his life. We really were afraid for Carl. We didn't recognize the talents he had. Well, two of us became math professors and one was an electrician at a radio station. It turned out that Carl could have bought all of us without batting an eye!

"He was pretty good with model airplanes. He wasn't a big, strong guy but he was really good at launching his 'planes into to air, which you had to do physically by throwing the 'plane. He thought about it and figured out the right way to do it. But he was just such a great guy. Thinking about him makes me tear up. So I'll just say good-bye Carl. It was great knowing you."

Next up was Bobby Rahal, a fellow Chicagoan and successful team owner.

"It's great to see so many familiar faces and friends today," Bobby grinned. "It's a real testament to Carl.

"I never drove for Carl, of course. We came close a few times but we were never able to get it over the hill. My first remembrance of Carl was one day my dad was towing his car to the racetrack with my mother, myself and my brother. We were driving a Valiant with a trailer hitch on the back and here comes Carl and Dick Vanderfeen who was the SCCA's pr man at one point. They came by us towing an Elva race car and they looked like they were having a good time. I thought they looked like real racers.

"A few years later in about 1965 my dad and I went to get some Hewland gearbox parts from Carl and we went to the basement of Carl's house. That's where he ran his business from in those days. Carl started at the bottom and he worked his way to the top to the first-class shop in Lincolnshire where Newman/Haas Racing and Carl Haas Auto operated from the mid-eighties.

"I have two favorite stories about the Carl," Bobby continued. "The first is that he hired my son Graham in 2009 when Graham was 20 years old, which was a huge leap of faith. Graham finished seventh in the championship and did very well in a lot of races. He was so blessed by Carl and like when John talked about the dedication to engineering that Carl demanded Graham will tell you today that he was so complimented that year by the team's engineering talent and capabilities.

© Racemaker/Paul Webb
"I could go on about Carl ad nauseam, but my favorite story about Carl was at Mid-Ohio in 1986. I was on the front row and I was sitting in the car on the grid before the race getting my thoughts together. I was looking down and I looked up and saw Carl blessing my car. My car was red and Mario's car was red and he had confused my car with Mario's. I got on the radio to Steve Horne who was the team manager for Truesports at the time and said, 'Hey Steve, you gotta take a look at this!'

"About then Carl looked up and did a double-take as he realized it was my helmet in the car and not Mario's. I really never got the chance to thank Carl because I won that race!"

At that point Mario stood up and asked Bobby for the microphone.

"That was always Carl's ritual of course," Mario emphasized. "At that moment one of Bobby's mechanics said, 'Mr. Haas. Wrong car!' So the race started and I was leading when my engine let go on the thirteenth lap and Bobby won the race. After the race I said to Carl, 'You blessed his car instead of mine and I went out on the thirteenth lap and he won the race.' He felt so bad, the poor guy could hardly speak. But that was Carl. That was what we loved about him."

Two-time IMSA champion Christian Fittipaldi drove for Newman/Haas for seven years from 1996-2002 teamed with Michael Andretti and then Cristiano da Matta. Christian led Michael home in a Newman/Haas one-two at Elkhart Lake in 1999 and also won the California 500 in 2000.

"I drove for Carl and worked with a bunch of you guys for seven years and it was awesome," Christian beamed. "I've been carrying a lot of memories from those days and one that I'll never forget is Carl used to have sponsor dinners with the drivers on Friday and Saturday nights. One year we were in Vancouver and there was a Chinese restaurant where Carl loved to eat.

"We went there in a Lincoln Town car Carl had rented. We had dinner and probably spent two and a half hours eating and talking. When it was time to leave Carl couldn't find the car keys. We looked everywhere and couldn't find them so we went outside and he had locked the keys in the car with the engine running! So we had to take a taxi back to the hotel. That was classic Carl."

Szymanski then asked Steve Knapp to make some remarks.

"As I said," Szymanski commented. "Carl always supported good people in the club racing categories where he sold a lot of cars. In the eighties Sports 2000 was a major market for Lola and we ran a car for Steve Knapp in 1985 and '86 and he won the championship convincingly in 1986.

© Dan Boyd
"At the Road Atlanta run-offs we took the titanium roll bars and stuff off Mario's Indy car and put them on Steve's car and he won the race going away. Steve went on to race Indy cars successfully and back in those days he was a big part of Carl Haas Auto."

Later in his career in 1998 Knapp finished third at Indy. Today he builds Mazda's Road to Indy engines which are renowned for their reliability and consistent performance.

"When Carl started importing Reynard Formula Fords and Atlantic cars in the late eighties he asked me to drive an Atlantic car for him," Knapp said. "Sometimes we would race on a CART weekend after the Indy car race and Carl was usually more relaxed by then. He would ride around on his scooter and take in the race.

"We went racing through that year and at the June Sprints at Elkhart they combined all the Atlantic cars with the Formula 2000 cars. On the first lap one guy tried to pass me and another guy at the same time and he took us all off the track. We flipped and rolled and my car was complete junk.

"They took me to the medical center and Carl came in and said, 'Are you okay kid?' I said, 'Yeah, everything's good.' And he said, 'How's the car?' I said, 'It's pretty bad.' Carl said, 'That's okay, we'll get it fixed.' He said, 'Let's go to dinner, I'll meet you at six o'clock.'

"So I'm waiting in the paddock at six o'clock. What's left of my car is just a lump underneath a cover and I'm sweating bullets thinking Carl is going to be really pissed. Then it was 6.10 and then 6.15 and still no Carl. Finally he pulls up in his BMW. I climbed in and said, 'How you doing Carl.' And he didn't look at me.

"He drove down the paddock hill out of Road America and took the left turn onto the road to Elkhart Lake and he stepped on the gas and did not lift. We went down the road toward Elkhart Lake and we were doing at least 100 mph and I was starting to get a little nervous.

"I looked down and saw he had a Whitney Houston tape in the tape deck. So I pushed it in just before you come to County Road A that turns left into Elkhart Lake. I wasn't even thinking about us making that turn. I was looking at the road ahead and trying to remain calm.

"Then he laid on the brakes and yanked on the wheel. The left side tires got into the ditch and we hit the railroad tracks. The car flew into the air and came down on the other side and he finally let off the gas and looked over at me with a little grin and said, 'Do you like my car?'

© Racemaker/Paul Webb
"That's the Carl I knew. We went to Siebkens and he wrote down a budget for the year on a napkin and we carried on from there. Later I got the chance to work with Newman/Haas on the test team with Mario and Michael and I got to learn a lot of really cool things. I worked on that program for two years and that was worth twenty years for all the memories."

Knapp added a short vignette about one of Carl's birthdays.

"On one of Carl's birthdays we were all waiting in the cafeteria for him. And when Carl came in my friend Kenny Siewick came forward and shook Carl's hand. He said, 'Kenny Siewick. I've worked for you for three years. Nice to meet you!' And the whole place cracked up.

"Of course, Kenny worked his way up to become team manager with John Tzouanakis and we all loved working for Carl and Berni. It was like family."

Michael Andretti then stepped up to add some words. Michael drove for Newman/Haas from 1989-'92 teamed with his father and then again from 1995-2000. During that time he won 31 CART races.

"My time at Newman/Haas was one of the most special times of my career," Michael said. "Carl gave me the opportunity of me and my dad being able to drive together and that was just such a dream come true. Those were the four best years of my career and I thank Carl for that opportunity.

"We all have Carl stories. Everybody talks about them and they're why we loved him. You could never stay mad at him because he would go and do something that would make you laugh.

"I remember we were at Elkhart Lake when I was beginning to negotiate to go to Formula 1. Carl and I were having some disagreements and I was so mad at him. We had a meeting and left the hotel to go to the racetrack. He was in front of me and his coat sleeve was hanging out of the car and his hair was flapping in the wind and I just couldn't stay mad at him. I laughed all the way to the race track. That's the type of guy Carl was. You couldn't stay mad at him.

"I also have to say I learned so much from Carl. For me as a team owner there are a lot of things I remember I used to wonder why Carl would be doing a certain thing. I didn't understand at the time as a driver but now that I'm an owner I understand. It's a different world on the other side. But again, those were the best years of my life, the greatest years. I miss Carl and I love you Berni."

Sebastien Bourdais followed Michael. Bourdais won four straight Champ Car titles and 28 races with Newman/Haas between 2004-2007.

© Racemaker/Paul Webb
"It was thanks to Carl, Berni and Paul and everyone at Newman/Haas that I arrived in the States in 2003," Sebastien began. "I was a single guy and not yet a professional. I was also an illegal in this country but they signed me anyway.

"Justin Wilson was going to test the car at Sebring and they were ready to sign him, but Justin left to pursue his aspirations in Formula 1 with Minardi. I had also been invited to test the car so when that happened I was the only guy to show up for the test.

"I had just tested a Renault Formula 1 car and done pretty well but the Champ car was quite intimidating. It was a great thrill to drive. The CART car I tested probably had 900 horsepower and that morning at Sebring it was cold and we had no tire warmers whatsoever. And just to make things interesting the engineers decided to make the throttle like an on-off switch. There was really no modulation at all. That kind of raised my eyebrows a little bit, but I had a great time. We did I think 170 laps that day and I was pretty much worn out by the end of it. It was a tough car to drive.

"But because of what Peter Gibbons and Craig Hampson had to say about me after the test I got the job. Carl called me a couple of days before Christmas and I heard those nice words. He said, 'What would you think of coming to drive for us.' I had just signed a contract with Opel to drive the DTM series, but that sucked. It was the worst decision of my career ever but thankfully at the time David Sears was my manager and he had put in a clause saying that I could be released for an F1 or CART contract.

"So we used that release and I signed with Newman/Haas for a fifth of the pay, but at least I wasn't going into tin tops. I was going into Indy cars and it turned out to be the golden period of my life. I spent five years with a great group of guys and we achieved a lot together. But then the Champ Car era was coming to an end and I left to pursue my dream of F1. But without doubt that period was the golden period of my life."

Sebastien broke into tears as he finished to a rousing round of applause.

Cristiano da Matta preceded Bourdais at Newman/Haas. Da Matta drove for the team in 2001 and 2002, winning the 2002 CART title with Newman/Haas's Lola-Toyotas.

"I had so many great times with Newman/Haas," da Matta grinned. "It was so nice driving for them. Those were the best days of my life and I have to tell a story of how it started.

"I was 26 years old and in my second season racing Champ cars for the PPI team. I had a couple of top five finishes through the first half of the season and Carl Haas gave me a call. For me, this was something. I thought I must be getting somewhere.

"Carl said let's meet at my hotel on the Monday after the next race. The next race was at the Chicago track and I won the race! It was my first ever win and I had a great weekend. Now I had a meeting with Carl Haas as a race winner and more important I won the race and Michael finished second. I thought, 'Now we're talking'.

"So on Monday morning I went to the hotel and Carl was there in the lobby laughing. He said, 'You know what son? It's going to be a lot more difficult to get you out of the team now!' Then he gave me a hard time about how he was going to get me out of my contract with PPI. But he said, 'Don't worry. I'll get it done. That's my job.'

"So that was my start at Newman/Haas and the next year we won the championship. It was a great time in my life. The whole team was driven by what's required to win races and championships. It was all about the results and the objectives and like I say, for me it was a great time."

Bruno Junqueira drove for Newman/Haas from 2003-2007 teamed with Bourdais. Junqeira won four races and finished second in the championship in 2002, '03 and '04.

© Racemaker/Gold & Hutson
"Thanks for everybody for coming here to celebrate the life of Carl Haas and to tell stories and be happy about everything Carl gave us," Junqueira grinned. "Carl was a racer. He was a great team owner. He knew that to get the team to go and win races it was important to keep good people. There were some mechanics and engineers who worked for Carl for fifteen or twenty years and I think that was one of the great strengths of Newman/Haas.

"I have a little story from 2001 or 2002. We were in a team meeting with Toyota and at the time there was an argument that Ford and Honda were getting more boost than was allowed from the pop-off valve. We found out that an engineer from Toyota was the guy who started all the problems and after the meeting Carl started to run after the Toyota guy and hit him with his bag!

"Then they started to have a serious talk and that was Carl. When he knew the facts, he wasn't going to mess around. He was going to go straight at it.

"Another story is that at Denver we used to stay at a hotel where there were ducks in a pond and every day after we were done at the track Carl would go an feed the ducks. He was an animal lover and he had that kind of a warm heart. I will always remember the sweet, nice person Carl was and that I had an opportunity to work together with him and his team."

Oriol Servia drove for Newman/Haas in 2005 after Junqueira was injured at Indianapolis. Servia won at Montreal in '05 and finished second to Bourdais in Champ Car's championship. He also scored a disputed win for Newman/Haas at New Hampshire in 2011, the team's last season.

"I only got my chance with Newman/Haas because Bruno was injured," Servia recalled. "They only signed me for one race which was Milwaukee and I finished second. On the podium I heard Carl say to Paul, 'We gotta hire this guy.'

"So I went to meet him at the shop and we were arguing over numbers and he was writing things down. And all of a sudden I realized he was drawing circles on the paper, not numbers, and after a while we made a deal with no problem.

"Working with the team was great because they did the job right all the way down the line and working with Carl, Berni and Paul was a pleasure. I thought when I went there I was going to find titanium and trick parts everywhere but really it was a normal car. But they were not normal human beings working on the car.

"I was able to get the best out of the car in the second half of the season because of the people working on the car. I always admired how you guys worked and I was proud to be part of Newman/Haas."

Fernando Paiva managed Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta during their time at Newman/Haas. Paiva stepped up to make some closing comments.

"I had the pleasure of working with Newman/Haas when I managed Christian and Cristiano," Fernando recalled. "So I worked on the other side of the table to Carl and also had the pleasure of some his cigar throwing. It wasn't a good meeting unless he threw at least four cigars. But then at the next minute after throwing four cigars at me we would go to dinner and we would be family.

"I have so many good memories from those days. I remember Christian and I getting drunk at an Andretti family party and us being asked by Michael and his wife to behave ourselves. We all had a lot of fun together and the team won a lot of races and championships. Those were great days."

Our day in Lake Forest celebrating Carl's life could not have been more beautiful. There wasn't a cloud in the sky all day and the temperature climbed into the sixties, remarkably warm for Chicago in November. It seemed to us that the man upstairs was smiling beatifically on Carl and his many accomplishments in motor racing and life.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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