To Mario Andretti, loyalty and business savvy defined Carl Haas
Some people in racing have loyalty, and some have business savvy. Very few have both.
Yet Carl Haas was one of those rare individuals in the “both” category.
As a team owner who also maximized his presence in the automotive and racing industries with his successful parts business, his work with Lola Cars as its exclusive American importer and Hewland gearboxes, Haas made a heck of a lot of money, but he repaid it in loyalty to the people that worked with him - many of whom for most of their careers.
As Mario Andretti explained, it were those key qualities that helped define Haas as a legend. Andretti drove with Newman/Haas Racing for 12 seasons. Haas died on June 29 at age 86, but the news was released today.
“He was good in every sector,” Andretti told NBC Sports in a phone interview. “He maximized every opportunity as you say, with his automotive business and parts, and representing companies… his being the Lola importer, and Hewland gearboxes and on and on. He connected with the sport.
“I first got to know him when Michael (Andretti) drove Formula Fords in SCCA! That developed my relationship with him. And so one thing led to another and it was instrumental in his relationship with Paul (Newman).
“I could always see the value. He was so determined to be the best at what he was doing and involved in, and he proved it over and over … he was always inspiring in many ways. He’d say, ‘How do we this the best possible way?’
“Yes, there was always a cost factor. But he never backed off of something meaningful that would make the difference. He always got the best possible people to do the key jobs. All of his success was attributed to his formula… and there was no one better in that respect, in my opinion.”
There’s a lot of turnover among crews in racing today but for Newman/Haas Racing, based in Lincolnshire, Ill., many of its crew were Newman/Haas lifers - 20-plus years in many cases.
“People that work for him will tell you this about his loyalty: he was very, very loyal to them,” Andretti said. “He may not have always known their names!
“But you look back at the careers of the top mechanics we know, who are still active today. It’s 20, 25, or 28-year tenures with this man. You don’t keep that quality of people unless they’re hugely appreciated and taken care of, and given opportunities to excel. Carl provided that all along. To me, that was an exceptional quality.”
Newman/Haas never won at Indianapolis and despite its 107 wins in North American open-wheel racing in its run from 1983 through to 2011, it was one of the rare unchecked boxes.
Setting aside the frustration in the ‘500, Andretti recalled how Haas’ trademark unlit cigars provided cannon fodder for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s some would say legendary, some infamous, “Yellow Shirt” security staff.
“We always laughed with him, and fortunately, he had a good sense of humor as well,” Andretti said.
“I used to love the fact of testing at Indianapolis, and he’d be nervous and chew his cigars. Then he’d throw them out.
“At the old grass strip by the pit wall, he’d pitch his cigars, and during lunch, the ‘Yellow Shirts’ were all diving for those $100 cigars! All they needed to do was chop off what he chewed! So we had funny stories like that.
“There’s plenty more to tell and that’s why there was a very serious side. But there was a light side that kept everyone in a jovial attitude if you will. You could never stay mad at Carl. You’d move on. You never dwelled. You could have a disagreement, and five minutes later, you’d have a cup of coffee.”
Andretti said Haas, like Newman, was like family to him.
“It’s tough and no matter how much you prepare you’re never ready… it’s a family member,” he admitted. “We were like family for so many years. Fight so many battles together. You appreciate the human side of him and become so attached.
“Because of an illness he’s been out of sight for several years, but when you lose him, it’s always a shock. It’s inevitable.”