Legendary team owner Carl Haas dies at age 86

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Carl Haas, one of the architects of one of North American open-wheel racing’s most successful teams, Newman/Haas Racing, has died at the age of 86. His Haas Auto business page confirmed he passed away on June 29 at his home.

Haas partnered with actor Paul Newman for what seemed a fantasy at the time in the early ’80s.

What seemed an odd couple – a successful businessman never without his trusty cigar and an actor who was bitten by the racing bug and preferred talking about it to any acting talk – turned their combined team into a legend in IndyCar after being Can-Am rivals a decade earlier.

Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman on February 1, 1993 at the Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. (Photo by Steve Swope/Getty Images)
Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman on February 1, 1993 at the Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. (Photo by Steve Swope/Getty Images)

The team was consummated in 1983 and by 1984 it won a CART title with Mario Andretti. Three more CART titles followed by Mario’s son Michael Andretti in 1991, then F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell in 1993 and likable young Brazilian Cristiano da Matta in 2002.

Bourdais' first title in 2004. (Photo by Aubrey Washington/Getty Images)
Bourdais’ first title in 2004. (Photo by Aubrey Washington/Getty Images)

Once CART dissolved and the Champ Car World Series briefly rose from its ashes, Newman/Haas reeled off a memorable four in a row title run with Sebastien Bourdais from 2004 (right) to 2007. Mike Lanigan, now a co-owner with Bobby Rahal and David Letterman, was a minority partner from 2007 through 2010.

But the team fell on relatively harder times once the Champ Car and IndyCar (then Indy Racing League) merger occurred in 2008.

Poised to be the best team in Champ Car once more, Newman/Haas was stuck learning the then-IndyCar equipment in 2008 even though both Graham Rahal and the late Justin Wilson won races that year. Rahal’s win at St. Petersburg was the first of his career and made him the youngest winner in series history; Wilson’s win at Detroit proved the last of its 107 career wins in open-wheel.

Rahal regularly overachieved in 2009 but lost sponsorship at year’s end, the team pressed on through 2010 primarily with Hideki Mutoh as its only driver while 2011 brought a brief resurgence with Oriol Servia an impressive fourth in the points and James Hinchcliffe rookie-of-the-year, 12th in points.

That year marked the end of the road, though, for the team as sponsorship was too hard to come by and the new Dallara DW12 never made it to the team (a good reflection from veteran IndyCar scribe John Oreovicz, here).

Haas was much more than the team co-owner of Newman/Haas, though.

Carl began as a race car driver and joined SCCA in 1952, an organization he would later serve as a board member and subsequently chairman. In 1985, Carl received SCCA’s highest honor – The Woolf Barnato Award and in 2007 Carl was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame.

Haas started his Carl Haas Automotive Imports, Inc. business in 1960, a high quality, venerable parts business in Lincolnshire, Ill.

That’s become a fixture of the automotive and racing industry in the 50-plus years that have followed, as have Hewland gearboxes.

By 1967, he’d become Lola Cars’ exclusive importer in America and that created a long lineage of success and partnership between the two companies. Lola’s demise occurred a few years ago, unfortunately.

Haas, of course, was also in the news earlier this year – once Gene Haas’ team started the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, it became the first U.S. team in Formula 1 since Carl Haas’ Beatrice Haas Lola team that ran in 1985 in 1986 – the latter year finishing eighth in the Constructor’s Championship having scored six points with Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay.

Haas also ran teams in Formula 5000, Can-Am, Super Vee and NASCAR, although Haas’ at-track presence wound down in the later years of the team. The Can-Am team was where Haas raced against Newman.

Newman died in September 2008, barely a month after Wilson’s win at Detroit.

His life was one devoted to racing and the automotive industry and he left one heck of a mark.

We offer our thoughts and condolences to wife Bernadette (Berni) and their family following this news.

Per the Haas site, in lieu of flowers, a contribution can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association at 8430 W. Bryn Mawr, Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60631 (847/933-2413) or The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp at www.holeinthewallgang.org.