Mario Andretti: "Carl Haas was one of us – a racer, winner and friend"

Mario Andretti was instrumental in bringing Carl Haas and Paul Newman together, earned the team its first Indy car title and scored 14 race wins. In his own words, the legend pays tribute to his recently deceased friend.

Mario Andretti: "Carl Haas was one of us – a racer, winner and friend"
Mario Andretti
Winner: Valvoline 200 Grand Prix - Driver: #6 Mario Andretti
Oriol Servia, Newman/Haas Racing
Race winner Justin Wilson celebrates with Carl Haas and Newman/Haas/Lanigan team members
Carl Haas and Paul Newman
Sébastien Bourdais (Newman/ Haas/ Lanigan Racing)
Wheels ready to go at Newman Haas Racing
Carl Haas and Paul Newman
Graham Rahal, Newman/Haas Racing
Michael Andretti
Carl Haas
Podium: race winner Bruno Junqueira with Paul Newman and Carl Haas

No matter how much you prepare, it’s always tough to lose someone that meant so much to you on the career side and the human side. After so many years together, you do develop a friendship and in Carl’s case, it’s one that will always be very precious to me.

It was so sad for him to be the way he was in these last few years that I think we can say it’s a blessing he’s in a better place now. With Carl being out of sight for so many years now, and with everyone respecting their privacy, [Carl’s wife] Berni has been able to do something for him and for us; it has allowed us to remember the vibrant Carl Haas that we knew, working among us and doing what he loved best.

Talking about Carl, I could go on and on. Throughout my career, I never had a span of 12 years with any other team. I ended my career feeling whole, if you know what I mean; I had accomplished everything I could, pretty much, and it was Carl and Paul Newman that had given me that feeling of satisfaction.

When I came out of Formula 1 for the last time [at the end of 1982] I had been wondering a bit what I should do but we formed that team. I say ‘we’ because I had a little bit to do with bringing Carl and Paul together because they had been fierce rivals in Can-Am. But together there was a magic; it turned out to be the perfect situation for me, and it benefitted Michael tremendously too. You’ll see the bulk of Michael’s career victories were scored with Newman/Haas. In effect, Carl and Berni became a big part of our family’s life, and I will treasure that, always.

You look at what Carl accomplished and the thing that’s obvious is that he knew the formula for success, which is to align yourself with the best people possible. That is what he tried to do every single season. Michael and I would talk about him and the thing we always came back to was, “Carl wants to win, and so do we.” He was one of us. He was a racer. He spoke our language. He didn’t accept anything less than success; nothing was good enough until we brought the first-place trophy home. He didn’t want to talk about anything other than winning, and that outlook is exactly what you want from your team owner.

And it was that way throughout the team; Carl hired people who shared that outlook, and so you had this constant chemistry there, with everyone pulling in the same direction because they all had the same goal. And Paul fitted right in, too, a huge asset – the classy screen icon who shared his enthusiasm for the sport and could pull in the sponsors.

That was the thing: everyone brought something to the table at Newman/Haas, everyone was important and there was no overlapping. And that worked didn’t it? Over 100 victories, and eight championships in less than 30 years…You don’t do that by being passive. Carl was always looking for the best of the best. If we as drivers suggested an engineer or someone that caught our eye, and he agreed with us, then he had the attitude of, ‘Hey, whatever it takes.’

I remember when Adrian Newey was in Indy car and was seen as almost unreachable [after spells working with Bobby Rahal’s March team and then as Michael Andretti’s engineer at Kraco Racing]. I said to Carl, “We need to get to that level,” and Carl just went out and got Adrian… and probably paid him more than most of the drivers on the grid were getting! But that’s how Carl was: if that’s what or who we needed to win, then that’s what we’re going to get. I tell ya, that’s an attitude you really appreciate from your team owner. So whenever we had disagreements, I’d look at the positives of being with Carl, see plenty of them, and that was it.

Without getting too much into the politics, the U.S. open-wheel split caused a lot of confusion, and feelings ran high about the damage it was doing to the sport. It got to the stage where you couldn’t even mention the IRL in front of Paul! Carl and Paul were very loyal individuals, they believed in CART strongly, and so they saw the IRL as having destroyed the product and that the glory days of U.S. open-wheel were gone.

But I said, ‘The one solution, the only solution, is to bring the two factions together.’ And the first meeting was held in my house – Paul Newman, Kevin Kalkhoven, Paul Gentilozzi, Tony George and Brian Barnhart and one of the attorneys. That started the ball rolling, and although there was a lot of uncertainty still, everyone came to agree there was no other way because the best either side could achieve was 50 percent. The IRL had Indy 500 and not much else; CART or Champ Car had everything else but not Indianapolis, the crown jewel of our sport.

Carl got involved in these politics, he liked being part of the decision making and that was fair enough; he had this truly great team and he had put everything into this sport. Without racing, he had no alternate business career and that’s where again we come back to the fact that he was one of us – he lived or died with the sport. A racer through and through, what put food on his table was motor racing and he was devoted to its momentum.

That’s also what drove him to raise the bar as far as top quality sponsorship was concerned. He really elevated the standard of Indy car racing, bringing it more and more into the public consciousness with big brand sponsors. No-one did it better than Carl – not Roger Penske, not anyone. He was so ambitious in getting the kind of sponsors that could improve the status of Indy car racing and put it at the level it deserved. And with Paul there, he could get them.

So it was the perfect situation at Newman/Haas – Berni ran the business, Carl ran the team. When Carl became too ill and Berni finally had to close the doors on the team [at the end of 2011], it was sad but inevitable. Paul was gone, Carl was sick and Berni had to focus on Carl and the business. It was a tough decision, I’m sure, but I don’t believe there was any other way forward. They had been the best, so there was never going to be any worthy substitute for them, was there?

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