For Carl Haas, It’s a Working Weekend : The Only Fun in Racing Is Winning, Says the Man Who Runs Andretti’s Team
A race weekend, such as this one at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, is work for Carl Haas, a Chicago importer of Lola race cars who runs the team for which Mario Andretti drives.
“The fun, the only real fun, in racing is winning,” said Haas between puffs of the expensive cigar that has become his trademark. “Racing is a business, totally, and finishing second is nothing. You still lost. If you win, Sunday night is fun and it might even carry over to Monday morning. Then it’s work again.”
Haas, 55, has had more fun Sundays over the last 12 years than anyone else in racing. His drivers have won nine national championships, driving Lolas in Formula 5000, Can-Am, Super Vee and Indy-car competition. There have been 51 wins and 17 seconds in 114 races.
Last year, with Andretti driving, the team Haas and actor Paul Newman own together won the Indy-car championship in only its third year on the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) circuit.
So what is Haas doing for an encore?
He put together a racing sponsorship package for Beatrice Companies, Inc., of Chicago, that will finance his team in CART and Formula One for the next five years to the tune of an estimated $80 million. The figure is only a rough guess, but it definitely is the most lucrative deal in U.S. racing history.
“Like I’ve said all along, the numbers themselves aren’t important,” Haas said while relaxing in the lobby of his hotel. “It could be 80, or 50, or 100 million. I’m not saying, but I will say that it is adequate. We are well-financed.”
Beatrice, like Haas, is headquartered in Chicago. It is the largest food products company in the United States, and also operates Avis, Samsonite luggage, Culligan water treatment and Max Factor cosmetics.
About two-thirds of the sponsorship money will go toward establishing a Lola team in Formula One. Former world champion Alan Jones of Australia is coming out of retirement to drive, although the new car will not be ready until the last five races this year. Next season, there will be two drivers--Jones and perhaps Michael Andretti, Mario’s oldest son.
“Formula One is so expensive, probably three or four times as expensive as CART, that the costs are boggling,” Haas said. “By the end of the season, we will have 70 employees in our facility in England. Everything must be manufactured individually. The way the purse and the series is structured, a team must have two drivers, which means twice the support group.”
Haas’ team will be known as Formula One Race Car Engineering (FORCE) and will be run by Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander, veterans of the old Bruce McLaren team. They have won two world championships and three Indianapolis 500s.
“I am no absentee owner,” Haas said. “Since last November, when we started putting the team together, I’ve been to England 8 or 10 times, getting things organized. Trying to oversee programs on two continents is going to be difficult, but my secret, if you can call it that, is hiring the best people I can find.
“I couldn’t have found two men better equipped to start a new team than Teddy and Tyler, and I couldn’t have two better drivers than Andretti or Jones. That’s the secret.”
The Haas-Newman CART team, the favorite in the PPG Indy-car series starting today at Long Beach, is headquartered in Highland Park, Ill. Newman is Haas’ partner in the Indy-car venture but is not involved in the Formula One team.
“Costs keep spiraling in CART, but it is nothing like Formula One,” Haas said. “In CART, you can buy a car from Lola or March, an engine from Cosworth and put together a team. We only have 15 employees.”
Haas said he has felt a sense of resentment among some Indy-car owners over his financial windfall, but he believes their attitude should be just the opposite.
“When a major corporation, like Beatrice, comes into the game, it is likely to attract other such companies who can appreciate the visibility of motor racing,” he said. “It’s kind of like free agency in baseball. It didn’t just make one player rich--it elevated the entire salary structure of the game. Motor racing is a very underpaid sport and having a major corporation involved has to be a plus for everyone.
“Besides, money alone will not buy victories. You need enough to prepare properly, but after that the important factor is motivation. We have competed in the past against teams that were better financed than we were, and we beat them.
“Purse money and crowd attendance alone will never pay for racing. The sport must have sponsorship and TV exposure to exist, but isn’t TV what pays for football and basketball, too? They don’t pay those salaries from their gate.
“From Beatrice’s standpoint, they feel it is a very good buy for them. The figures talked about sound high because racing isn’t accustomed to them, but from a sponsor’s standpoint it’s a good investment compared to paying a million dollars a minute for a TV commercial. Having a sponsor like ours in racing is good for the whole sports scene.”
One-minute spots for last January’s Super Bowl football game cost $1 million each.
There has been a feeling, too, among Indy car old-timers, that big-bucks operations such as Haas’ are scaring off smaller teams. For instance, only 79 cars have entered the Indianapolis 500 this year, compared to more than 100 in the past.
“We don’t need 90 or 100 cars at Indy,” Haas said. “Only 33 can race, so if we get 40 good cars it would be better than having another 50 who aren’t competitive and only fill up garage space.”
Who is Carl Haas?
For a man who has helped such drivers as Alan Jones, Jacky Ickx, Patrick Tambay, Brian Redman and Andretti to national championships, he is relatively unknown outside racing circles.
Born in Chicago 55 years ago, Haas developed an early affection for fast European sports cars. He traveled to England in 1956 to race an Elva in Tourist Trophy races.
“While I was over there I raced against Lolas and met Eric Broadley, who owns Lola, and developed a rapport with him,” Haas said. “About 10 years later, I was the McLaren-Elva distributor in Chicago when Eric called and asked if I would handle his Lola race cars in the United States. Graham Hill had just won the Indy 500 in a Lola, so I jumped at the chance.”
That simple statement, I developed a rapport with him , seems to come up time and again in Haas’ career.
There is his relationship with Newman, for instance.
“Paul and I competed against each other in Can-Am in 1981 and had a nice rapport,” Haas said. “When the future didn’t look too good in Can-Am, Paul became interested in starting his own Indy-car team. I was looking for the same thing, so I said, ‘Paul, why don’t we put our efforts together and go get Mario to drive for us.’ He agreed and we’ve been together ever since.”
Andretti was driving for Pat Patrick at the time, but he switched to Haas-Newman for the 1983 season. Why?
“We’d raced against him back in Formula 5000 days,” Haas said. “He was driving for Parnelli Jones when I had Redman and Tambay. One race when Tambay was sick, I had Mario drive my Lola. We always had a good rapport, and when Michael Andretti drove a Formula Ford for me in ’82, it just seemed natural to get Mario for our Indy car.”
Developing a new car took time, and Andretti did not win until mid-season of 1983 at Elkhart Lake. He also won at Caesars Palace and finished third behind Al Unser and Teo Fabi in the standings.
Last year, the development work paid off. Andretti started the year by totally dominating the Long Beach Grand Prix and wound up with six wins, eight pole positions and 10 track records. He was named Eljer Driver of the Year and won a record $931,929.
“We’d like to repeat what we did in 1984, but it will be much more difficult,” Haas said. “Our team has improved, but the level of the other teams has, too. When we came to Long Beach last year, we were well prepared, probably better than the others, but this year teams like Penske, Patrick, Truesports and Kraco have been very busy. My guess is it will be a very competitive weekend.”
Haas is two for two at Long Beach. When Redman won the inaugural Formula 5000 race through the streets of Long Beach in 1975, he was driving a Lola owned by Haas. Last year, in the first Indy-car race on the seaside course, Andretti won in Haas’ Lola.
Will he have another fun-filled Sunday today?