Gordon Kirby

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A star-studded send-off

On the first weekend in November, four months after his death, Carl Haas’s devoted wife and business partner Berni organised a wonderful memorial and reception to celebrate her husband’s life. Following the service at St Mary’s Church in Lake Forest, we walked a couple of blocks to the Deer Path Inn, Carl’s favourite 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, a key man in running Carl’s Can-Am cars for Jackie Stewart in 1971 and Hobbs in ’72.

Also among the guests were many former Newman/Haas managers and engineers such as Brian Lisles, John Tzounakis, 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.

John Szymanski served as master of ceremonies for lunch, introducing many Newman/Haas drivers and getting some of Carl’s friends to tell a story or two. Szymanski was a long-time 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. He tried to define Carl’s approach to racing and his broader overall impact on the sport.

“Carl created an environment that enabled so many people to come through his organisation and to prosper and grow,” Szymanski said.
“They demanded engineering excellence and that was Carl’s first priority too, versus the commercial side. 

“Carl also 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, in addition to 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. 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.”

Michael Andretti drove for Newman/Haas from 1989-92, teamed with his father Mario, and then again from 1995-2000, winning 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 driving together with my dad 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.

“You could never stay mad at Carl, because he would go and do something that would make you laugh. I remember at Elkhart Lake 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 race track. He was in front of me and his coat sleeve was hanging out of his 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 track. 

“Again, those were the best years of my life, the greatest years. I miss Carl and I love you, Berni.”

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