Carl Haas, co-founder of Newman-Haas Racing, dies at 86

Finding Carl Haas in an IndyCar garage was a simple matter of looking for the man with the cigar. His name was just as easy to spot in the record books as well.

Haas, co-founder of Newman-Haas Racing with late actor Paul Newman, has died. He was 86.

His company, Carl Haas Automobile Imports Inc., posted a statement on its website Thursday saying Haas died on June 29 at his home surrounded by family.

Newman-Haas established itself as one of the most successful open-wheel teams, hiring Mario Andretti as its first driver. Among its other drivers were Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais and Christian Fittipaldi. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway issued a statement Thursday describing Haas as one of the most influential men in motorsports for nearly a half-century.

Newman-Haas cars made 30 starts over a 28-year span at the Indianapolis 500 from 1983-2011, with six top-five finishes. He also fielded teams in Can-Am, Formula 1 and NASCAR.

Known for his omnipresent cigar and a savvy business sense, Haas teamed with Newman to form Newman-Haas in 1983 and build a long record of success with the legendary Andretti leading that impressive driver roster.

NHR won 107 IndyCar races and eight CART titles, including the final four in Champ Car, CART's successor. Andretti won the 1984 title along with 18 races with the team over the final 12 years of his legendary career.

Overall, Haas' teams won 16 championships and more than 140 races over a 44-year career as an owner.

''He touched many lives and many careers with his involvement in the sport,'' Andretti said Thursday by phone. ''He certainly touched my life. I felt I should have some say in matters with the team and the engineers, and they gave me that.''

Though Newman was the face and oftentimes the voice for their successful racing operation, Haas was happy doing the everyday work in the background. But make no mistake, Haas respected Newman's business mind and included him in every facet of a venture Andretti called a ''marriage made in Heaven.''

The pair endured some dark times as well.

Haas and Newman were among a fierce group of team owners devoted to open wheel racing on road and street courses. That philosophy clashed with owner Tony George, whose family owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the marquee Indianapolis 500 and considered that race as the cornerstone for an oval-based series.

Andretti recalls Haas and Newman eventually coming around to the concept of racing on an all circuits, but it wasn't easy.

''Paul and Carl were primarily devoted to road racing because they were both racers,'' Andretti said. ''They came to embrace ovals even if they didn't totally like it. When Tony started his series all he had was Indy, while CART had everything but Indy.

''Paul and Carl were loyal to who they were with, and held on to their ideal as long as they could.''

George eventually formed the rival Indy Racing League in 1996 and created a bitter open wheel racing split that damaged both circuits. The rival series eventually reunified in 2008 with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing being one of the final teams to join, but the sport has struggled to regain its stature.

Andretti said Haas remained an unpretentious, likable personality who was never far from his cigar ''unless he was asleep.''

Fellow owners felt the same way.

IndyCar and NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi tweeted, ''R.I.P. Carl Haas. You were a mentor, a leader, and great friend to many including me. You will be missed my friend.''

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