Monday, December 5, 2011

A Sad Day indeed, NHR announces it’s ceasing of Operations...

By now you’ve probably heard the overly sad news that Newman Haas Racing (NHR) has decided to pull-the-plug and cease its racing operations effective immediately, although the 33-staff members will receive paychecks thru December 31, 2011 - with NHR closing shop and therefore not contesting the 2012 Indy Car Series season after a memorable 29-seasons of competition.

This is very-very sad news, as Newman/Haas has always been a perennial powerhouse team since its inception, albeit the Post-Champ Car unification years have been rather difficult for NHR. Although their first year as a CCWS “Transition” team saw them capture two victories; one apiece for THE GRAMINATOR, nee Graham Rahal at St Pete, with Justin ‘BIG UNIT Wilson being victorious at Detroit’s Belle Isle; the Lincolnshire, IL squad’s final victory before the passing of the legendary Paul Newman.


As ironically, the team’s final victory overall; but NHR then struggled to keep their ship afloat, even having taken on Honda’s Japanese Hideki-san, aka Hideki Mutoh And his Honda Formula Dream money to campaign a single car effort for 2010 originally; having dumped Graham Rahal for lack of funds - before the Son ‘O Stash found savior’s Quick Trim and the Kardashian ‘Seesters to enable Graham’s return to the Newman Haas Lanigan fold for the remainder of the season from Toronto onwards.

Yet for Mwah, I’ve always had mixed emotions towards Carl Haas and NHR, even though I’ve enjoyed their being a thorn in the side of The Captain, (Roger Penske) Pat Patrick and later-on Thee ‘Cheepster. (Chip Ganassi) As Newman/Haas was often the team to beat - especially when CART reputedly hit its zenith when ‘Ol BLOODY ‘NIGE (Mansell) jumped ship from Formula 1 and won the CART title in his rookie season of 1993...

As the story has been told numerous times of how Mario Andretti brokered the alliance between Can Am competitors Carl Haas and Paul Newman, with the latter running a team in conjunction with Bill Freman. As although Newman-Freman Racing never won the Can Am title which invariably fell to Carl Haas who was the Lola Cars Distributor, nonetheless Newman & Co ran a competitive ship with the likes of talented drivers such as: Elliot Forbes Robinson, (EFR) Keke Rosberg, Teo Fabi, Danny Sullivan and Bobby Rahal. As it was Newman’s Budweiser sponsorship plus Haas’s factory Lola that Mario drove in the team’s inaugural CART campaign in 1983, where he’d remain until retiring at the end of ’94...


Yet Newman/Haas was a thorn in my side for many seasons - as I was truly never a fan of Mario or Michael Andretti; who were the “ENEMY!” As for reasons now long forgotten, I was an Unser fan instead; primarily a ‘lil Al (Unser Jr.) fan... Although I’ve long since given up on him - prior to this year’s latest DWI incident, which seemingly tarnishes his driving achievements to Mwah; but I digress...

And although I didn’t personally become  acquainted with Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) until the late 1980’s and hence missed out on the beginning of Newman/Haas Racing and its star driver Mario Andretti in the Budweiser Lola... Nevertheless I remember NHR perennially running all black liveried Kmart and Texaco/Havoline racecars during the early 1990’s, in which ‘Mikey won his lone CART Championship in, although I recall Christian Fittipaldi being his teammate... Which was after the Super Mario Arrivaderchi Tour in ’94; while I found it funny that Paul Tracy’s name was left outta the Newman Haas lore, as the Krazy ‘KuhNuck did a short spell for Newman Haas circa 1995, a one-year sabbatical from Penske Racing where he upstaged ‘Mikey’s lone victory with two ‘W’s to his credit that year, nonetheless in a “BUTTWIPER” sponsored chassis I believe... 

And speakin’ of Mario, who once tried running over one of our Portland Int’l Raceway Boyz Posse in the Paddock, I seem to believe that I can still envision an all red Hannah Car Wash Lola/Chevrolet letting down Mario during the ’87 Indy 500 after thoroughly dominating the races first 179-laps!

While your humble scribe once observed Carl Haas chewing his signature “mile-long” cigar on an all black Kmart scooter in the Portland Paddock from a relatively safe distance away...

And then there was ‘SHORTY, aka Cristiano da Matta who stopped the Gil de Ferran Penske/Honda Freightrain with his title in ’02, before NHR became the scourge of Champ Car to Mwah... As le Hamburgular, nee Sebastain Bourdais was the driver to beat with his four consecutive CCWS titles (2004-07) as I was a  ‘BIG UNIT (Justin Wilson) Fan all of those years and relished anytime ‘J-Dub defeated ‘SeaBass...

Thus its hard to see this CART mainstay bite-the-dust, as they’ve just come off of an extremely productive season with Oriel Servia finishing fourth in the Drivers title fight, with thee Mayor ‘O Hinchtown, aka James Hinchcliffe winning R.O.Y. (Rookie Of the Year) honours over JR Hildebrand and Charlie Kimball amongst others... As I’d really like to see both of these drivers continue their Indy Car career’s in ’12. As I hope Hinch will land a ride at RLLR alongside ‘Taku-san (Takuma Sato) or perhaps either partner “Symone Pagenoe” (Simon Pagenaud) at SSM. Or better yet, see Servia & Hinchcliffe and the NHR nucleus form a two-car operation at Dragon Racing - as after all it’s the staff members, not drivers who’ll potentially suffer the most from this storied team going Out-of-Business...


STATS
Owners: Paul Newman and Carl Haas
First Race: Atlanta Motor Speedway, 1983
First Win: Mario Andretti; Road America, 1983
Last Race: Las Vegas, 2011
Last Win: Justin Wilson; Belle Isle, 2008
Total Wins: 107
Total Poles: 109
Championship Titles (8)
Mario Andretti; 1984, Michael Andretti; 1991, Nigel Mansell; 1993, Cristiano da Matta; 2002, Sebastian Bourdais; 2004-07.

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