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Haas Finds A Whole New World On Return To Racing

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2009
Gene Haas (Photo Courtesy CIA Stock Photo)

Gene Haas (Photo Courtesy CIA Stock Photo)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Concord, N.C. – The other half of Stewart Haas Racing, Gene Haas, met with the media on Thursday for the first time since he returned to racing after serving prison time for tax evasion.

Haas, seated on the podium in the Lowe’s Motor Speedway media center between his partner, Tony Stewart, and the team’s competition director, Bobby Hutchens, seemed uncomfortable at times, but in other instances he wore a broad smile.

Haas said that when he returned to the old Haas/CNC Racing shop, he found the facility much the same, equipment-wise. The difference was in the spirit and enthusiasm of the people working there.

“There was a difference in the attitude,” he said. “We have this winning attitude throughout the company. Before we didn’t have too many fans shopping, and now we have quite a few coming in.”

He said the initial “wild crazy idea” to pursue Stewart came from general manager Joe Custer, but he was all for anything that would get his team off the bottom of the speed and points charts.

“We’d been in business for six years, and really we were just struggling,” Haas said. “We needed to make a change or tear the place down and turn it into a truck stop. It wasn’t fun any more going to the races.”

He said he never felt like he and his team were insiders in NASCAR before.

“In NASCAR it’s like it takes five years before people accept you,” he said, adding that the toughest task for a struggling owner is to identify talented people and then convince them to come to work for you. “It takes a lot of tenacity and time and money, and finding talent is the hardest part.”

Now that he’s solved that problem by bringing on Stewart as co-owner, he plans to stay out of the way and let those people do their jobs.

“I’m not a hands-on manager myself,” he said. “The only thing I’m qualified to do is open up champagne bottles. I think Tony and Ryan are two of the best drivers today. They know what they’re doing. We have great crew chiefs, managers.

“I sit in on the driver’s meeting, but I’m really just learning. I don’t think I could a lot in the business. I don’t live this on a day-to-day basis.”

Haas said that he never really knew Stewart before and viewed him as a hard fellow to get along with. Now he sees a completely different person.

“He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” he said. “He’s calm, very quiet  – a total reversal from what I thought. His temper’s a lot more in control than mine.”

Haas answered questions about his time behind bars, comparing his situation to being in the armed forces in some ways. “We did a little work, and exercised a lot,” he said. “There was no real security.”

He said he wasn’t angry with anyone and compared his situation to someone who was afflicted with a disease and had a “Why me? Why did this happen to me?” attitude about it. “You just have to put the pieces back together again,” he said. “It was an unfortunate part of my life. I stood up and took responsibility for what happened…I just want to get on with my life….

“I don’t have hard feelings against anybody.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2009
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