Fenton, Mo. - - As a testimony to his chassis building prowess, Jerry Haas, of Fenton, Mo., has been selected to the Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team as Pro Stock Chassis Builder of the Year 13 times.
This is the first of four quarterly releases that is intended to give insight into the building of a Pro Stock car or truck chassis.
Jerry Haas was born in the small town of Salem, Mo., about 100 miles from his current residence in Fenton, Mo. He grew up on a large farm. It was on this farm that Haas honed skills that would forge an award winning career.
In a self-sufficient environment, such as a farm, you learn to fend for yourself. Haas recounts, "Being raised on a farm provided a great input in my life. When you broke something you couldn't run to the store to buy a new one or get it fixed. You had to take what was available and make it work."
This environment of being able to create with his hands led to Haas' first job after he moved to St. Louis. He accepted a position as a tool and die maker for a St. Louis company, a job he held for 18 years. This job also "bankrolled" his secondary career in drag racing. Drag racing started as a weekend hobby but soon took on bigger importance.
It was at the race track that Haas saw a new need - - the need for expert chassis building. Said Haas, "There weren't that many tubular race cars out there and I didn't like what other builders at the time were doing. I wanted to do business with somebody like I would want them to do business with me, so I decided to build chassis.
"I didn't know for sure at the time if it would work, but I took the risk. I had to make a big decision to leave the tool and die company to try something on my own. But I knew racing was what I wanted to do. You have to stick your neck out and try it. The company understood and they gave me a leave of absence for six months. If it didn't work out I could return at any time."
Well, needless to say, Haas never returned to that tool and die making job. The year was 1978 and Haas received his first order for a Pro Stock Pontiac from John Hipple. Haas recalls his first three orders.
"John (Hipple) orders a car and then he told somebody, they told somebody, and the next thing you know I'm building two more cars - one for Tommy Johnson and one for Rich Thomas. Hipple, Johnson and Thomas were my first three customers."
Haas added a fourth car that first year - a Chevy Camaro. This one was for Haas himself. Haas' driving duties and chassis building enterprises have always been intertwined. Says Haas of his double duty as both a driver and chassis fabricator, "Driving helps me know more about the cars and trucks I build and what other drivers and owners are talking about... you get a better feel of the chassis sitting behind the wheel."
While he was getting his new chassis building business off and running, Haas was continuing to pursue his driving career. By 1984 he had claimed two American Hot Rod Association Pro Stock championships - the first in 1981 and the second in '84.
Between the end of the 1984 season and the 1988 season, Haas alternated between driver and chassis fabricator. During that period Haas-built, Haas-owned or Haas-driven cars served notice they would continue to set the standard for a long period to come.
Haas formed another of many alliances in 1988, teaming with businessman John Hipple fielding a 1988 Camaro. The pair finalized their partnership in time for the NHRA U.S. Nationals, competing in the granddaddy of national events and four more that year. The association with Hipple continued through the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
The 1990 season also found Haas forging another partnership, this time with Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. A winner as a driver, Jenkins' engine expertise gave the needed power to propel Haas to the NHRA Pro Stock Car forefront.
In 1991 and 1992 Haas campaigned as an independent. 1992 also found Haas taking on a new role - that of teacher and mentor. During 1992 Haas prepared three young drivers - Billy Huff, John Nobile and Mark Osborne - for competition on the NHRA and IHRA circuit.
Haas opened the 1993 season with another young driver, Kurt Johnson, son of multi-time Pro Stock Car champion Warren Johnson. Greg Thomas followed Kurt Johnson to the driver's seat before Haas reclaimed his ride in July of that year.
Haas continued to campaign his independent Pro Stock entry through the 1995 season, when once again he returned to his fabricating shop to oversee the chassis building portion of his ever expanding race car factory.
During this time span Haas was only semi-retired from active driving. He continued to keep his reflexes honed to perfection by driving a 200-mph Corvette in Competition Eliminator.
With his chassis shop flourishing, Haas, the unassuming craftsman and driver, took on a new opportunity. In 1997 a new class, Pro Stock Truck, was emerging on the NHRA circuit. Jerry Haas and Jerry Haas Race Cars joined the groundswell of this upstart class. Haas built two Chevy S-10 trucks. Then Haas, together with fellow driver and engine builder, John Lingenfelter, staged the first of many exhibition runs for the new drag racing trucks.
Haas drove his Chevy S-10 at events all across the country during the '97 exhibition season. Then the 1997 exhibition gave way to head-to-head competition and official status as a professional category in 1998. During 1998, the first full year of actual competition for trucks, Haas finished in the fifth position in the Winston Pro Stock point standings. In addition to his driving duties, he continued to be the premiere truck builder in the newly created category. 1999 saw the Pro Stock Truck category begin to mature. When the dust had settled on the '99 season, the veteran driver had nailed down a top ten finish -- finishing at number ten.
For the start of the new millennium, Haas once again relinquished the driving seat - first to Brad Jeter, who moved up to Pro Stock shortly after the 2000 season started; then to Steven Farr. For 2001 Haas has expanded to a two truck team with Matt Rhoades, 36, from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and Charlie Greco, 50, from St. Davids, Penn., just outside Philadelphia, as drivers.
"I still do a lot of extensive testing in my truck. I still drive it a lot just to have the feel of it so I know what I'm doing. It gives me the feedback to upgrade my own truck operations and it also gives me feedback to build a better truck for my customers," said Haas. "I also put on my chassis building hat because of the corporate change in General Motors Pro Stock car models for 2001, from Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds to Chevrolet Cavaliers and Pontiac Gran-Ams. I find a greater need for my time in the chassis building shop."
That tells you how Haas got to this point in his career, now to your questions. For this release lets start with a couple general questions then pick up the pace in future quarterly releases.
How much does a Pro Stock car or truck cost?
Mb> Jerry Haas: A deluxe car/truck will cost the individual approximately $80,000, with the customer supplying engine, transmission, clutch and exhaust headers. A deluxe car/truck is the best of everything you can put on one. 99 percent of the cars and trucks sold at Jerry Haas Race Cars (JHRC) are deluxe models. The cost is the same for a car or a truck because it takes the same amount of time to construct a car as it does a truck. The normal person doesn't realize the hands-on, labor-intense work that goes in to building these vehicles. We don't use robots. This is people - craftsman - taking pride in their work.
How much time is involved in the construction of a Pro Stock car or truck?
Haas: From start to finish it takes us approximately eight to nine weeks to build a car or truck. The first two weeks we construct the chassis itself (tubing, strut mounts, rack and pinion, seat, steering column, pedals, etc.). It then comes off the chassis jig and goes to one of three body jigs for tin and/or carbon fiber work (floorboards, firewall, mount the body using standard and uniform NHRA templates). These templates insure that the cars are the same front-to-back and side-to-side, no matter the chassis builder. There is really no reason to alter these new bodies anyway. These new bodies are aerodynamically slick. We currently have templates for the Chevy Cavaliers, Pontiac Gran-Am, Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar. The Neon is still in the development stage, but it too will have templates as soon as it is ready for manufacturing. Currently the Gran-Am seems to be the most popular car at JHRC.
What is the ratio of cars to trucks that you are building currently?
Haas: For the past two to three years, JHRC has been heavily involved in the construction of Pro Stock trucks. It was a new class and there just weren't any out there. We now have the market and racers pretty well taken care of, so the demand for trucks has dropped off. We are currently developing the new Dakota for Dodge. As soon as the development work is complete to corporate and NHRA guidelines, the demand for the latest Dakota will pick-up. With the new models in cars, the demand has now moved to the car side of things. This year we probably will build three to four times as many cars as trucks. Before it was reversed. To this point, the most popular truck at JHRC has been the Chevy S-10.