TONY STEWART, DRIVER AND CO-OWNER OF STEWART-HAAS RACING, BOBBY HUTCHENS, DIRECTOR OF COMPETITION, AND GENE HAAS, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF HAAS AUTOMATION met with media and discussed changes to the race team, their recent All-Star win, and more. CAN...
TONY STEWART, DRIVER AND CO-OWNER OF STEWART-HAAS RACING, BOBBY HUTCHENS, DIRECTOR OF COMPETITION, AND GENE HAAS, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF HAAS AUTOMATION met with media and discussed changes to the race team, their recent All-Star win, and more.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES IN THE BUILDING ONCE YOU GOT THERE, AND WHAT TONY STEWART HAS ACCOMPLISHED SINCE HE GOT THERE?
HAAS: "The building to me looks the same as it was a year or so ago. Actually, the biggest differences I see is really kind of in the attitude. It seems like we have this winning attitude throughout the company now and that was probably the biggest thing I've seen. Before, we didn't have too many fans come into our fan shop and there are quite of a few of those coming in now. So if anything, it just seems like a whole new attitude throughout the whole complex. That's what I've noticed the most. Physically, it looks very much similar to what it was."
WHAT CAUSED YOU TO BRING TONY STEWART ON BOARD?
HAAS: "Well, I have to give that credit to Joe Custer. I really didn't hear too much about what was going on about what to do with the team. But Joe approached me a little over a year ago and said he had this idea. His idea was that we had to make a change. Obviously Haas CNC Racing had been in the business for six years and we really were just struggling. Like any other businessmen, you know you have to do something. We needed to do something in a big way. I kind of told Joe that I don't need to be coming to these races to be running 35th in points. So I told him either we make a change or we turn the place into a truck stop. It wasn't funny to go to the races and lose all the time. So I really have to give Joe Custer the credit for coming up with this wild, crazy idea."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE LAST 16 MONTHS AND WHAT YOU WERE ALLOWED TO DO AND HOW MUCH YOU KEPT UP WITH RACING?
HAAS: "I was over at the USP (United States Penitentiary) at Lompoc, California. I went in there in January of '08 and I was released November 12, '08 back to Hollywood, California. People ask me what it's like. Basically from some of the people I've talked to there it's probably like being in the Army; basic camp. You've got your bunk beds. Your day is somewhat regimented. Most of us spent most of our day doing a little bit of work, exercise a lot, and your day just seems to get filled up with routine. On the weekends, you had visits. So the days and weeks, they go by slowly. But there is really a lot going on. There is no real security there other than you're on an honor system. Really, everybody tries to be on their best behavior there because they know if they don't, things could get worse quickly."
YOU WERE NOT A STRUGGLING OWNER, FINANCIALLY, SO WAS IT JUST A MATTER OF FINDING THE RIGHT TALENT TO BRING IN?
HAAS: "Well, actually that is the biggest problem with a team is trying to find the talent. When I started our NASCAR team in 2002, it was really ridiculous. Most people start off with a Truck team or a Busch team or something a little less strenuous. But whatever. I never really seem to get things right, so I just decided what the heck, we'll just go for the Cup team. And we had been a sponsor for Hendrick Motorsports and supplied them with their machine tools. And Rick Hendrick basically after I'd gone to, well actually with Joe Custer because Joe Custer and I ran off-road trucks, we were kind of wandering around trying to find something else to do and we had some discussions with different race teams that are no longer around. And actually it was Rick who kind of gave us the direction of which way to go. From that, it's really difficult. It seems like in NASCAR it takes five years before the people in the garage will even really accept you. It's almost like you don't really exist until you've been here for a few years and people get to know you and understand that you might survive. Obviously the teams that disappear, we forget about quickly. But it really does take a lot of tenacity and money and time and effort just to survive in this competitive racing. And finding talent is probably the hardest thing to do for a small team."
NOW THAT YOU HAVE SUCH A STRONG TEAM WITH TONY STEWART COMING IN AND ADDING A WHOLE GROUP OF PEOPLE, HOW DO YOU INTERJECT YOURSELF BACK INTO THE OPERATION? WHAT WILL BE YOUR ROLE WITH THE STRENGTH OF THE LEADERS YOU HAVE THERE NOW?
HAAS: "Well, running a business and doing it successfully is probably a little bit of magic there too. What I'm really good at is basically finding people who know what they're doing and letting them do their thing. I've never really been a hands-on manager myself. I don't put my fingers in things. I put a lot of faith in the people I have and then let them run with what they have and see where it goes. For me, personally, that's been pretty successful. As far as how I'm going to put myself back in here in day-to-day operations, about the only thing I'm really qualified to do is open up champagne bottles. So, that I can do. I really think that Tony and Ryan (Newman) are two of the best drivers on the circuit today. And I think they know what they're doing. We have great crew chiefs, we have good managers, and it's been well thought out. When I sit in on the driver meetings, I'm really just learning and that's probably the fun part for me. I don't think I can really interject a lot into the business because I don't live this on a day-to-day basis. But I have a lot of faith in the people that I see. Obviously we're starting to finally get some results. Winning our first race in seven years was something that was a long time coming. And we'll have to see where it goes from there."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR INCARCERATION? DID YOU COME OUT OF IT THINKING THAT YOU PAID YOUR DEBT? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF? DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT WAS A BAD EXPERIENCE THAT IS FOR THE GOOD IN THE LONG RUN? I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE DETAILS OF WHAT GOT YOU THERE, HOW YOU REACT TO IT AND WHAT ITS AFFECT HAD ON YOU?
HAAS: "Well, I think everything you said is true. All of those things go through your head. I think probably the biggest thing that comes to your mind is well why me, why did this happen to me. I don't know, I really don't. Maybe it is a lot like being stricken with cancer or hit by a drunk driver, your life changes. What you try to do is put the pieces back together as best you can and move on and try to minimize the damage that happens in your life. The way I like it, it was an unfortunate event in my life. I stood up, I took responsibility for what happened. This goes back to the year 2000 so it is almost nine years ago that these events occurred. We are finally getting them behind me. I just want to get on with my life. There is not much I can do about it. It is in the past, it is time to move on. I don't have any hard feelings against anybody or the government or anybody, these things happen. If you dwell on them too long, you'll never go forward."
THIS IS ABOUT THE BIGGEST RACING WEEKEND IN THE WORLD WITH THE F-1 IN MONACO, THE INDY 500 AND THE COCA COLA 600, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE COKE 600 AND INDY RUN ON CONSECUTIVE DAYS INSTEAD OF THE SAME DAY? IF THAT HAPPENED WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN RUNNING INDY?
STEWART: "God, I hate when you do that to me. Yea, I would love to do it again. My dream of running Indy and winning Indy is still there. It has never gone away. The hard part about it now, is it is so technical and talking to Larry Curry this weekend, hearing how the month had gone when I got catch up with him actually on Monday night, it is a scenario where you can't just show up and get in one of those things anymore and be good in them. I think to really put together an effort to go, not just try to make the Indy 500, but try to win the Indy 500, I think you have to start the season in February with that team and run through the Indy 500 with them if you are even going to have a shot at it. Even if they switch days, I don't know that it is feasible to do it. It is not just the logistics of making the two races, it is everything that leads in. The preparation, the testing, the time behind the wheel of getting acclimated to the cars again, that is more important than just the sheer logistics of race day. I have always liked the fact you wake up, you watch the Indy 500 race during the day then you get to watch the longest NASCAR race of the year in the evening, the Coca Cola 600. I have always thought that is what kind of made Memorial Day so special is you got to see so many major events in such a short amount of time all there together."
IN YOUR EARLY DAYS AS A CAR OWNER, WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF TONY BACK THEN AND HOW HAS THAT CHANGED?
HAAS: "Most of my information like everybody else. I thought Tony was kind of a hard-ass son-of-a-gun. And actually, I have only really talked to him at any length in the last few months, he is one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He is very calm, very quiet. Total reversal of what I saw in the media."
STEWART INTERJECTS: "Be really careful because they think a lot different of me than this. I have worked really hard to build what I have been doing here. (LAUGHS)
HAAS: "I think his temper is a lot more controlled than mine. I could be wrong."
WHAT TIME DID YOU ACTUALLY GET UP ON SUNDAY? DID YOU TALK THEM IN TO BRINGING THE ALL-STAR CAR BACK?
STEWART: "We did bring a different car. Darian thought that this car would actually be a little better this weekend. We learned a lot obviously last weekend in the All-Star Race. They cleaned that car off and I am not sure if they brought it as a backup car, but I know, the plan, even before last weekend started was to go ahead and bring a different car this weekend. We stuck to that plan.
"Believe it or not I actually made it up by noon, which I thought was pretty impressive considering I got to bed at 6:30 (a.m.)."
TELL US WHAT YOU HAVE DONE SINCE YOU TOOK OVER AS THE RACE DIRECTOR FOR THE TEAM TO MAKE THEM SO COMPETITIVE?
BOBBY HUTCHENS: "Well when we went in there, the first week after Homestead, we sat down, Darian, Tony, Matt Borland and myself, Joe (Custer) and kind of evaluated the people and the equipment. We decided at that point in time we would go through all of the equipment and make all the chassis the same, make all the bodies the same. Essentially on December 1st, we had no cars in the shop. That was a big undertaking but we all felt at the end of the day that was the best thing to hopefully aid our performance. We got to Daytona and after. Also in that same fact of trying to get those parts and pieces put together the way we want them to be put together, that allowed us to also be able to use the Hendrick data base that we were allowed to look at on the weekends and hopefully be able to compare parts and pieces and as I heard Jeff Gordon allude to earlier some knowledge. That was a big part I think in our decisions making as far as what we did with the equipment."
-credit: gm racing