published Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Young: Haas’ latest business risk turns golden with Stewart

Gene Haas hasn’t always made the best business decisions, but his decision to turn over co-ownership in his NASCAR Sprint Cup team to Tony Stewart has proven to be pure gold.

Haas, who founded Haas Automation Inc., the nation’s largest machine tool builder, recently was released from jail after serving time for conspiring to cheat the government out of millions of dollars in taxes. For his homecoming he was able to witness Stewart win a cool million at the NASCAR all-star event in Charlotte.

Never has a Cup owner done so much by doing so little. Where would this team be if its incarcerated owner hadn’t handed over controlling interest to a driver whose business background included nothing that would have suggested such a quick turnaround. Stewart has had success in his track and minor racing dealings, but for him to now be rubbing elbows with Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush is an amazing story.

Few doubted Stewart had the drive to eventually be a success, but for it to happen this quickly — well, no one saw it. It’s clear a big part of what’s happened is because Stewart has both put all his energy into the team and he’s matured as a person. Saturday night, shortly after taking the checkered flag, he sounded like a veteran owner.

“This is just so good for our guys,” Stewart said. “For Gene, who took a chance and gave me ownership in his team and believed in us, and Joe Custer, who has worked really hard in helping us get the right people in the right positions, this is great. For all the people that believed in us — the office people, the people with Office Depot, Coca-Cola and Chevrolet and to know that they are behind us 100 percent. For the guys on the team — there were a bunch of these guys that had never been in Victory Lane before, and that is the coolest part to me.”

Haas won’t be given many kudos for the turnaround, but this wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t risked millions. Stewart’s only risk was his reputation.

“Everybody’s given us all the credit for this,” Stewart said. “And you really have got to give him the credit for taking the gamble and taking the risk and having us come be a part of this organization like that and trusting us to make some pretty big decisions and personnel changes. That’s not something that a lot of people in that position are willing to do and give up that kind of control to let a totally different group of guys come in and all of a sudden start changing things around.”

Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman are second and eighth in points, outperforming such long-successful organizations as Roush Fenway and Richard Childress Racing. Stewart-Haas is easily the hottest property in the garage, and it’s now a place where people want to work.

“People really wanted to be a part of this because we were starting from ground up,” said Darian Grubb, Stewart’s crew chief. “And obviously the excitement was there because Tony was coming in, Ryan was coming in. They knew we had the caliber of drivers it took to win. They all wanted to be a part of it.

“Now that flow has not changed at all. Every time we’ve been running good every week, there’s more calls coming in saying, ‘Congratulations. Oh, by the way, we’d like to be a part of it.’”

Of course, the all-star win won’t go in the record books as a Sprint Cup victory, but the team now has a million reasons not to care. It also has proof that this grand experiment is working and that the future is quite bright.

Just ask Gene Haas.

about Lindsey Young...

Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...

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