End of an era: Newman-Haas done after 29 seasons

Harsh economy claims one of open-wheel racing’s greatest teams; Servia, Hinchcliffe now looking for new rides

The statement from team owner Carl Haas was as shocking as it was brief: “The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open wheel racing at this time.”

And with that one sentence, one of racing’s traditional powerhouses said its final goodbyes to the IZOD IndyCar Series. After 29 seasons of open-wheel competition, eight-time CART/Champ Car World Series champions Newman-Haas Racing is off the grid.

While their glory days with such illustrious names like Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Sebastien Bourdais were in the past, the team still scrapped hard in their final years, and in their last full season in 2011, they performed admirably with its veteran driver, Oriol Servia, nabbing fourth place in the championship, and its rookie pilot, James Hinchcliffe, besting J.R. Hildebrand for the series’ rookie of the year honors.

But their on-track performance was still not enough to save themselves from a continuously hellish economy for motorsports (and America, in general). Marshall Pruett of SPEEDTV.com reports that the team has released all its employees and will provide severance pay for them until December 31 — at that point, they’ll officially shut down.

Following the passing of team co-founder and actor Paul Newman in 2008, the team has had to race with reduced sponsorship in the last few seasons. One could argue that when Newman was no longer in the picture, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when, NHR would be forced to go away as the economy went downhill.

But that’s besides the point right now. One of IndyCar’s longest-tenured squads won’t be lining up with the rest in St. Petersburg next March and their fan-favorite tandem of drivers are now having to hunt for rides this winter.

Hopefully, the stellar efforts of Servia, Hinchcliffe and the rest of the NHR team members in 2011 will help them in their search for new employment. Meanwhile, an amazing legacy is being left behind by a team that has gone down in history as one of the best to get on the track.

In summary, a sad day for open-wheel racing. One can safely assume a longtime race fan is looking at his or her old Newman-Haas shirt right now, perhaps wondering why life and racing can change so quickly.

They can hardly be blamed for thinking that NHR would always be around.