- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- He was speaking at NASCAR's annual Sprint Cup media tour, but most of the questions directed toward Gene Haas involved Formula One.
Haas, co-owner of the Stewart-Haas Racing Sprint Cup team, revealed recently that he is in the process of applying for a license to field a Formula One team beginning in 2015. On Monday, Haas repeated his desire to form America's first F1 entrant since Penske Racing competed in the world's premier form of motorsports from a base in England from 1974 to 1978.
Haas' team would be the first U.S.-based F1 team since Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing fielded a car for Mario Andretti from 1974 to 1976.
In 1985, former Indy car team owner Carl Haas (no relation to Gene Haas) put together an F1 team sponsored by American conglomerate Beatrice to spearhead Ford's re-entry into the sport, using cars built in England by Lola. But a corporate reorganization at Beatrice resulted in the team disbanding after the 1986 season.
Gene Haas is determined to field a start-up team out of the Charlotte area, most likely from a new facility that would be built on land he owns near Kannapolis, N.C.
"We've looked at buying a team, but there are problems associated with that," Haas told ESPN.com. "First of all, it's tremendously expensive, with a lot of existing personnel you're responsible for. Some of them have a lot of debt you would have to pay off. So they all have their issues.
"Starting our own team has its problems too, but the good thing is that it would be an American team," he added. "That really was the No. 1 fundamental priority -- to have an American team competing in a European series."
Haas acknowledged that one problem he needs to overcome is the stigma left by USF1, an attempt at starting an American F1 team in 2009 that was granted entry to the 2010 F1 season but never came close to getting off the ground.
Last week, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone appeared to pour cold water on Haas' effort, saying it was "most unlikely" such a venture would succeed and strongly suggesting that Haas couldn't afford the cost of a competitive F1 venture.
"It's no good proving someone has got the money," Ecclestone told Formula One business reporter Caroline Reid. "Somebody can have $10 billion in the bank but it doesn't mean they are going to spend it. It's nothing to do with having enough resources. You can't tell them to make a commitment because it's a commitment to do what? It's always been like that."
Haas, who amassed his considerable fortune through the Haas Automation firm that produces computerized milling machines -- the likes of which are used by many F1 teams -- responded to Ecclestone's comments Monday.
"It scares me!" Haas said with a laugh. "When the head of Formula One says, 'You can't afford this,' he probably knows what he's talking about. I think he's just being as brutally honest with us as he can. It was a little disheartening. If he's telling me I'm not going to get a license, I appreciate that. It's better to know now than later. I don't want to spend a lot of time if I don't have a chance to get a license.
"Maybe he's just trying to warn me. Maybe Formula One is just not ready for another team. If there are teams at the back that are all already struggling, why does F1 need another team?"
Asked directly if he could afford it, Haas replied: "I won't know until I try. If you don't try, you'll never fail. We have a different way of doing things and I think we can be a lot more efficient at what we do. The Europeans have their way of doing things, and we as Americans have our way of doing things. I think we could be competitive and successful."
NASCAR star Tony Stewart, the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, voiced his support for his partner's efforts to break into F1 -- though he quickly clarified that he is not part of the proposed team.
"That's Gene's project, but it's pretty exciting," Stewart said. "We're supportive of his aspirations to be in Formula One. For us [Stewart-Haas Racing] it's exciting, because there are things down the road that could benefit our Cup program as well if Gene was to acquire a Formula One team.
"It's a great opportunity," Stewart added. "Gene has had the ability to build a championship caliber team in NASCAR, and now he's ambitious to expand on that and go to a worldwide scenario. Gene is the kind of person who, when he puts his mind to it, he has the ability to stay focused. He's done that with the Cup side, he's done that with Haas Automation, and it's going to be exciting watching him try to do that in Formula One."
Haas said the next deadline for the application process is Feb. 10, and he expects to learn by the end of March whether he will be able to move ahead with his plans for an American Formula One team.
"We have a shot," he said. "I don't think it's a great shot; it could go either way. Bernie is always encouraging, but I think he's a little skeptical about whether we could really do it. He's seen teams make these applications that fail, and I don't think he wants to go through that again."
8dBob Pockrass and John Oreovicz