Darlington Throwback

Stewart-Haas Racing Celebrates Haas History with Darlington Throwback

Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet that Kurt Busch will drive this weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway will feature a special paint scheme dedicated to Haas Automation’s first machine tool.

Busch is one of many drivers running a commemorative paint scheme for the 67th annual Southern 500. In a tradition that began last year at NASCAR’s oldest track, teams will feature paint schemes honoring the sport’s history, its sponsors and the drivers of the past who made NASCAR the motorsports powerhouse it is today.

The No. 41 paint scheme pays homage to the VF-1, the first computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine manufactured by Haas Automation and launched in 1988. The “V” stands for vertical, which is an industry standard designation for a vertical mill. Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, added “F-1” to the name to unofficially designate it as the company’s “Very First One.” Since then, Haas Automation has gone on to become the largest CNC machine-tool builder in North America.

Getting there, however, took an incredible amount of work.

In 1978, after working for three years as an industrial programmer, Haas founded Proturn Engineering, a small contract machine shop in Sun Valley, California. Haas worked side-by-side with his two employees at Proturn Engineering, machining parts for the electronics and aerospace industries. It was during that time Haas developed a fully-programmable 5C collet indexer to boost productivity in his own shop. The Haas 5C was the industry’s first device to automatically re-position parts accurately for machining by simply pressing a button, as opposed to having to reposition the material by hand – a cumbersome and time-consuming process.

The machine-tool industry received the economical and reliable Haas 5C Indexer with enthusiasm, and in 1983, Haas Automation, Inc. was born. The company started with three employees in a 5,000-square-foot (465-square meter) facility. During the next four years, Haas expanded his product line to include a wide selection of fully-programmable rotary tables, indexers and machine-tool accessories. Haas Automation quickly became the leader in fourth- and fifth-axis parts positioning.

In 1987, Haas took what he learned from the 5C Indexer and designed and developed the VF-1. The prototype was introduced to the manufacturing world in 1988 at the International Machine Tool Show (IMTS) in Chicago. Haas listed the machine at the unheard of price of $49,900. Industry experts were skeptical that an American company could manufacture and sell a machine tool for less than $50,000.

Haas Automation silenced the skeptics. The new product was a success. Today, virtually every manufacturer of vertical machining centers worldwide produce a similar machine in the $50,000 price range.

Over the next five years, Haas Automation began to grow. In 1992, Haas Automation moved to a larger facility in Chatsworth, California, to keep up with demand. In 1997, again seeking to keep up with the success of its growing product line and production demands, Haas Automation moved once more, to its current location in Oxnard, California, where all of its products are manufactured.

The 1-million-square-foot (93,000 square-meter) facility in Oxnard is one of the largest, most modern machine tool manufacturing operations in the United States. Haas Automation currently produces four major product lines: vertical machine centers (VMCs), horizontal machine centers (HMCs), CNC lathes, and rotary tables.

Haas products are sold through a worldwide network of more than 170 Haas Factory Outlets in more than 80 countries providing the industry’s best support and service.

Although he founded Haas Automation and serves as its president, Haas’ primary role has always been heading up the engineering department. Ninety-five percent of all new design ideas originate through Haas himself. He sketches out his ideas and then turns them over to his engineers for refinement. After reviewing the engineers’ work, Haas makes further modifications, as required. One of Haas Automation’s strengths is its ability to take a new machine from initial concept, through design, and into production in just six to 12 months.

Haas’ desire to push innovation and tackle new challenges goes beyond his interest in machine tools.

In 2002, Haas formed his own NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team, Haas CNC Racing. Originally headquartered in Concord, North Carolina, Haas CNC Racing began as a single-car team with chassis and technical support from Hendrick Motorsports. The team made its debut on Sept. 29, 2002 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City with driver Jack Sprague.

The team raced only two more times in 2002, but by 2003, Haas CNC Racing was running the full Sprint Cup schedule.

In 2006, Haas CNC Racing relocated to a new, state-of-the-art, 140,000-square-foot (13,000 square-meter) facility in Kannapolis, North Carolina, where it began fielding two, full-time Sprint Cup teams.

On July 10, 2008, Haas announced that he had partnered with then two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. The new operation, known as Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), became official in January 2009. Originally a two-car team, SHR now fields four entries for Stewart, Busch, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. The organization has won two championships – 2011 with Stewart and 2014 with Harvick – and racked up 34 point-paying victories and 28 poles.

NASCAR isn’t the only growth area for Haas’ motorsports ambitions. On April 11, 2014, Haas was granted a license by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to join the starting grid for the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016. The first American-led Formula One team since 1986 debuted in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and after 13 races has scored 28 points to stand eighth in the constructor ranks. Those 28 points are the most of any new team in this millennium. When Jaguar debuted in 2000 and when Toyota came on the scene in 2002, each entity managed only two point-paying finishes in their entire first seasons for a combined total of six points.

Haas and everyone at Haas Automation will get to see how far the company and motorsports has come this weekend at Darlington.