Newman Wachs and John Explore European and Indy Car Options for the Future

Written by: Marshall Pruett  for,  10/19/2009,  Oakland, CA
For the brightest young stars in America’s open-wheel scene, the future can often be uncertain, but thanks to Newman Wachs Racing owner Eddie Wachs, 2009 Atlantic Championship series winner John Edwards appears to be headed for the big leagues.  After watching Edwards earn consecutive titles in Star Mazda and now Atlantics, Wachs says he’s hard at work to move the 18-year-old Ohioan and the NWR team along for a greater challenge.

“There are two areas we’re considering,” said Wachs, “one is GP2 and I’m not as familiar with that series, but we’re talking with people; that would take Edwards overseas again. The other is IndyCar.”

Rather than work Edwards through another season in a prep series, Wachs is confident no further training is necessary. “We have very little interest in Indy Lights. We’ll make the jump – [IRL Chief Operating Officer Brian] Barnhart has to approve it – but that’s likely where we’ll be going.”

After a few seasons running a two-car team in Atlantics, Wachs is sitting on most of the equipment and infrastructure to transition to a single-car IndyCar program, but he says if NWR commits to the ICS, they will only do it with a guiding hand from an established outfit.

“I wouldn’t try to do it without tailing onto an existing IndyCar team. When I started my team I figured, ‘I’m as smart as anyone else; there’s no reason I can’t built and staff my own team to become a winner,’ and it took four years for that to happen. It gave me even more respect for guys like Carl Haas, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi to see just how much it takes to build and develop a sound and winning organization. We won’t try to start from scratch. We may join another team if we go that way, and we may use that as something to launch [NWR] from.”

It isn’t a coincidence that Wachs named Carl Haas first amongst the team owners he most admires. Like Newman Wachs Racing, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing IndyCar outfit was co-owned by Wachs’ long-time friend, legendary actor and racer, Paul Newman. Through Wachs’ relationship with Newman, a strong friendship also developed with Haas, and in the absence of proper funding for NHL’s second Indycar, it wouldn’t take much to imagine an NWR and NHL tie-up in 2010.

Despite the natural fit for the two operations, Wachs says securing the funding necessary to compete in the IndyCar Series remains the biggest hurdle. When it comes to the elevated costs associated with running an IndyCar program, he’d rather do it through outside sponsorship, but as one of the most benevolent team owners in the junior ranks, Wachs has never been afraid to reach into his own pockets to give young drivers a chance.

Markus Niemela, Edwards’ original teammate this season, quickly depleted his budget after a string of expensive crashes, but continued racing on Wachs’ dime until Jonathan Summerton became available. Beyond his prodigious talent and a decoratively-painted helmet, Summerton landed at NWR penniless but that too wasn’t an obstacle for Wachs.

Now faced with the prospect of grooming Edwards into an IndyCar driver, Wachs is hoping his deep relationships within the nuclear energy community will allow him to take his Atlantic champion onwards and upwards.

“Our big concern is if we can keep funding it ourselves. We’ve been almost fully funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute and Entergy. They are interested in our plans and they could be a player, but they haven’t committed at this point. We haven’t put that one to bed yet.”

Running Atlantics again in 2010 is considered an option if they can’t secure the necessary IndyCar sponsorship, but Wachs has some misgivings about that possibility. It seems NWR’s move out of Atlantics is partly tied into the series’ ability to pay the $1,000,000 due to Edwards.

As I chronicled in my 8.12 Triple Stint column, the scheme hatched by the entrants to contribute into a fund that would deliver the $1M prize to the series champion never materialized, leaving the series’ management to try and find the staggering sum elsewhere. As Wachs confirms, Edwards’ award remains unpaid.

“Our fallback is that we haven’t sold our Atlantic cars yet. We haven’t advised anyone on our team that we aren’t going to go forward if our sponsorship plans fall through. We also haven’t been paid the purses from the Atlantic Championship we were told we’d be given, so some of our move is centered around that.”

Wherever NWR and Edwards end up next year – and he enjoyed being coy about coming right out and confirming their intentions -- Wachs says he looks forward to the journey. After watching his drivers dominate the Atlantic Championship, a fresh challenge could be just the motivation the team needs.

“If we were to run GP2 it opens up a whole new avenue for us. Obviously, we’d have to be with the right team. It would certainly be new for us, and its something we haven’t done before and I’m sure it would be interesting. There would be a lot to learn. If we stay in the United States, what I really want to do is launch John Edwards.”

While Wachs’ maintains NWR’s future direction is still being evaluated, he says they have chosen to test Edwards in an IndyCar first. Barring that test turning into a complete disaster, I’m not sure how much longer GP2 will remain a viable option for the team. Compared to the rigors of frequent international travel and remote administration of the program, the smartest place for NWR to call home would be the IndyCar Series.

Based on the speed and results Edwards has delivered while still in his teens, Eddie Wachs could be sitting on another future American IndyCar star. If all goes according to plan, the IndyCar Series could also be welcoming a new team.  “We’ll need to test him – probably fairly soon, and if he can get up to speed…well, that’s going to be a lot of fun.”
John is proudly sponsored by Mazda.

GOZAPIT brought timely updates to John's Website - Thanks GOZAPIT !