Rob Kauffman is a billionaire. That’s with a B, not an M.
You wouldn’t know it from hanging around the guy, however. What he wants to be, he said, is “Basic Rob,” not an international man of mystery.
The fact that Kauffman, a 46-year-old London-based investment firm co-owner, could buy and sell many of the folks he comes in contact with daily is almost beside the point in the world in which he has landed. Almost three years ago, Kauffman basically rescued Michael Waltrip Racing, dumping a huge sum of cash into MWR and becoming its co-owner, along with Waltrip.
The Kauffman cash allowed Waltrip to retreat from the brink of irrelevancy and start building a team that matters. A year ago, David Reutimann scored the team’s first Sprint Cup win in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600. On that anniversary, Kauffman, a very busy guy who doesn’t often make race dates, is back in Charlotte to watch his team run again.
And he sees progress.
“We’re in the second quartile,” he said. “We’ve come off the bottom and gotten up to the second quartile. We’re not quite in the first, but we’re trying. We’re knocking on the door. It takes a little bit of time and a little bit of luck.”
The goal, Kauffman said, is to run for championships and consistently place MWR drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“It’s a very simple, basic goal,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet. We got one win. We need more. There’s no lack of ambition within the organization to do better. But getting one is big. A lot of people never get that. So it’s huge.”
Kauffman didn’t just wander in from a meeting on stock futures and buy part of a stock car team. He’s a car guy and a motorsports follower, and he drives occasionally in sports car events. He brushed up against the NASCAR world several years ago when he opened a classic-car restoration shop near Charlotte – he drove a restored 1970 Plymouth Superbird to the track this week – and ran into people who suggested he might invest some of his money in stock car racing.
“It’s not a matter of throwing money at it or finding the secret sauce,” Kauffman said. “I think it’s a matter of getting people to work better together. With this sort of racing, you can’t make any mistakes. It’s a split-second business. No mistakes on pit road. No bad calls. And you have to have a little luck. It’s a combination of things across the board. There’s not one magic switch you flip.
“This has been an interesting ride. We buy companies and try to fix them up. I was a little surprised at how big a business this really was. It was a bigger mouthful than I anticipated. But, so far so good.
“It’s a great sport. It’s a mediocre business at this point. I’m optimistic that it will become a less mediocre business, but it’s a great sport.”
Although he likes to be “Basic Rob,” Kauffman necessarily travels in significant circles. The people he meets, he says, have great respect for NASCAR and for the competition it produces.
“After Formula One, this is probably the No. 1 form of racing on the planet,” he said. “There’s extreme interest in it globally. A lot of people look at NASCAR from the outside and are in awe of how big and how exciting it is.
“I think it’s easier to criticize this when you’re on the inside, but, from the outside, it’s pretty impressive not only as a sport but also as a business.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.