Ask NASCAR team co-owner Rob Kauffman his favorite memory from his first year at Chip Ganassi Racing, and you’re unlikely to get just one answer.
It could be the sports car victory at Le Mans, where Kauffman brought back the 1966-winning Ford GT40 he owns as an added touch for fans, as Ford and Ganassi won their class in the prestigious World Endurance Championship event.
Or it’s possibly from Michigan International Speedway, where he got to bask in victory lane after Kyle Larson’s inaugural Sprint Cup victory ended Ganassi’s Cup Series winless streak just one race before it hit triple digits.
Or even simply attending this year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, a race the 52-year-old had never attended.
Unburdened from the day-to-day team management of Michael Waltrip Racing — the Cup team he shuttered last season — Kauffman has enjoyed his first year at Ganassi. Among several reasons, Kauffman switched operations because Ganassi was on solid footing financially and because it competes in different forms of racing, which appealed to the car enthusiast who also owns a classic-car dealership in Charlotte called RK Motors.
“From my perspective, it’s been great,” Kauffman, the former investment banker who bought into MWR in 2007, said recently. “I like all kinds of different cars and racing, so for me it’s been great to go from the Petit Le Mans [in IMSA] last weekend, where we finished second, to the NASCAR race at Dover.”
Steve Lauletta, president of Ganassi Racing, handles day-to-day operations of the team. So this season, Kauffman, who’s also chairman of the Race Team Alliance, has been able to immerse himself with Ganassi stakeholders. For example, the team hosted one of its annual summits at RK Motors earlier this season.
Kauffman also has been able to spend more of his time on the RTA, which has been focused on implementing NASCAR’s new charter system, finding ways to grow the sport’s digital revenue and ways for teams to cut costs.
The addition of Kauffman has been helpful for Ganassi’s executive leadership as well, Lauletta said.
“He’s very competitive both in business and racing, and that has him fitting in very well with our organization,” Lauletta said. “His experience and thought process is where I go to him a lot. … It could be a strategic question about where we might want to go in the next couple years, something specific about financial reporting, or getting ideas about a particular proposal or business opportunity that I find out he’s got some knowledge of or experience in.”
As leader of the RTA, Kauffman plays a key role for teams, working closely with Brent Dewar, NASCAR’s chief operating officer, in a relationship that many industry executives regard as one of the most important in the sport.
Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway Racing president, who works closely with Kauffman, said Kauffman has become a vital representative because of his uncanny ability to get to the heart of matters in what can be a complex sport.
“He does have a very admirable ability to cut right to the important aspect of any negotiation or discussion,” Newmark said. “He really is able to discern what is important and what’s not, and though that sounds simple, it’s a skill set that I think is extremely valuable in business transactions.”
The charter system, which was designed to overhaul NASCAR’s ownership structure in its top series, is still in its early days, and there are some in the garage who remain skeptical of it. But nearly everyone agrees that Kauffman has brought a different, methodical perspective to the sport.
“He knows where he should or needs to get involved, and doesn’t meddle with things he doesn’t think he should get into — and I really respect that about him,” said Dave Pericak, director of Ford Performance. “There’s a lot of guys that might come in and try to be a part of everything, but Rob is very strategic about what he gets involved with.”