|Photo: Tom Pennington|
Michael Waltrip Racing majority owner Rob Kauffman met with the media today at Bristol Motor Speedway, explaining his decision to withdraw from the organization at season’s end, in favor of a new position as minority partner at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
“Mike and I are business partners and personal friends,” said Kauffman, “but I think what’s missing there is the financial side of the picture. Michael Waltrip Racing really wouldn’t have existed today without solid and consistent financial support from me. From a business standpoint, that didn’t make sense any longer.”
Kauffman said the team’s on-track struggles played a major role in his decision, adding, “You can’t have a Top-10 budget and Top-10 resources, and not (finish) in the Top-10 for a sustained period of time. It’s a performance-related business. It’s a great sport with a very difficult business model (and) as a business decision, it just made sense not to go forward with that organization. It just wasn’t commercially viable.”
Kauffman said he was also unhappy overseeing the racing side of MWR.
“In the past year or so, I’ve been pretty involved in the day-to-day operation of Michael Waltrip Racing,” he said. “Now, I’ll be able to step back from that. I’m not the best person to run a race team, day-in and day-out, and one of the attractions of partnering with Chip (Ganassi) is that he runs his business himself. He’s a racer. He’s at a race almost every single weekend, and that will free up my time to do a lot of different things. I am involved in Vintage Car racing and other business ventures.”
Foremost on that “do to” list is the Race Team Alliance, an organization of major NASCAR team owners which Kauffman heads. Since its founding in 2014, the RTA has worked extensively on ways to save teams money, and recently engaged in the first of a series of conversations with NASCAR aimed at implementing a franchise-based ownership platform in the sport.
“The Race Team Alliance has been a great development over the last year or so,” said Kauffman. “We’ve gone from nowhere to a real counter-party for people. We’ve been able to make real good progress on a variety of levels around the sport, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be chairman of that organization. My fellow team (owners) have asked me to serve on that. I am happy to do so and maybe have a little more time to focus on it.
Kauffman also said the 2013 scandal involving the manipulation of race results at Richmond International Raceway – a controversy that resulted in the loss of sponsor NAPA Auto Parts and driver Martin Truex, Jr. – dramatically impacted the team’s ability to survive.
“Certainly, that was a pretty heavy body blow to the organization,” he said. “It caused a big restructuring. 2014 was – on some level – a large re-set year, both competitively and financially.”
In the end, though, Kauffman said it was the team’s inability to win races and contend for championships that convinced him to walk away.
“As we got into the late spring – April and May – of 2015, from a performance standpoint, the company was not where it needed to be. That forced some decisions and thought processes over the summer, and that’s where we wound up today.
“At the end of the day, it’s a competitive business, and that’s where we are.”