Gearing up: Robert Kauffman (inset) will relax in retirement watching his Michael Waltrip Racing team, including driver Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 56 car.

Fortress exec is racing into retirement

After 15 years at Fortress Investment Group LLC, Robert Kauffman is leaving to focus more time on his first love — cars.

“My first word was mom and my second word was car,” said Mr. Kauffman, who co-founded Fortress in 1998 and retired Dec. 24 as a principal and director.

In 2007, Mr. Kauffman bought a 50% stake in NASCAR team Michael Waltrip Racing, the same year Fortress went public. For years, he spent his weekdays working for Fortress and his weekends in the midst of stock cars that consistently top out at more than 200 mph. “It was a running joke (with Michael Waltrip) that I always had to leave for my day job,” Mr. Kauffman said.

Mr. Kauffman said NASCAR is not the best commercial investment as the team “burns through money more than they earn,” but he has had a lifetime passion for auto racing and enjoys being around the teams. In 2006, Mr. Kauffman founded RK Motors Charlotte, a muscle-car restoration and performance company, as a hobby.

Michael Waltrip Racing has come a long way in the last few years to compete with the biggest and most financially backed teams. It was the first to field a three-car team of Toyotas when the carmaker entered the Sprint Cup circuit in 2007 and has steadily improved its on-track results and exposure. Driver Clint Bowyer finished second in the Sprint Cup championship last year, and teammate Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth.

This article originally appeared in the January 7, 2013 print issue as, "Fortress exec is racing into retirement".