CORNELIUS – Robert Kauffman has been what you’d call a “car guy” since he was a teenager growing up in New York.
Kauffman’s parents bought him two 1967 Pontiac Firebirds from a junkyard. Why not just one?
“It took two to make one that worked,” Kauffman recalls.
He has no such problem now. Kauffman, 50, is the owner and chairman of RK Motors, the co-owner of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team Michael Waltrip Racing and a co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, a global fund manager. He’s got a collection of classic and high-performance cars, but Kauffman’s newest interest involves auctioning some of the world’s most rare rides.
Kauffman’s RKM Collector Car Auctions, a part of RK Motors, hosts an auction and car show Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Some of the top cars to be auctioned off include a one-of-a-kind, 1995 Lotec/Mercedes C-1000 – reportedly the world’s fastest car – and James Hunt’s 1977 McLaren M26 Formula One car. Other cars for auction include a 2006 Bugatti Veyron, Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race-winning 1977 Chevy Nova, and a 1967 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500.
Kauffman hopes for a great turnout.
“We had one earlier this year in Pinehurst. It was our off-Broadway debut,” he said. “We’re excited for this one. It's in a great location, and there are a lot of great cars. It’ll be fun to have one around here.”
Kauffman’s ties to Lake Norman run deep. Michael Waltrip Racing is based in Cornelius, so Kauffman has a vested interest in lake-area business. Kauffman believes the collector-car market is improving, following the late-2000s economic downturn, which robbed many of the disposable income they needed to buy vehicles.
“They’ve rebounded from the lows,” Kauffman said. “The high, high-end cars like the Ferraris and Mercedes are selling at record highs. The core, good-quality collector cars are solid right now.
“The way I recommend people approach this is, like any collector item, your No. 1 reason for doing it should be because you enjoy it. It shouldn’t be money first, enjoyment second.”
Still, Kauffman knows money drives the game. His investment in MWR in 2007 helped transform the race team from an also-ran outfit to an organization with drivers competing for race victories and spots in the coveted Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Like the other businesses in which Kauffman has a part, helping operate a NASCAR team takes supreme dedication.
“It’s been exhilarating and challenging,” Kauffman said. “It’s a lot of hard work, I’ll say that.”
The same could be said for Kauffman’s interest in cars. He believes the auction will attract some of the state’s biggest car enthusiasts. It’s not a bad gig for a man who had to piece together two cars to build his first ride.
“I think it’s part of the overall plan for the business,” Kauffman said of the auction. “It was (RK Motors’) Joe Carroll’s brainchild. Like all businesses, you’ve got to have smart, motivated people. I consider myself fortunate.”
Want to go? RKM Collector Car Auctions hosts an auction and car show Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St., Charlotte. Admission for the event costs $7.50 for the preview day on Oct. 31, $25 for Nov. 1-2 auction days, $15 for the Nov. 3 car show and $50 for all four days. Students, seniors and military personnell pay a discounted rate. Details: www.rkmcca.com.