From Amish life to a job in NASCAR: Crew member’s unusual journey

Leave a comment

Reuben Kauffman had seen his father cry only once.

Then came Feb. 20, 2012, when Kauffman walked into the kitchen of his family’s Wisconsin farm home. His father sat at the dining table he helped build, reading a well-used Bible. A kerosene lamp dangled from the ceiling. Kauffman’s mother prepared scrambled eggs and homemade granola.

The spartan kitchen was full of wonderful memories for Kauffman, one of nine children. The cinnamon rolls his mother made were treats that remain unmatched. The mashed potatoes and chicken were just as good.

But this would be a day of different memories.

Kauffman, then 17, approached his parents not knowing how to reveal his heartbreaking news.

So he told them that two Black Angus calves had been born in the barn. Then he apologized for socializing with friends the day before that his parents didn’t approve him being around.

There was nothing else to say — except what Kauffman had come in from the family’s cabinet shop to tell his parents at 6 a.m.

After he spoke, they looked at him slightly confused. Kauffman repeated himself. This time, his parents absorbed each painful word.

His mother began to cry.

So did his father.


One of nearly 250 employees at Chip Ganassi Racing, Reuben Kauffman’s job as a fabricator is to help build fast cars for Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Brennan Poole and Tyler Reddick.

Kauffman, though, is unlike any of his co-workers.

Amish travel by horse-drawn buggy instead of cars, keeping with their beliefs. (Photo: Reuben Kauffman)

He attended a one-room school through eighth grade, lived 17 years in a home with no electricity and secretly listened to NASCAR races on the radio, breaking his community’s code on  such technology.

He grew up in an Amish enclave in Loganville, Wisconsin, located about 60 miles northwest of Madison. A career in NASCAR seemed remote for someone who traveled by bicycle or horse and buggy and had to learn basic life skills — such as ordering food at McDonald’s — after leaving.

Kauffman followed the path of a cousin, Marlin Yoder, who left the same Amish community four years earlier and later found work for a race team in North Carolina.

Kauffman, who gained his skills working in his family’s cabinet shop, earned his first job with a small race team by offering to work for free during a two-week tryout. Impressed by Kauffman’s work ethic, his boss told a friend at Chip Ganassi Racing about six months later that he had an employee the team should consider hiring.

“When I stop and think about it,’’ he said, “it’s mind-blowing how far you can get if you push yourself.’’


Reuben Kauffman was uncertain of his future when he told his parents that February 2012 morning what he had contemplated for five years.

“I’m leaving,’’ he told them in their native Pennsylvania Dutch language.

“Leaving what?’’

“I’m leaving the Amish.’’

“You can’t do that.’’

Kauffman watched those outside the Amish community too long to remain. He envied their lifestyle. He saw a world powered by electricity move at a faster pace and enjoy more benefits, such as nearby children playing on four-wheelers and dirt bikes. Speed and machinery intrigued him. The Amish life did not.

Barn the family of Reuben Kauffman has on their Wisconsin farm. (Photo: Reuben Kauffman)

“There’s only so much you can do if you’re Amish,’’ Kauffman said. “I just saw more to life.”

He not only was leaving a lifestyle but his family. His older brothers and sisters were married and lived nearby. It was only he, his twin Rachel and younger brother Ferman living with his parents at the time.

Nothing his parents said in the kitchen that morning swayed Kauffman. He grabbed his gloves and walked out of the house.

Kauffman headed down the dirt driveway, past the cabinet shop, crossed the road and stopped at a shack that had a phone. His family and neighbors shared it for emergencies or special situations. Kauffman called Yoder to pick him up but Yoder couldn’t. One of Kauffman’s older brothers, Ivan, tried to persuade him to stay as Reuben was on the phone with Yoder.

Meanwhile, Kauffman’s parents gathered Rachel and Ferman and told them what was happening. For as much as Kauffman had wanted to tell Rachel of his plans beforehand, he couldn’t.

“I knew if I would, she would go to my parents and it would make it a lot harder because she wouldn’t have wanted me to leave,’’ Kauffman said. “That would have made everything more complicated.’’

Rachel and Ferman went to Kauffman as much to say goodbye as to urge him to stay. It was one thing to tell his parents he was leaving but to tell his twin sister?

Kauffman remained resolute.

He climbed on a bicycle. With no money and only the clothes he wore, he rode 30 miles in 20-degree weather to his cousin’s home and a new life.


Although NASCAR races occurred at tracks they couldn’t imagine, with cars they couldn’t relate to and piloted by drivers they didn’t know, they kept listening.

What could be better?

As teens often do, they rebel. So when the rules include no radios, someone will have a radio.

Amish friends introduced a 15-year-old Reuben Kauffman to NASCAR, letting him listen to the races in their verboten sessions. This was not new. Yoder, who left the community March 9, 2008, also became acquainted with the sport this way and works in it as the car chief at MDM Motorsports for Harrison Burton’s K&N Pro Series East championship team.

The speed, drama and breathless calls by the announcers lured Kauffman even though he had no idea of “the difference from Daytona to Martinsville.’’

Enticed by those races and the music on other stations, Kauffman biked 10 miles to a Dollar General to buy a pocket radio. He went on a Sunday, knowing he likely would not encounter any other Amish because they would be at community gatherings. Still, Kauffman could feel his heart pound in the store, worried someone would see him and tell his father. Kauffman wasn’t hard to spot in his traditional Amish wear of black pants and a white shirt. The clanging of $5 worth of quarters announced his position with each step.

Kauffman hid the radio under his mattress or in the barn, but his parents caught him with it and took it. He later acquired another radio from someone who had left the Amish community.

Kauffman learned to be more cautious. He volunteered before hunting season to go into the woods and scout prime locations. Alone, he could listen to the NASCAR race on the radio without fear of being caught.


Unaccustomed to the nuances outside his Amish community, Reuben Kauffman had much to learn.

The first time he rode with his cousin through a McDonald’s drive-thru proved confusing. Kauffman was befuddled when his cousin stopped before getting to the building and gave his order.

“There was nobody standing there,’’ Kauffman says. “He was just talking to the board. That’s how much I knew.’’

A week after leaving home, Kauffman watched his first NASCAR race on TV — the Daytona 500.

“It was amazing,’’ he said. “I couldn’t believe the speeds they carried. Even after listening to it a couple of years (on the radio), it just came to life.’’

Spurred by his interest in the sport and his cousin’s journey, Kauffman found his way into NASCAR.

Reuben Kauffman helps make repairs to Jamie McMurray’s car at Darlington. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Yoder took two weeks from his work as a roofer to go to North Carolina looking to work for a race team. Kauffman, who also worked with Yoder as a roofer, accompanied him on the 2015 trip.

A few days before they returned to Wisconsin, Yoder got a job with a Super Late Model team.

The next year, Kauffman took a couple of weeks off in January to go to North Carolina to find work with a race team. He got a tryout with a part-time K&N team.

“Don’t worry about paying me,’’ Kauffman told the team. “I just want to show you what I know and my work ethic.’’

When it was time to return to Wisconsin, Kauffman was told to pack his bags at home and come back to North Carolina because he had a job.

Six months later, Kauffman’s boss told Matt McCall, crew chief for McMurray, about that work ethic.


The black Camaro sits parked most days outside where Reuben Kauffman lives with  Yoder.

Kauffman occasionally drives it to work but doesn’t use it every day to keep the car from running too many miles.

After leaving the Amish community, the Camaro was one thing he wanted the most.

“I’ve always liked them,’’ Kauffman said. “Sweet sports car.’’

Finding the right one wasn’t easy. He spent three months searching.

“When he finally found the Camaro, it was pretty big for him,’’ Yoder said. “It’s been many years he’s been talking about, ‘Man, I’m going to have me a Camaro one of these days. It’s going to be a black Camaro.’ ‘’

Where did Kauffman, who grew up in a home with no TV, no cell phones and no computers, find his dream car?

The internet.


Five years after he shocked his parents and siblings and left his Amish community, Reuben Kauffman walked into a Cup track with the Ganassi team for the first time. It was March 31, 2017, a day that featured above-average temperatures that reached 70 degrees at Martinsville Speedway.

“It was almost too good to be true to be in the garage area with the Cup guys and working on the Cup car,’’ Kauffman said. “It’s amazing to be at that point in my life that I’m working on something like that.’’

Although there was work to do, Kauffman took time to admire a facility that has hosted NASCAR races annually since NASCAR’s inaugural strictly stock season in 1949.

Jamie McMurray talks to Reuben Kauffman (far right) and other crew members at Kansas Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Just being in the garage,’’ Kauffman said was so special. “Just being right there with everything. The smells, the sounds. There’s always noise at Martinsville, there’s always some cars on the track. Just being in the middle of that whole deal was amazing.’’

He later joined the team for the Coca-Cola 600 weekend at Charlotte, the Southern 500 weekend at Darlington and the opening playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway in September.

Then came a surprise. The team told him they wanted him on the road for the season’s final five races. He would get a NASCAR license.

Kauffman called Yoder shortly after leaving the shop that day to tell him the news.

“He was excited,’’ Yoder said. “He was so excited about it and kept going on and on.’’

While most people could call parents and family after such big news, Kauffman could not. No one manned the phone in that shack back near his home. None of his family members had a cell phone, abiding by the community’s belief against relying on modern technology. There was no way to reach his family immediately. 

To tell his parents, what he had accomplished, what meant so much to him and how excited he was, Kauffman returned to his former Amish ways.

He wrote them a letter.

 and on Facebook


Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

BK Racing court filing reveals expenses, revenue for each race

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Court documents filed Thursday show that BK Racing made a net income of $359,619 through the Phoenix Cup race.

The documents are part of BK Racing’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The team filed Chapter bankruptcy Feb. 15.

COURT DOCUMENTS: Click here to view the BK Racing filing

MORE: Peek into race purses under charter system

A hearing is scheduled this afternoon in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of North Carolina, on a motion by Union Bank & Trust. The bank claims it is owned more than $8 million in loan payments and seeks to have a trustee oversee BK Racing’s finances “to an end to the Debtor’s years of mismanagement,’’ according to court documents from the bank.

In its motion to appoint a trustee, Union Bank filed documents stating that the team lost nearly $30 million from 2014-16.

The updated budget filed Thursday on behalf of BK Racing breaks down income and expense for each of the first four points races and anticipated income and expenses the rest of the season.

The document shows that BK Racing had $50,000 sponsorship for the Daytona 500, $10,000 sponsorship each for the Atlanta and Las Vegas races and $30,000 sponsorship for the Phoenix race.

BK Racing listed prize money as:

$29,946 for its qualifying race at Daytona

$428,794 for finishing 20th in the Daytona 500

$91,528 for finishing 36th at Atlanta

$98,754 for finishing 33rd at Las Vegas

$82,000 for finishing 34th at Phoenix

The high payout for the Daytona 500 has given BK Racing more than $350,000 in net income. For other races, though, the team’s net income has been small.

At Phoenix, the team listed a net income of $790.

The team had $120,250 in revenue for the Phoenix weekend. It was broken down this way:

$82,000 in prize money

$30,000 in sponsorship

$8,250 in other revenue

The team listed $119,460 in expenses that weekend. Among the team’s expenses for Phoenix:

$35,000 for its engine lease

$21,000 for salary and wages

$10,525 for airfare for team personnel

$9,000 for tires

$9,000 for contract payroll

Those expenses alone totaled $84,525, exceeding what the team made in prize money and showing how important sponsorship is in the sport.

BK Racing provided a budget for the remaining races. The team’s budgeted expense was more than $103,000 for every race. That included everything from engine lease and tire bills to hotels, meals, salary and wages, entry fees, insurance, payroll taxes and more.

The most expensive race is the Daytona 500 at $135,502, which included an engine lease of $50,000. Next listed was Auto Club Speedway at $125,606, which included $9,500 in airfare and $10,000 in tires.

BK Racing’s prize money estimates on remaining races is based on a 30th-place finish in each event.

BK Racing lists its sponsorship budget for future races as $50,000 per race, progressing to $100,000 and to $150,000 for the final 13 races. That would give the team a sponsorship budget of $3.505 million.

Court documents filed by Union Bank & Trust show that BK Racing collected $1.5 million in sponsorship in 2016 and $1.05 million in sponsorship in 2015.

 and on Facebook

A rare peek into race purses, payouts under the charter system

Robert Laberge/Getty Images
1 Comment

A new filing before a Thursday bankruptcy court hearing for BK Racing provided a window into the payouts of NASCAR’s charter structure.

The system, which went into effect two years ago, guaranteed revenues and race attendance for 36 cars. Funding was based on four categories: entering a race, historical performance over the past three seasons, the traditional points fund (with extra cash) and race results. It was partly intended to help teams by providing more predictable revenue guarantees for budget projections.

MORE: Court filing reveals expenses, revenue for each race

Prior to the 2016 season, each race had a purse that paid out for finishing position and contingency awards (which rewarded the most competitive teams). Under the new system, money paid for results was based solely on finishing position, and NASCAR abolished publishing purse totals and race winnings in box scores.

The BK Racing document, which was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of North Carolina, sheds some light on those now shielded numbers. It lists the total purse for every race during the 2018 season and also lists BK Racing’s prize money for each of the first four races in the No. 23 Toyota with driver Gray Gaulding.

–Daytona 500 (total purse $15.466 million): The team earned $428,794 for finishing 20th.

–Atlanta Motor Speedway (total purse $2.477 million): The team earned $91,528 for 36th.

–Las Vegas Motor Speedway (total purse $2.647 million): The team earned $98,754 for 33rd.

–ISM Raceway near Phoenix (total purse: $1.459 million): The team earned $82,000 for 34th.

Though the formula was different for structuring the purse and race payouts, here were the total purses and payouts for those positions in 2015, the last year that earnings were publicly made available.

–Daytona 500: Total purse $19.8 million; $348,803 for 20th

–Atlanta: Total purse $6.3 million; $101,370 for 36th

–Las Vegas: Total purse $6.5 million; $118,724 for 33rd

–Phoenix: Total purse $5.1 million; $74,805 for 34th

A hearing on the BK Racing bankruptcy case will be held in Charlotte at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Click here to view the BK Racing filing.

Carl Edwards says he’s ‘enjoying life’ on the farm

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former driver Carl Edwards says he’s “having fun, enjoying life” and doesn’t have plans to return to racing.

Edwards talked with host Claire B. Lang on “Dialed In” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday night.

Edwards shocked the sport when he announced in January 2017 that he was leaving. He returned to his home in Columbia, Missouri.

“I’m basically just doing what I told everybody I was doing, spent a lot of time with friends and family and traveling a lot, farming a lot and really enjoying it,’’ Edwards told Lang.

Asked about any return to racing, Edwards said: “I don’t have any plans to come back. I do miss a lot of people.’’

Asked about any potential political ambitions, Edwards said: “You never know. I think like probably almost every person listening to this channel right now, I really believe in, I believe in America, I believe the Constitution is the set of rules that let us have all this success and freedom. I care about that being there for generations to come. If sometime in the future there is a chance for me to help that cause, try to lend some assistance to not letting us get off track, then heck yeah, I would consider, but, no, there is not some campaign started. I’m not going to be doing anything anytime soon.’’

Edwards made his Cup debut in August 2004 at Michigan International Speedway, finishing 10th in a race won by Greg Biffle.

Edwards won 28 Cup races in 445 starts. Every retired driver who has at least as many wins and is eligible for the Hall of Fame has been inducted. Jeff Gordon is eligible for the first time this year. Edwards and Tony Stewart will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year.

Edwards’ 28 wins includes the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 and 2015 Southern 500. He won four Cup races at Bristol and Texas, his highest victory total at any track. Edwards also won 38 Xfinity races in 245 starts.

At the end of the interview Wednesday, Edwards was asked if he had any final words for fans.

“I think I would just say thank you to everybody,’’ he said. “Thank you to the fans, the competitors and everyone, the tracks and NASCAR. That part of my life was just spectacular. I wouldn’t trade one second of it for anything. And then I would say, I just hope everybody out there is enjoying what they’re doing and you’re getting the most out of every day and really having fun.’’

 and on Facebook