Article originally published on Forbes by Joseph Wolkin
It’s not everyday that you see a Nascar team owner walking around a New Jersey golf course with a Cy Young Award winner.
But Matt Kaulig, owner of Kaulig Racing and partial owner of MLB’s Cleveland Guardians, isn’t like the majority of other Nascar Cup Series team owners. The freshman Cup leader of two full-time entries in the sport’s premier division wants to shake things up, and his philanthropic side is well-known to those in the garage and beyond.
Kaulig, fresh off several programs with The Nascar Foundation, joined six-time MLB All-Star pitcher and former Cleveland great C.C. Sabathia and his wife Amber on Monday morning for the PitCCh In Foundation Golf Tournament. The Kaulig Giving logo was seen throughout the Alpine Country Club, raising money and awareness for PitCCh In’s programs with inner-city youth.
“CC and Amber and what they do for the community is similar to what the Guardians do to help out with the Guardians’ charities,” Kaulig said. “It’s good whenever you can help kids and be involved with athletics and education.”
Sabathia first met Kaulig in Cleveland during a charity event last August. The two began discussing this year’s golf tournament, and Kaulig agreed to have Kaulig Giving as the title sponsor.
“We started off with basketball games at the Barclays Center and doing softball games at Yankee Stadium,” Sabathia said. “It’s stuff that we love to do and we’re able to mix that with our passion for our foundation is great. Giving back will always be important to me. It was always more important than playing, actually.
“If anybody knows the story of how I met Dave Stewart when I was 9 years old, that inspired me to be more than just an athlete. This will always be part of my family.”
Over the last month, Kaulig has been the face of several charity initiatives. Among them are The NASCAR Foundation’s Speedy Bear Brigade, where he helped deliver Nascar-themed teddy bears to children in the hospital, as well as visiting Ohio hospitals with the University of Akron marching band, stilt walkers and a life-size bear to celebrate with the kids on National Teddy Bear Day.
“We started making more money and looked for ways to really give back to the community,” Kaulig said. “It’s an important part of business and in life. The more money you make, the more you give. We wanted to organize it and be thoughtful and responsible about our giving efforts. We’ve [donated] to over 200 501(c)(3) organizations this year.”
In Nascar, Kaulig is setting an example for future team owners. He wants others who enter the sport to be generous not only with their money, which many already are with their own foundations, but with their time.
Kaulig said, “It’s important to give back. Philosophically, not only do we want to give money, but we want to be involved. It’s easy to write a check and say, ‘Here’s what we did.’ I think it’s important for me to be involved. Some drivers really get involved with the Nascar Foundation, and I know others do, as well. I’m the face of the Kaulig Companies, and I should be leading the organization with all of those efforts. It helps everybody get involved if I’m involved.”
Growing As A Team Owner
Kaulig is adjusting to life as a Cup Series team owner, with two full-time entries in 2022. The dynamic of Kaulig Racing’s Cup team is unique this season with Justin Haley piloting the No. 31 car full time, while AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson are splitting time in car No. 16.
Haley has been with Kaulig since he was 19. As the owner says, he’s “seen Justin grow as a racer and as a man.”
“It’s been unique, but we knew going in that it’s our rookie year and it takes time to get used to the cars,” Kaulig said of his two-car dynamic. “We’ve had AJ run all of the road courses with Daniel Hemric at superspeedways, and Noah Gragson will run [a total of] 15 races for us.
“It gives the team a lot of variations and data from different drivers, which helps us put the cars together. It gets our crew chiefs and car chiefs better. We hope Justin Haley is with us for a long time.”
Allmendinger will reportedly take over the No. 16 car next year, according to The Athletic, giving Kaulig two full-time drivers vying for a championship.
The move to bring Allmendinger back to the Cup Series, which he called home for the better part of 12 years, is part of Kaulig’s ability to create a positive environment. In 2019, a demoralized Allmendinger, who circled around mid-pack for the majority of his career, was just about done racing.
But Kaulig pursued the veteran road course ace, who joined the team for a full-time Xfinity Series schedule. Allmendinger qualified for the Championship 4 last year and has won the last two regular season championships.
“There was something about the atmosphere – about Matt and Chris especially – and the team itself that I grew to love very quickly,” Allmendinger said in February. “I thought we helped each other because it helped bring a new lease on driving a racecar and the enjoyment of it, and I felt like I helped improve their program.”
And when Kaulig walked into the golf course, he was all smiles thanks to Allmendinger’s Talladega victory this past weekend.
“It’s always good to win, especially in the Xfinity playoffs,” Kaulig said. “We had a huge celebration.”
Allmendinger will return to the Cup Series as a viable playoff threat. In 2021, he won one of the five road course races he competed in (Indianapolis road course), when Kaulig ran a partial schedule.
Another reason for Kaulig to celebrate is because his name popped up in the conversations surrounding Kyle Busch’s departure from Joe Gibbs Racing. While Kaulig lost out on signing the two-time Cup Series champion, who is joining Richard Childress Racing, just being involved in discussions with Busch shows how far this young team has come.
“On purpose, we’re trying to move ourselves through the ranks, even in Cup, with the manufacturer and with the other teams,” Kaulig said. “People within the sport – maybe Kyle is a good example of that – see our seriousness and how much we want to win.
“We want to be in the sport for a long time. I’m 49 years old, and we’re loving it and having fun with it. We’re young, growing and, if you look back historically at some of the teams who are winning races, where they were in year one or two.”
With four races remaining in the Xfinity Series season, Allmendinger has already advanced to the Round of 8 and Hemric is six points below the cutline, heading to the cutoff race at the Charlotte ROVAL.