Kevin Buckler – On The Past, Present & Future
Buckler and his Racers Group had a fairy tale season in 2002, with
milestone class victories at Daytona and Le Mans (right). Coupled
with consistent success in both North American series, Kevin earned
the coveted Porsche Cup title. The California-based team started
2003 with equal success as Kevin teamed with Michael Schrom and
Porsche factory drivers Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard for a
remarkable overall victory at Daytona’s Rolex 24. The team
then signed veteran Cort Wagner to drive with Kevin in the lead
#66 car for the ALMS season. It would be a three-car effort for
the entire season, plus a trip to France to defend their title.
The expectations for this independent team ran high, maybe too high.
some time (with Russell Wittenberg) to review the
ups and downs of this past season, and look forward to 2004.
out the year with the huge overall victory at the Rolex 24. Looking
back at that victory what stands out in your mind?
How hard we
worked. We put together a plan at the end of 2002 that was executed
flawlessly. We looked at how to take advantage of the rule package
for the race and we had one hell of a car. The Porsche was perfect.
We turned laps at qualifying speed for twenty-four hours. I am just
proud to be one of the guys to have pulled that off. Winning that
race was one of the things on life’s checklist that I was
able to check off. That feels good.
did the dailysportscar.com sticker on
the rear window give you during the race?
It gave us an
aero advantage that was worth at least a couple miles per hour at
speed. The other teams really missed the boat on that one, but let’s
just keep it quiet!
unbelievable year you had in 2002, are you satisfied with your performance
this past year?
In 2002, our cars and
our team were very close to the Job guys. In many races, we were
able to match their lap times and really push them. I was a little
disappointed when I saw how far ahead they were this year. Because
of Porsche’s need to stay ahead of the Ferrari, they have
put extra effort into their development team, Alex Job Racing. I
also believe that the ‘development effort and the development
curve’ was much higher in ‘03 than ’02. In all
fairness, Job did their homework and really got their program dialed
in for this season. But the delta between the factory-supported
team and us had grown substantially this past year. That being said,
I am not satisfied with our absolute lap times, but I am quite satisfied
with the performance of our team, crew and drivers. I feel blessed
with all our drivers we had this year. They are all good guys and
I really cherished and enjoyed my time with them. They have all
improved as drivers this year. I think those guys had surprised
some people with their pace the last half of the season.
feel that in 2003 we very successful when it comes to the whole
program - the big picture. We were the biggest team and, as far
as I know, this was the first time someone has run a three-car team
for the entire season in the ALMS. We had between six and nine drivers,
their friends and family at all the events, two transporters, a
motorhome, and 25-30 crewmembers. Our sponsor / corporate hospitality
program really evolved this last year. At many races we had over
And we have gone almost
two full seasons without a mechanical DNF. That is quite a testament
to the quality of our team. Nowadays, to be successful in a professional
sport, you need the whole package and that is what we have tried
Cort Wagner did have some podiums and strong runs this year even
though your car was not as quick as you would like.
Cort has been awesome,
a real professional. He is a great driver, a thinking driver. He
is very good at setting the car up, communicating with the crew
and making adjustments. It’s funny how things can fall your
way, or not. We used some good strategy to get our first podium
at Road Atlanta and again at Road America. At Infineon we finished
fourth, 25 feet behind Risi in third. We were faster at the end
and gaining on them. But we got held up in traffic and even held
up by one of our team cars. We were running in second place at Trois
Rivieres when I tapped the wall. We had an accident at Mosport,
a strong run at Laguna, a suspension part got rattled loose at Miami
and we got hit on the start at Petit. So we missed a couple of good
chances at podiums from just little things going wrong. That’s
the way it goes. I have no problems with getting by the competition
in a straight fight. I get frustrated when I get beat by things
I can’t control.
At Petit Le Mans, you had a serious coming together with the
PK Porsche on one of the very first laps. With that, you obviously
had to throw any race strategy out the window and just go flat out.
How did the new kid, Patrick Long, respond to the extra pressure
laid on the team after that early setback?
That was a real bummer.
We had prepped, and planned to the “nth” degree. I was
hit from behind by a gentleman driver making a dive-bomb pass on
the opening lap - not so smart. After repairs, we rejoined the race
in last place. We just went flat out from there and were able to
climb up to finish fourth.
We were really fortunate
to have Patrick on board and had Porsche to thank for that one.
Patrick and Cort were flawless in the race, including a double stint
from Patrick at the end of the race in the dark. He really listened
to us and studied the track and the conditions. He understood that
his debut race was a big one. I was impressed and again, there is
a reason the young kids get a factory Porsche contract. They are
really, really good.
I felt that this race
was a bit of a transition race for me - from full time professional
driver to full time team manager, coach and mentor. I felt really
responsible for Patrick, almost like a big brother. I wanted to
help him shine and to avoid any of the pitfalls of running in this
new arena. His raw talent is there and he doesn’t need any
help from me on that, but it is so easy to get sucked into all the
other traps and pitfalls of being a rising young star, coming from
a total “balls out” sprint race mentality. This is a
very large team effort in a very large race in a very public arena.
Even the smallest mistake can have really long term effect on a
young driver’s career. Porsche entrusted him to us and I wasn’t
about to let him or them down. I don’t mean to sound negative
- just preparedly cautious. This is a very tough and unforgiving
business. Brutal is a better word. Sometimes things can really work
for or really work against a new arrival to the series - especially
one with talent. You need to be prepared to “deal” with
all those elements (media, fellow competitors, other teams, etc),
be one step ahead and be ready to deliver when the time is right.
Do you think
fielding three cars hurt you this year? Is three too many in a series
as competitive as the ALMS?
Yes, it has
affected me as a driver. I am juggling too many balls now. I sleep,
eat and live this racing team and something has to give if we want
to stay on top and keep my sanity.
Three cars is
an incredible amount of work, but we have three solid crew chiefs
and a hell of a group of guys. Staying in good physical shape for
the season is a big time commitment, and that takes away the time
required to plan and manage a team of this size. Working with the
sponsors, their guest and making sure that all their requirements
are being met is important and takes time, as well as all the general
marketing of the team. We have some really good people that facilitate
all of this but I still sort of micro manage all of it a bit. (A
bit too much I am sure they would say) I am still very actively
involved in TRG back home, which manufactures and distributes all
sorts of racing related parts, and is now a serious player in the
club racing / arrive and drive scene. We own the winery, Adobe Road
and it is growing rapidly.
Your ALMS plans are set for next season and you’re not
going to be driving. Are you sure you’re ready to watch someone
else pilot that #66 car?
I think one
of the biggest reasons to step down from the driving duties is because
of my family. My wife Debra does so much to help and we have three
little daughters. I can pretty clearly see that the ability to provide
a future for my family will not come through piloting a racecar
but through piloting a race team.
After the success
the team has had in the past three years, and the success I’ve
had as a driver, I felt that this year it was time to take the next
step and focus my energies on taking our team to the next level.
It’s been a dream come true to win races at Daytona and at
Le Mans. I can't say enough about the opportunity that has been
given to us by New Century Mortgage and the Porsche factory. I am
looking forward to showing what a properly funded, professionally
organized effort can do for its sponsor, to meet their business
objectives through racing. I hope our efforts this year will strengthen
all of ALMS and especially GT as a platform from which to help other
team’s partners meet their goals. We will definitely be turning
it up a notch. We respect our role and realize we have a big job
ahead of us. But don’t count me totally out just yet! We will
have an announcement regarding the Rolex in the next few days.
that another manufacturer had approached you about a possible ALMS
entry. Can you comment on that?
Yes, there was a period
of time at the end of the season when I was fairly sure I wouldn’t
be with Porsche next year. The offers were tempting in many ways,
but after weighing all the options, we decided to remain here. I
have been very loyal to, and happy with, Porsche. But I am in the
business of running a professional race team and have an obligation
to our sponsors, our crew and their families, as well as my own.
If the right opportunity presented itself to run something else,
I would be crazy not to look at it. Let me add that this is my ninth
year racing with Porsche professionally, and the team and our cars
just keep getting better. No other manufacturer has ever supported
the privateer teams like Porsche. The truck is at every race with
spare parts and staffed with engineers. Their engine program is
nearly perfect, you can’t beat the reliability. As an independent
team, they really are the best choice. I know we couldn’t
pick a better marque to partner with for the upcoming season than
Porsche. The new RSR will be unbelievable. We have a big responsibility
here with the young factory driver. After many years of our friend
Alwin Springer successfully guiding the racing program here in North
America, he has turned over the reigns to his very capable and experienced
replacement, Uwe Brettel. We have no plans to disappoint either
of these guys in our performance next year.
you think of Porsche’s competition for next year? Any concerns?
The Ferrari has us concerned.
They have really stepped up their program. They have good teams
and drivers in place for next year. There are also a couple of other
manufacturers set to join the GT class. They are going to come in
planning to win: they aren’t coming to “wank”
around for long.
The GT class has always
been the backbone of the series. With the LMP classes in somewhat
of a transitional year, do you expect the GTs to come to the forefront
I have said
for a really long time that GT racing is what sportscar racing should
be all about, at least in North America. Several years ago it was
an unpopular position to take, but one that I was 100% sure would
prove itself out, possibly sooner that later.
Here is my view
on the situation. IMSA / PSCR / ALMS etc. have all been trying to
re-badge, re-skin, re-create and re-sell our concept of sportscar
racing - particularly LMP - to the public for years. It obviously
hasn't worked very well. I bet all of us will take our hats off
to Don Panoz, and all of the current group for their efforts in
what I am sure is THE most brutally competitive sports-television
market of all times, especially in motorsports. We want more coverage,
the network / TV execs. and sponsors want more eyeballs glued to
the screen, and the promoters want more butts in the stands. We
are pushing a snowball up hill here, trying to peddle a marginally
popular concept against such a wildly popular concept, such as Nascar.
Selling the LMP concept to the public is simply a really tough sell
for a variety of reasons. But I think selling the GT / GTS concept
is not. So let’s quit beating a dead horse and go where the
only true exponential growth potential exists and "court"
the sportscar / GT viewers.
our existing LMP-centric formula, there isn't a chance in hell of
really big, upside growth. The mechanic, the doctors, the lawyers,
the business guys, whoever is actually driving a Porsche or a Ferrari
or a Corvette or a BMW to work on Monday (and also whoever would
like to be driving one, which is a lot of people) would really enjoy
seeing "his" car racing on Sunday. This is where I see
the future is and we just have to sell it to the decision makers
at the highest levels. If our voice had been unified on this front
for the last five years I think you would see a totally different
situation right now. In today’s day and age, of super competitive
and fragmented “niche” markets, we need to find what
we are good at - our Niche!! I believe there is a really solid “fan”
base of people out there who are not that involved currently with
racing because they haven’t found a formula that they relate
too. Also there is a ton of people on the “fringe” of
several other successful and not so successful series that would
gladly come over here if the racing was good, close and interesting.
That is the key!!!!
In closing, I have to
say a few things about the wonderful people & sponsors that
have made it possible.
My friend Noel
Lee and all the guys at Monster Cable are car nuts and have supported
us now for several seasons. They are terrific! Mail2web.com has
also been with us now for a few seasons and their president, Tony
Yustein, really stepped up for us when we needed it most. If it
wasn’t for them I am sure that we wouldn’t have made
it to Le Mans in 2002. It was that win that really legitimatised
us as a world-class endurance race team.
Our newest partner,
New Century Financial Corporation, are terrific and very marketing
savvy. We are looking forward to a kick-ass 2004 with New Century
as our partner. They are providing us with a platform to run a total,
first class operation from front to back for this upcoming season.
I want to once again take a moment to thank my friend Michael Schrom
for helping to make everything start to really take off for me.
It was a handshake, between him and I back in late 2001 that started
us off to our first of many smiles, victories and memories that
we have shared together. Also, I want to thank Cort Wagner for partnering
with us for the future. Cort is smart and experienced and has worked
very hard over the years to be able to help put a deal like this
together. We are looking forward to working side by side with him
to carry us all well into a successful future together. He will
be a terrific partner. Finally, my wife Debra - no way, no how -
couldn’t do it without her. This will be quite a team for