Buckler, Marks - NASCAR teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, I don't have a good answer to that question. Like I said, it's been a long time since I've been to the racetrack, and I've been there with Porsche for a long time. That's probably a question that ...

Continued from part 1

JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, I don't have a good answer to that question. Like I said, it's been a long time since I've been to the racetrack, and I've been there with Porsche for a long time. That's probably a question that Kevin might be able to answer better than me. But I do know that we did get a little help from Grand-Am. But we definitely need more.

When we go to the tracks, the rain is sort of the great equalizer.  And the
Porsche for TRG have had flawless days at New Jersey.  But we are struggling
at these tracks against the Pontiacs.  So I don't really know how it's going
to go at Laguna Seca.  I know we'll continue to have to work really, really
hard.  But I think we'll need a little bit of help down the line as well.

KEVIN BUCKLER: I can chime in on that. I guess it gets to the point where we've been trying to be careful. It's a political tight rope, too. You don't want to be too aggressive on your pursuits of those things. But there is a point where it is about our brand and our cause. It's gone way too far.

The Mazda and Pontiacs are literally out of control. They're getting to a point where they're penalizing the team for its performance, not the actual performance of the car.

I'm proud of the fact that our team makes very few mistakes. We have things like last week where we won a race in the rain, but we have our competitors parked on pit road changing windshields and making blower motors fix and windshield wipers are falling off. You can't come after us and penalize us for winning a fair race like that.

But when we're being beaten by 20 or 30 car lengths, it just kills a driver to know that he gets driven away from. The cars need to be brought back and more equal. Right now they're not doing a very good job of balancing it.

Q: You've got seven cars racing this weekend. With the down economy, how is that possible? These guys have done a great job with that?

KEVIN BUCKLER: You know, we saw this coming. There's a variety of reasons and it's a good question. Last year when things started to tighten up, you could almost feel it week by week. This is before things all went to heck with the market. But we've spent years building up a great little brand, a great relationship with our clients, vendors, sponsors, drivers, it was really time for us to get out there late in the season and make some deals.

We put deals together that we probably wouldn't have done the year before. Deals that were tight, deals that were skinny. But we felt that one of the things that was going to happen if things went to heck in a hand basket, we want to be standing here racing. So we did. And it was a good call.

We have everything set this week. And we have a new team coming on board with the 63 car and the Team Polizei guys. It was tough. But the people wanted to go racing with the best brands out there, and it was with us.

It doesn't make it easy though. The biggest struggle isn't fighting the economy, it's fighting the rules imbalance. Because I have sponsors that want to defect and go somewhere else because I can't keep them happy.

And that is the biggest problem I try to get through to the sanctioning body and let them know. That is our biggest challenge. Just putting us on an equal footing as a team, so we have the ability to win, not go there and know there is no chance of winning if it's a dry race.

Q: In 2005 you went from 50th starting position to first in class at Daytona with Joey. And I just wanted to make note of that considerable accomplishment. 53-car field, that's an awful lot of cars to go through in a two and a half hour race to end up first. Nonetheless, I'm curious to know having driven for PTG, what's it like racing for an Milner versus Buckler.

JUSTIN MARKS: Well, there are very considerable differences there. Of the biggest difference, and I have a lot of respect for Tom Milner, and he did a lot for me in my racing career, I developed a lot as a race car driver. But the difference lies in the fact that we were driving for the BMW factory. There's a lot of pressure that comes with that.

Tom Milner himself is under a lot of pressure from BMW to perform. BMW of North America, which is, again, under pressure from corporate in Germany to perform. So there's a lot of bosses that need to be pleased in that deal. It kind of flows downhill. So it's just basically a much higher pressure environment.

We had fantastic race cars, fantastic preparation as sort of an extension of that. But it was sort of a pressure-filled atmosphere. I think that the difference between a situation like that and a situation like Kevin is that TRG brings race cars to the track that are prepared as well as any other team can, and has, you know, has had considerable accomplishments.

But it's a lot of fun to be a part of that organization, too. Because the element of pressure of having a huge car manufacturer behind you, essentially it is a results driven marketing arm of that company.

TRG is really good for sponsors to come to the racetrack and have a lot of fun and have everybody involved in the organization to develop and win races. And get along and be there and enjoy the experience. That's the difference.

Both are fun, both are successful, but very different types of environments. I just know that driving for Kevin right now I'm racing with my friends and we're doing well on the racetrack, and bringing home the hardware. And just having a good time along the way. The sponsors are happy, and I'm happy, and everybody on the team is happy. So it's just kind of a fun and enjoying atmosphere.

Q: With all your experience, can you describe for fans, maybe put them in the car with you there or two cars, basically. The biggest differences between racing sports cars and racing stock cars?

JUSTIN MARKS: Everything is different. I mean, the biggest difference really is that in sports car racing you spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on your driving. You have to have, you know, you obviously spend time getting the car right and developing and engineering the race car.

But there are a lot of things that you can do as a driver to manipulate outcomes of races. I think in the stock car, in the stock car race, a much bigger emphasis is put on the equipment. Making sure that the car has got the best body on it. You're running the right springs and your coil binding the right way and everything dynamically is working the right way. There is a lot of testing, a lot of emphasis and preparation at the shop.

I think in sports car racing for me it's more enjoyable because it's the pure essence of driving. You're doing everything. You're steering left, and right, and you're braking and shifting and using all the systems in the car on a hot lap.

But in the stock car racing it's just all about doing one thing really, really well, and that is turning left and getting out of the corners as well as you can. There's a lot of the racing the wheel to wheel, and you're racing with the people you're racing against comes into effect because the handling of the car changes so much when roads change and tire degradation happens and you're racing the air and all that kind of stuff.

So I would say that basically in sports car racing you're doing a lot as a driver to make something happen on the racetrack and the technique that you drive the car with throughout the race.

In stock car racing you're spending the entire race trying to fix the car on the pit stop to make it better so you can race at the end the last 15 or 20 laps.

Q: As far as the 17, and keeping the thing inflated out there, what people skills work best for you?

KEVIN BUCKLER: Well, I try to stay involved with the guys. I think one of the things and they might answer if they were on the phone they might answer it if are me better or differently.

But I think the guys I try to get it to the point where the guys respect the fact that I'm doing - they respect me, and they respect their boss a little bit. I'm not rolling in at 10:00 or rolling out at 3:00. I did all that. I drove those cars. A lot of those guys that are working on Justin's car now were working on my car when I was driving. So they're proud to be part of the deal.

The people skills for me is a lot of it is we're getting bigger. You know. I take time with each of the crew chiefs and go over, look at the cars, and see what their issues are.

As usual in an operation like this, there are personnels and quibbling.  And
a lot of times you don't want to be drawn into that.  But I do.  I get into
it.  Take the time to go one-on-one with the guys.
So from that side of it, it works pretty well.  So everyone likes what they
do.  That's one of the keys here at TRG.  We're passionate about the mark,
Porsche, and we're passionate about racing in general.  And we've got a
great group of drivers and sponsors this year.  So it makes it a lot easier
on me when everyone's happy.  It could be harder.

Q: If VIL wasn't so pretty, the last time you were there you took a green flag in a sports car race and woke up in a stock car nightmare. That accident looked that way to me. But seriously in terms of your race craft, how do you adjust your mental approach to being in a sports car and having a driver change and having a limited time in the vehicle versus being in stock cars? You've been in a lot of different length of races, but from the mental side, what is the adjustment like, please?

JUSTIN MARKS: I think the biggest thing is when you're in stock car racing you have the responsibility of planning out the entire race.

In sports car racing, your responsibility lies just in your extent of putting the car in the best possible position for the next driver to take over.

So when I'm in a sports car and the way the rules are and the strategies are, it's usually going to be anywhere from 35 or 40 minutes to an hour, hour 10 probably at the most. It's in that short amount of time, put the car in the best possible position for my co-driver to get in and give him all the tools, the best tool that he needs to go out there and win the race. That strategy is a lot different.

I have to go really, really hard because basically what I have is a sprint race. I have a limited amount of time to get to the front. And I probably will do it without making a pit stop. I might make one that might be fuel only or something. But I've got to go as hard as I can to get that thing up in the field as far as possible, so my co-driver has the least amount of work or least amount of cars to pass when he gets in the car.

Versus a stock car, you're basically counting down backwards from the end of the race. You're thinking how the pit stops, when you're going to make your last pit stop, what changes you need to make, because the whole race is planned on the last 15 or 20 laps, being able to dig down deep and go hard and win the race at the end.

So it's different strategies. There's not one that's easier than the other. It's just different, that's basically what the biggest adjustment has been.

Q: You've been involved on the business side of racing for quite some time. How are the lessons learned on that end helped you to make your transition to NASCAR? And since NASCAR is a new field for you, did you have guidance or go to people that you could use so you don't go down some dark alley?

KEVIN BUCKLER: Yeah, that's one I had to have a long think about. The bottom line is running a small business and running it in the racing industry was great training for us in so many ways to segue into NASCAR.

I mean, we still today I'm very proud of the fact that TRG is one of the only sort of business driven teams in sports car racing. Though I'm really pleased to see the way it's been changing lately. It used to be the playground of the wealthy enthusiasts or a factory. Now you have a lot of young professional drivers like Justin bringing sponsors to the table, and teams that are out there like us trying to make a business out of it.

But it's been tough. We've been in this this is our 16th season. And I've got a picture on my wall, I'm looking at a race in 1995 that I started and it was all my heros on the track. It was my first ever race.

And there were 26 people on on that picture, and we're the only team still alive to this day. Everybody faded. So my wife does a great job as our CFO. We've got a tight group here in the office. So we're really watching our P's and Q's. Watching our dollars, working with our people, working with our staff. Getting absolutely the most out of our program.

Then taking that to the NASCAR world and applying a lot of those skills. If anything, I got a lot of push back from the guys down there. A lot of times they were interested and used to working on a fairly unlimited budget with either a boss that didn't see that much of the details or somebody that didn't care.

In the truck series you have a lot of absentee own he ores. We went through that with a couple of the people when we started. We had to weed out those guys.

Now we have a group of tough guys that work hard and understand. They're going to get every one of those invoices inspected and if the box isn't checked correctly on the rental car for the insurance, Debra's going to be on them like you know what. So it did carry over big time.

Without those small business skills, I can pretty much guarantee you, we would not be here today.

Q: That kind of relates to what I was going to ask you. And that is how much of a challenge it is to keep the respective programs fiscally independent? Is that maybe the biggest challenge in a multi-facetted program? You've got seven teams at Laguna this weekend, and a truck program, a Cup program. Is that the biggest challenge you've got, and what is the biggest challenge of it?

KEVIN BUCKLER: The way we have it separated from ate corporate perspective is the NASCAR stock car operation is separate from the sports car operation. Each of them is under their own independent roof in terms of books and budgets and things like that.

In terms of teams and drawing marketing people, creative people, we do draw off each other quite a bit. I have a lot of guys based in Northern California that help with the stock car operation in terms of graphics, creative marketing, PR, things like that.

Keeping it separate on the sports car teams, it actually kind of blends over. Like all five of the GT cars, though each of the sponsors, drivers, partners, people are paying for each of those individual programs and I do make them stand on on it. We don't charge more for one and less for the other and the money gets blended. It does stay fairly independent.

But the benefit of having a five-car operation is we're very efficient. We cross-utilize a lot of our people. To tell you the truth, we only have one engineer on all of those five Rolex cars. He's a really good engineer, and we have five really good crew chiefs and a bunch of really good drivers.

It all starts with one guy being the concert pianist.  He's the conductor
that sees everything.  It's the way we've done it a long time.  And the
curtains stay open.  There's no in-fighting between the crew chiefs.  I
don't allow it.  We share data, we share everything.

On the stock car side, the trucks stay separate from the stock car. The books are kind of separate like that. But it is hard. It is under one roof, it is a bit of a challenge. But it has to. One of the programs can't take down the other or vice versa.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Kevin and Justin, thanks for joining us today we look forward to seeing you continue the passion this weekend at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.

-credit: nascar

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Series Grand-Am