For the first time in their Indy Racing League IndyCar Series participation, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has firmed plans for a second car at the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race well before Indy's opening day.
Bucknum, 38, has been racing on and off since high school, but originally thought professional surfing was his calling. He was only four years old when his father, a Honda driver ended his stellar career and never really had much of an interest in the sport. Bucknum grew up in the Pismo Beach, CA area, a great spot for surf aficionados.
He joined the PSAA (Professional Surfing Association of America) shortly after his high school graduation and put up some good results in that worldwide tour for a few years. Even as Bucknum surfed, though, he also engaged in kart races and discovered his results were better there than in his chosen craft, even without trying.
"Dan Gurney says racing is in your genes," Bucknum recalled, "and I guess he's right." Taking a three-day Skip Barber School in the early 90s with another student named Juan Pablo Montoya - their teache3r was ace sports car veteran Vic Elford! - Bucknum found his true career.
"I'd struggled to be really good in surfing but never paid much attention to my karting. But I kept on winning in the kart and figured it was time to use those skills." Bucknum progressed through various Barber skill levels to join the Skip Barber Pro Series in 1995, winning the Mid-Ohio round in front of such a large crowd he felt "like I'd won a Grand Prix."
Bucknum moved on to Star Formula Mazda for the 1997-1999 seasons, finishing third in 1998 and second the following year. He started his own Mazda team the following season with Bernardo Martinez, who promptly won the title in 2000. "That's my day job," Bucknum admitted. He still has a Star Mazda team with two drivers: Scott Jenkins and Robbie Montinola for the 2005 season.
In addition to running his own team, Bucknum has driven in the American Le Mans Series since 2002 and will run the complete 2004 season with Miracle Motorsports in the LMP2 class this year, driving a Courage/AER Turbo (nee MG). Prior to that, Bucknum ran his own team in the P2 category.
To prepare for his two-race schedule with Dreyer & Reinbold, Bucknum will undergo his rookie test this coming Monday on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, under the watchful eyes of Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford.
Bucknum also intends to partake in a single day of testing at Sebring International Raceway March 28th to get his road-course chops in an Indy car. "I have more laps at Sebring than anywhere else," he crowed, some of them coming under the tutelage of Dreyer & Reinbold co-owner Robbie Buhl, who was a Skip Barber instructor.
"We put this together as quickly as possible in preparation for Japan and Indy," noted team co-owner Dennis Reinbold. "Jeff is a rookie in the sense of not having driven an IRL car, but he's very, very experienced" in other forms of racing. "His rookie status gives us more testing dates and, since we never tested on a road course until the open test here (at Homestead), we're a bit behind the other teams," Reinbold said.
To begin his career this weekend, Jeff Bucknum intends to join Buhl atop the Homestead-Miami Speedway grandstands with scanner in hand as Buhl spots for full-season driver Roger Yasukawa in the #24 Racing for Kids, Roller Coater and Speed of Japan machine.
"One of the things that's so exciting is the involvement with Honda because of my dad's involvement as Honda's first F-1 driver in 1964," added Bucknum. "That was my intent all along in my goals, to get to Indy and to race there with the Hondas. It's all about to become a reality."
Investment Properties of America president and CEO Edward Okun is excited about his newest venture. A race fan for over 30 years who owns two vintage Indy cars - a 1985 Lola and 1999 G Force - Okun has wanted more involvement in the sport and got in via friendship with Reinbold during get- togethers at another DRR sponsor's locale: 106th Street Grill.
Okun hopes to continue with this venture, as do the owners of his team and the driver, who admits he's been preparing for this moment all his life. In conjunction with the Twin Ring Motegi race, Bucknum intends to make a trip to Honda Collection Hall, where his father's first Honda Grand Prix car is on permanent display.
Now that's a full circle.