PDM'S DYNAMIC DUO FINDS SUCCESS AFTER LEARNING FROM LEGENDS
INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 10, 1998 - The names come at you in waves, names that instantly register with anyone familiar with open wheel championship racing.
Janet Guthrie. Tom Sneva. Gary Bettenhausen. Jud Phillips. Dick Simon. Johnny Parsons. Lindsay Hopkins. Steve Chassey. Jim Crawford. Emerson Fittipaldi. Bobby Rahal. John Paul, Jr. Jack Hewitt.
Paul Diatlovich and Chuck Buckman have worked with some of the very best in the history of the sport, covering more than 20 years in an up-and-down, topsy-turvy sport that they can't quite get enough of. Today they own and operate PDM Racing, working to stay competitive among the growing teams of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League.
Both Diatlovich and Buckman came to auto racing almost by accident, never really intending to spend their lives amid the constant, grueling schedule that is the reality of championship racing. After many years working for the other guy, they formed PDM Racing in 1996.
"I'm tickled," said Diatlovich, working amid the noise of a busy race shop. "Looking back over the years, it's all been very rewarding.
"The cars have changed so much over the past decade, it's been an incredible journey. It's been a privilege, really, to be working right in the middle of the evolution of the sport." Diatlovich and Buckman are more than just car owners looking toward the next race. They are historians, students of the game in which they have chosen to devote their lives. As students, they have had some giants as teachers.
Diatlovich tutored under the watchful eye of the late Jud Phillips, among the most respected and successful mechanics in the history of the sport. Both spent time working for Galen Fox, a talented mechanic who today boasts nearly 40 years in the sport.
And, as if to complete their homage to the heritage of the sport, PDM races out of the westside Indianapolis shop of roadster genius A.J. Watson, known as something of a god among postwar car builders. "You're damned right he was one of the best," Diatlovich said of Phillips. "Jud taught me how to prepare a car properly in less than 24 hours-a-day.
"He taught me the value of hard work, and being organized. There isn't any way to pay back what a guy like that teaches you.
"And A.J. Watson...this is his 50th year in the sport! It's a situation where I feel fortunate to have been around guys like that."
Buckman and Diatlovich get along very well, and they have made their partnership work, even amidst the chronic stress of fielding race cars in a very competitive environment. Diatlovich leads the effort on the race cars, while Buckman heads up the team management responsibilities. "Finding money is the most frustrating part," said Buckman. "It's never changed, it's always been that way. It's the most difficult part of the business.
"Working on the car is actually the most refreshing thing to do after you've done all the administrative stuff. And doing it all ourselves, it's very rewarding when you succeed."
Buckman tells the story of PDM, and how he and Diatlovich hooked up with the IRL.
"In 1996 Paul and I decided we wanted to try to do something together, and shortly after that a friend called and told me about the IRL," he said.
"We bought the car that Scott Pruett ran in 1995, a '95 Lola. But we couldn't get an engine lease, so the car never turned a wheel. So we ended up talking to John Menard and we bought one of his (Buick-powered) cars.
"We didn't even have a starter, and this was just a few days before the Orlando race. So we put John Paul in the car and we kind of went on from there."
Diatlovich chuckles when he is asked about his experience with rookie drivers. From 1986 to 1989 every Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year came in a car wrenched by Diatlovich. Randy Lanier, Fabrizio Barbazza, Billy Vukovich III, and Bernard Jourdain made it four straight at Indy. "Talk about masochistic tendencies," said Diatlovich of working with the rookies. "I'm not sure exactly how that all came about, but I'm not sure a guy is smart to try and do that intentionally. It's a terrific headache, really.
"After that run in the late '80's, I swore (rookies) off, I said I wouldn't do any more. Then along came the IRL. Between Chuck and I, we ran 40-some rookies through their testing and licenses."
The unique rookie connection for PDM began in early 1996, when IRL officials realized the need for a system that tested and licensed the influx of young drivers that had surged onto the scene. PDM provided a "mule car" that allowed officials to study and process the talented crop of drivers.
"That afforded us the opportunity to pay our bills, so we could earn some money and get ourselves established," said Diatlovich. "Plus, we are good at (working with rookies).
"In September of 1996 we ran nine drivers through the rookie process in four days. That was a marathon deal. These cars don't have adjustable seats, you have to fit everything to the driver. It is a ton of work, and somehow we did it."
Today, with the 1999 season right around the corner, Diatlovich and Buckman are working on securing sponsorship for the next few years. It is never easy, according to Buckman, but he knows that they can get it done eventually.
"If we can keep this thing going, that's something we would consider a success," he said. "We've kept it up now for three years, and if we can get over the top and be able to get out and do some testing, that will help us get there. And someday, we will."