DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 11, 2002) -- Winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona is an unforgettable experience for a driver. But this year's GT victory was twice as memorable for Kevin Buckler, who not only won as a driver, but also as a team owner.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 11, 2002) -- Winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona is an unforgettable experience for a driver. But this year's GT victory was twice as memorable for Kevin Buckler, who not only won as a driver, but also as a team owner. Buckler and his wife Debra built The Racer's Group from the ground up, and they watched with pride when their three Porsches crossed the finish line together, finishing first, fourth and ninth in the GT class. Now with a nice lead in the GT standings, Buckler looks to the future and hopes the team's first championship can come in the Rolex Series this year.
Series -- Rolex Sports Car Series
Class -- GT
Team -- The Racer's Group
Car -- #66 Porsche GT3 R
Website -- www.theracersgroup.com
Date of Birth -- February 9, 1959
Hometown -- Sonoma, Calif.
Birthplace - Coral Gables, Fla.
Spouse -- Debra (married 1995)
Children -- Katie (1996), Alysa (1998), Kelly (2000)
IN HIS WORDS...
When did you begin racing?
I began racing in 1990, and my first professional race was in 1995. I've always been in Porsches. My first pro race was the California Grand-Prix, an old IMSA race, back at Sears Point. It was my very first pro race ever, and we were well prepared for it. We won it as a rookie, so that was cool.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue racing professionally?
Probably in the early 90s before I even started. I'd been racing everything since I was a kid. I was really into karts and kind of hopped-up cars in high school and a lot of car rallies -- really just a bunch of things that have to do with speed and fun cars. I've just always been into it since I got my driver's license -- always getting into trouble. I started racing amateur stuff in the late 80s, started doing high-speed wheel-to-wheel events in the early 90s, and then did a lot of Porsche club racing in the early 90s. In 1995 we debuted our first professional car, and we've done 70 plus races since then. I've probably averaged ten races a year.
Do you have any superstitions?
I don't, but I noticed myself (during the Rolex 24 weekend), especially at the end of the race, making sure I walked through the right door. You know, no ladders or anything strange. But no, I really don't have any superstitions.
How did it feel to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona?
It felt great. I was so happy to win, but I think in some ways I was more excited about seeing the look on my crew's face when we won. Those guys worked so hard with me and for me for years, and they are a hard working bunch -- as hard working as anybody out there. To see the look and to see the enthusiasm level of the crew for the three cars to cross the finish line side by side and finish three cars in the top ten. I got a tear in my eye looking at them. The victory for me personally was awesome, but the reward is seeing them and how happy they are. And you know having some kind of payback for them is a big thing for me.
As you watched several leaders in other classes drop out with mechanical problems in the morning hours, did you start to worry about whether your Porsche would endure?
I worried so much. We had a plan. We were going to run up to sunlight and then plan on what to do from there. We were either going to race or we were going to maintain. We had to make a decision, and at that point, we were up by seven laps so we decided to maintain. That's what we did, and we really backed it off. We backed off our lap times, and we were much more conscious of traffic. I was really militant on the radio with other drivers about how fast not to go -- to not take a lap under a certain time, to finish this race, to pretend you were driving to work. Even if you got passed by one of the other guys it was okay, because he had to pass you seven more times to beat you. And they were not going to do that in the time that remained.
How did it feel when two of The Racer's Group cars were running 1-2 in the late hours of the race? Was it a disappointment when the #68 Porsche dropped back to fourth?
That was the other big high of the weekend. I've got to tell you, even through the whole enormity of winning, I still think one of the peaks of the weekend was the looking at those guys -- the crew and the drivers looking on the computer screen and seeing Racer's Group - Racer's Group running one and two. Just to think about the fact that we could actually finish one and two. I tell you it was very emotional. That went on for eight hours. We ran one and two for eight hours. If we wouldn't have had a couple of small problems, you know we would've done better. I'm glad we won, but that would have really been something.
What are your plans for the rest of 2002 season?
We're going to try to run the full season. We'll definitely be at Homestead and Fontana. We're just trying to put together another sponsor package like the one we had this weekend with Suncoast Porsche and Thalist Renlist and Monster Cable. Without those guys, we could not have done what we did because we needed that extra money to put together a professional program. It paid off. We are going to try and commit to running a two-car program with the Rolex Series for the season. Right now I'm working on a sponsorship package.
What goals have you set for yourself?
Its taken us almost a decade to build up our business from a little garage company to the company it is now - where we are one of the leading, if not the biggest, manufacturer and distributor of Porsche racing related parts. That's our primary business back home. I never wanted to come in with a splash and leave with a big splash in one season like a lot of these teams do. I think that we're kind of halfway to our goals. First of all, we own our equipment. A lot of the teams are kind of held hostage by the fact that someone else owns the cars, and if that person, whoever it is, decides one weekend that he wants to go golfing, the car doesn't make the grid because of a change in plans. I don't want to have our destiny in someone else's hands. We took a long-term approach to this. We bought these cars two years ago to nip away at the building of our foundations. Our spares, our equipment, our trailers, our cars... everything -- now we have all those things. So our goal this year is to win the championship. That's really what I want. We have the points lead. We're here and this is the year to do it. So that is what we will try to do.
What hobbies do you have outside of racing?
I have quite a few. I love sports. I was really active as a kid. I played collegiate tennis; I'm a USTA 5.0 player. That's the rating that we play at. I'm a really active skier. I water ski and helicopter snow ski. A couple times a year I take a trip with my friends. I skied as a kid on a circuit. I am also a wine collector, and I'm involved in a winery. Myself and three buddies about four years ago started a little winery in Sonoma, and this year we are going to have a very first release -- our first label that we are selling to the public. It will be bonded and its called Adobe Road, so look for it. It will be really good.
Who or what has been the biggest influence in your life?
Probably hard work. I've seen people make successes of themselves by being either in the right place at the right time, lucky, or they put their nose to the grindstone and just do it. That's the only way I know. I wasn't going to get it by luck or good looks. So the big thing for us is we get to the office early. We get our jobs done. We stay late. And that's how you get to win something like we did at the Rolex 24. You are never going to win that race by being lucky. You need luck, but you better be prepared. When we rolled off the trailer, we pushed our cars straight to tech. They were ready.
Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?
Just thanks for coming out and supporting us. It was great to see such a big turnout for the Rolex 24, and I hope they will continue to support us through the season. Thanks for the help. We are going to continue to build on the Grand American philosophy and build the program into a bigger and better operation, not only for us, but for the fans.
Additional information about the Rolex Sports Car Series is available online at www.grand-am.com.