IRL: Buzz Calkins ready for break thorugh at Pikes Peak

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Wednesday, June 14, 2000 - While studying for his MBA degree at Northwestern University, Buzz Calkins has learned a lot about the importance of consistency, commitment and attention to detail. Although Calkins doesn't...

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Wednesday, June 14, 2000 - While studying for his MBA degree at Northwestern University, Buzz Calkins has learned a lot about the importance of consistency, commitment and attention to detail. Although Calkins doesn't plan to apply those principles to his work in an office anytime soon, he hopes they will translate into victory for him and the Bradley Motorsports team at the Radisson Indy 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway on Sunday.

Calkins, 29, gave the oddsmakers something to think about this past weekend, when he finished fourth Sunday in the rain-delayed Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, earning his best Northern Light Series finish since a second-place effort at New Hampshire in August 1996.

Calkins is a busy man these days as he juggles his unique dual role of driver in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series and student at Northwestern's prestigious Kellogg School of Business in Chicago. Despite a heavy and demanding academic schedule, Calkins is completely focused on winning at PPIR, which is located about 80 south of Denver, his hometown.

"It (Pikes Peak) is one of my favorite stops, because I like the miles better and the width of PPIR makes it conducive to good racing," said Calkins. "It's one of those places where you can run three abreast comfortably, which is also great from the fans' perspective. And being so close to home, racing at Pikes Peak is great - it's a lot of fun to run in front of family and friends. I can't think of too many minuses for the track."

Calkins drives the #12 Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone for Bradley Motorsports. Calkins' father, Brad, owns the team.

Calkins and Bradley Motorsports have together competed in the Northern Light Series since its inception. They made quite an impression at the series' inaugural race at Walt Disney World Speedway, the Indy 200, on Jan. 27, 1996. They started fifth, lead 130 laps and won, earning a coveted spot in series history.

But Calkins hasn't visited victory lane since that day nearly four and a half years ago despite scoring a career 15 top-10 and six top-five finishes. Calkins says the disappointment is something that can easily be overcome as long as he and the team stay with those good old values of consistency and attention to detail.

"Whenever you don't maintain consistency throughout a period of time, it's frustrating," said Calkins. "We can mark our consistency or inconsistencies by looking back on certain problems we've had in the past, and if we can work on not repeating those things then it's going to work. It seems like once we get something figured out then another thing goes bad, and so we just need to get the whole package together, which we're getting close on." "Getting close" might be an understatement. In what many hail as the most exciting race in Northern Light Series history, Calkins and Bradley were hanging tough Sunday at the end of the Casino Magic 500 with a shot at a podium finish, and perhaps a victory.

Calkins was second behind Scott Sharp on the final restart of the 208 lap race, but fell behind Robby McGehee on Lap 192 and later lost third place to Al Unser Jr. Sharp beat McGehee to the checkered flag by .059 of second, a Northern Light Series record.

"I thought it was a pretty good day for us," said Calkins. "On full tanks, I just wasn't as quick as everyone else. But when I lightened up, I was pretty quick. There at the end, I went off the throttle when Greg Ray's motor went. And that was enough for Al (Unser) to get in front of me. Other than that, we had a very good day."

Although the team didn't remain consistent visitors to victory circle after the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway, Bradley Motorsports has given Calkins reliable cars over the past four seasons.

Calkins set the Northern Light Series record for the most consecutive races running at the finish, with 13. His streak began at Texas in Sept. 1998 and ended at Phoenix in March due to a Lap 43 accident. All told, Calkins has been racing at the finish of 25 of the 35 Northern Light Series events he has participated in.

"I think we're on the brink of getting some consistent top-fives and even some wins," said Calkins. "Last year we were able to finish our races and our performance was stable, although I wouldn't call it spectacular. This year we're more competitive than before but we haven't finished the races due to mechanical problems. If we can just tie the two together we'll be in great shape.

"The performance is the hardest thing to achieve and we've got that, so if we can get the mechanical to where it should be then we shouldn't have a problem."

As one of the Northern Light Series "elder statesman" in terms of his experience, Calkins said it has been fun watching the series evolve. "It's kind of scary when you're 29 and one of the true veterans," he said. "It's been fun to watch the whole series grow and see it go through the normal growing pains. The most exciting thing is that we seem to be on the edge of a breakout right now. There's a lot of great things going on and being planned right now, and it shows that the series is on the brink of being something big."

Calkins said the greatest improvement in the Northern Light Series is the competition, something that will certainly come into play on the fast 1-mile PPIR oval this weekend.

"What makes it interesting is that things are a lot tighter," he said. "With the new formula (chassis and engines) and changes over the years the competition's a lot tougher. Regardless of where you start a race you can still win it, whereas before if you qualified toward the back you were pretty much reckoned to stay there."

Calkins said Pikes Peak is his favorite track for more than just its close proximity to home. He says the level of intensity and physical demands go off the scale.

"On the short tracks like PPIR you're throwing the cars around more, you're driving them harder, you're on and off the throttle," Calkins said. "There's always a lot more traffic and just a lot more elements you to have pay attention to. At the miles setup is important like the big ovals, but there's a lot more physical elements involved."

Calkins is scheduled to graduate from Northwestern in August and plans to move back to Denver, which he is looking forward to because it will allow him to be more involved with the team. He doesn't plan to put the MBA to use quite yet, because there's plenty of mountains to conquer on the racetrack. "Eventually I'll use it (his MBA) in racing from the business perspective, but I don't see it having an impact until the right opportunity comes up. I do think this will help me know when the right opportunity is there. "I'm going to drive for as long as I can, until I feel I'm not getting anything from it or I'm not competitive. Hopefully that won't come for another 10 or 15 years down the road."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Sharp