IRL: Racing a family affair for Calkins

CALKINS KEEPS IRL SUCCESS ALL IN THE FAMILY INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 7, 1998 -- Buzz Calkins was 15, playing golf and lacrosse in a Denver high school, when his father purchased a go-kart for him. A dozen years later the Calkins ...

CALKINS KEEPS IRL SUCCESS ALL IN THE FAMILY

INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 7, 1998 -- Buzz Calkins was 15, playing golf and lacrosse in a Denver high school, when his father purchased a go-kart for him.

A dozen years later the Calkins family racing team -- Bradley Motorsports -- is headed for nearby Pikes Peak International Raceway and the Radisson 200 on Aug. 16. The team hopes to regain the momentum it had two years ago when Buzz won the inaugural race of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League at Walt Disney World Speedway and shared the league's first championship.

After a 10th-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 in May, Calkins followed up with consecutive 15th-place finishes at Texas and New Hampshire. The car then was brought to Dover, Del., for the IRL's first race on the high-banked "Monster Mile." But Brad Calkins, team owner and Buzz's father, made the momentous decision to withdraw and send the team home for a two-race sabbatical while determining how to become competitive again.

In the interim, the team hired mechanic Jeff Braun as its new engineer and did considerable testing at PPIR. Braun previously worked with driver Jimmy Kite at Team Scandia.

"We seem to think on the same wavelength," Buzz Calkins said of Braun. "We've been trying to make the car comfortable and more consistent."

Buzz knew there was a need to take a look at where the team was headed but didn't totally agree with his father on the timing.

        "I know he made the decision in the best interest of the team,"
Buzz said.  "I didn't get upset." 

"Pretty much everyday we would lay everything on the table on what to do," Buzz said about the layoff. "We were going a million ways. My goal is to get back in a competitive mode for the race."

Brad Calkins said things had fallen apart at Indy and that the team had to back up. He thinks that a team must develop a good relationship with the engineer to breed success, and that's what Bradley Motorsports had with original engineer Ken Anderson.

"Ken was the secret in that first victory and at Indy that year (1996) when (Buzz) drove the fastest lap ever by a rookie," he said. "We almost won Orlando last year (1997) when the engine blew one lap before it rained."

Bradley Motorsports is a rare team. In addition to Buzz, 27, and Brad, 54, Buzz's grandfather George, 84, attends every race and also contributes in the decision-making. The eldest Calkins had no interest in racing until his son and grandson became involved.

Bradley Calkins Sr. raced go-karts while attending the University of Colorado and then earning his degree from University of Denver. He now owns Bradley Petroleum and Bradley Food Marts (65 stores in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming). Son Bradley Jr., nicknamed "Buzz," asked his dad for a go-kart while in high school "so I could mess around in the dirt."

The father went one step higher and purchased a racing kart.

Young Calkins decided to give it a try and promptly won the first race he entered. His racing career took off from there.

"Beforehand, I liked racing, but becoming a race driver was not one of the things I wanted to grow up to be," Buzz said.

Calkins stepped up to Formula Ford when he was 18. He combined his racing with college, earning a bachelor of science degree from Colorado with a double major in economics and history. He carried a 3.1 grade point average and was interviewed for enrollment in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.

In 1987, Buzz Calkins attended the Indianapolis 500 for the first time and told his dad that racing at Indy was what he wanted to do.

Father and son raced together in both go-karts and Formula Fords. Brad Calkins tells a story about an SCCA regional race for Formula Fords that he finds funny now, but not when it happened.

"Buzz always was quicker than me," Brad said. "But this one race, I don't know what they did to my engine, but I was running off with it. Then on the 18th and final lap I saw this red car coming and knew it was Buzz.

"With three corners to go and having never won a race, I thought he'd let me go. Instead, he tries to pass me on a corner where no one passed before. He hit me and knocked me up in the air. As I ran off the track I saw Buzz get the flag. I was so mad I ran off the track on the next corner, too. They impound the first three cars for 30 minutes, but I was so mad I refused to bring my car up there and forfeited second place, I didn't want to be near him."

Brad Calkins never pressured Buzz to pursue a racing career.

"We never really talked about it," Buzz said. "He always encouraged me. He was very supportive, but he never forced me. It's not like Little League.

        "My mom (Kathy, also a Colorado graduate) hates it," Buzz said
with a laugh.  But Kathy Calkins attends all of his races, too. 

Buzz said driving for his dad has had its good and bad points.

They learned the racing business together after his father moved over to the ownership side.

"We made mistakes and had fun," Buzz said.

Said Brad Calkins: "It's created some problems. I've tried to keep my objectivity, but sometimes I've gone overboard where I might not with another driver."

Buzz drove three seasons in Indy Lights, but an opportunity to advance to a seat in an Indy-style car did not arise. Then, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George announced the formation of the Indy Racing League. Engineer Anderson suggested that Bradley Motorsports become a part of it.

"He popped the idea," Buzz said. "I was in transition, ready to move up, and asking, 'What was the next step?' This was a perfect fit. Anderson said it was a good thing, and we decided to do it."

The team purchased the best equipment available, including a 1995 Reynard-Ford Cosworth race car. Then Calkins went out and put his name in the record book as the first IRL winner.

"That definitely was above our expectations," he said.

Last winter there were indications Buzz would depart the family team and drive elsewhere, but eventually it was decided he would stay in the fold. Still, the subject comes up regularly as a means of furthering his career.

"That is something that has been discussed a bunch," Buzz said. "It's something I've looked at.

"If the opportunity comes, I think dad will be all for me. But so far, I've had nothing (offered) that would get us in a better position."

Brad Calkins knows that day will eventually come, and he said he will encourage Buzz to take the ride.

"Who knows, if he does leave, and I can get some more financing, I'll get another driver and go out and try to beat him," Brad Calkins said.

RADISSON 200 NOTEBOOK

Event schedule: The second annual Radisson 200 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (MDT) Aug. 16. PPG Pole qualifying starts at noon Aug. 15. Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will start at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Aug. 14, and 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Aug. 15.

Broadcast schedule: The Radisson 200 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 16. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at 2 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 15.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 4 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 16, with a prerace show starting at 3:30 p.m. A 30-minute qualifying highlights show will start at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 15.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Jimmy Kite , Tony George