Driver Profile: Jeff Bucknum

What Happens When History Repeats in New and Exciting Ways

1:02am EST — In the continuing On Any Sunday, These Days Driver Profile series (previous profiles include Ian James and Jeff Westphal), this week’s driver is Jeff Bucknum.  In a bit of a change in layout, this week’s profile will not continue in the previous question-and-answer format, but a more free-flowing format, if only because it wasn’t recorded.

The name Bucknum may ring a bell for those who followed Formula1, IndyCar, and sportscar racing in the 1960’s, when Jeff’s father Ronnie raced for Honda in their F1 debut, started the Indy 500 multiple times, and stood on the podium at Le Mans when Ford swept the top three in 1966.  Jeff has had a similar career, competing in both open-wheel and sportscar racing, though, as he points out, he was “too young to remember” his dad racing or was not yet born, as was the case with most of Ronnie’s 11 F1 starts.

Jeff’s career began in high school, when he raced go-karts and then progressed through the ranks at the Skip Barber Racing School.  He then moved on to Formula Mazda and “settled into the American Le Mans Series for five to seven years.”  He raced in the IndyCar series in 2005 and 2006 before “taking a year off, that turned into a bit longer time off than expected” with contract and sponsorship issues (as has become all too normal), before returning to sportscars and the Grand-Am series.  What he did not mention in our discussion was his two Indianapolis 500 starts, Le Mans 24 Hour start, and second place finish in the ALMS LMP2 championship in 2005 (a year in which he also had four IRL IndyCar starts, one of which was the Indy 500).

According to Jeff, his dad’s racing history in a Sunoco Camaro with Mark Donohue for Roger Penske inspired him to join with Stevenson Motorsports and bring back the history in the Continental Tire Challenge (formerly the Koni Challenge), particularly with Mark’s son David as his teammate, as they ran at the team’s debut, the 2009 season finale.

To get the sponsorship together for the team in this tough economy was, as many recent Formula1 withdrawals and failures suggest, difficult.  Bucknum noted, “you would make a contact with someone at a company, and then they would be downsized.  It wasn’t a lack of desire to sponsor, just everyone trying to stay afloat.”  He suggested that time played a big factor in the team’s delay, with all new contacts having to be made after that previous person was let go.  It was also difficult, since Chevrolet put production of the Camaro on hold after the auto bailouts here in the States in 2008.  So, the team itself was forced to wait for the 2010 production car before racing at Virginia International Raceway at the end of last season.  This, the 2010 season, is the first full season for Stevenson Motorsports.  His teammate for this season is next week’s driver profile, Matt Bell.  Together, they finished fifth overall during the Rolex 24 support race.

For both the 2009 and 2008 Rolex 24, Bucknum raced in the GT class.  He plans to finish his career (born in 1966, Bucknum is currently 43) in sportscars, and likely with Stevenson Motorsports, and then, possibly, move on to team management.

An avid Formula1 fan, Bucknum has an interesting take (both from a driver and manager’s position) on Michael Schumacher and his return, suggesting that, while he is a highly talented and motivated driver, “Schumacher brings the best out of the crew members…his presence and dedication inspires the rest of the team and has that energy that pulls together the team,” and that is what defines his championships.  With experience in notable open-wheel series and the pinnacle of sportscar racing, Bucknum has an interesting knowledge of and historical take on racing and competition.



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