TRG team owner Kevin Buckler heads into the 2019 Pirelli GT4 America Sprint season with the ambition of competing for the class championship.
This week in the Pirelli Paddock Pass, Buckler weighs in on reuniting with driver Spencer Pumpelly, the start of the SRO America era last weekend at COTA, his wine business, and more.
What has you most excited about the Sprint program you’ve put together?
“We’ve been very busy. This is our 27th year of motorsports and participating at such a high level with Porsche and all those cars in GT, then running with Pontiac, then with Aston, and now back with Porsche.
“Because of what we’ve been able to do with the winery project, I just couldn’t give my full attention.
“At the same time, we’ve seen budgets ramp up in some of the GT series, especially pit stop related. It was a perfect time for me to try and get back in it at half speed last year and that was fine.
“It worked out great. But this year we have three solid programs and we’re working on putting a fourth one on right now as well.
“The Sprint portion is really cool because although I’m getting older, I’m still competitive. I still love coming to the track to win.
“We had a big win last week with the Am class guys, but this weekend it’s Spencer who’s full bore for the season in GT4 going for a championship. I hired back all of my best people, these guys are great.
“All the way from the team manager to the guys working the tires and the crew, plus the hospitality and business development stuff. We’ve got a big group this weekend, almost 100 people.”
How excited it Spencer to be back with TRG and have this program for the year?
“He, like me, doesn’t want to run around in the back. I told him that our friends at LaSalle Solutions had stepped up and we could put together a winning program, and he was my first call.
“We got the brand new car in time, shook it down, and ran it at Daytona and we were fast. Starting the season off here, this is my favorite venue.
“We rent the entire museum and each year we’re adding more and more guests to watch Spencer come here and run. And we’re the show with no GT3s here. It’s exciting. Everyone wants to go to the track when you have a chance.”
How would you assess the start to the new era of the series?
“I’ve got to say, it turned out way better than I expected and under adverse conditions. I’ve got to give Stephane [Ratel] credit. He comes in here and he leads by example. He comes to the event, he meets with us individually, and he explains what he’s doing.
“I love seeing the upgrades across the board. He brings in the resources, both on the financial side and on the experience side, and upgrades the paddock in some ways. I know they’re looking at integrating a little bit better with the existing talent, and that’s really good.
“I think there’s some existing talent on the side that was here, especially on the technical side, that they need to integrate and continue to learn from. But they did a good job.
“The weather conditions were challenging, but I thought for the first time integrating, it was better than I expected.
“I believe in Stephane’s vision and I support it because GT racing is where it’s at. I’m very supportive of it.”
What is your secret to cultivating succesful business partnerships in racing?
“It’s like anything else, effort equals results. You have to work at it. We’ve developed relationships with these people for years and continue to improve upon them. In the old days, companies used to think it was about stickers on a car.
“When you come to a company that’s spending a lot of money in entertaining their clients doing golf and tennis events and you try to explain to them how motorsports is more than stickers on the car, it’s corporate entertainment at a higher level.
“It’s much more experiential. Get behind the wheel of a car on a track day, the food and wine events that we do. It doesn’t hurt that our winery is going well, but when the two come together, it’s sort of magic.”
What’s the latest with your winery?
“Two big things are happening. One, our winery project was approved last year and now we’re just going through all the mechanical elements now. We expect to be digging at the new facility there in Petaluma in June.
“It’s a 16,000 square foot entertainment complex with everything you can think of: fire pits, pizza oven, entertainment center, and a motorsports museum. There will be a few surprises in there when people come.
“And we’ll have a banquet facility and a party deck as well as the winery itself. That will open the following summer. We have 25 partners and it took four years to get this project going and it’s a dream come true.
“Then two years ago, we started up another brand that will debut next month called the racing series. There are four amazing red blend wines that are just coming to the market, all crafted with the utmost care and quality.
“They’ve had great reviews and have some really cool, cutting edge packaging around a motorsports theme. It’s exciting.”