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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

#71 team owner: 2009 about survival, getting ready to compete in 2010

David Gilliland competes in the #71 TRG Motorsports car earlier this season

The issue of what detractors call “start and park” teams has been around NASCAR for the past few years, as some fans get angry when they see a car pull in shortly after a race has begun. The reason for the controversy is these fans feel these teams are just collecting a paycheck and don’t want to compete, which is the whole point of racing.

But don’t count the #71 team in that group, says Kevin Buckler, owner of TRG Motorsports, who says his team is in a unique situation this year and will soon be competing toward the front again, as it did earlier this season at California and Vegas.

Buckler – a successful sports car team owner and driver for many years who just recently make the leap to NASCAR -- said his team, which has proven it can run well, is different from most of the “go-or-go-home” teams battling to fill out the grid every Friday, as he has a plan for the future.

“There’s a difference between us and the other teams. I don’t want to be negative, but some of these guys don’t have two nickels to run together. Ours is a group of savvy sophisticated business people who are surviving for next year,” he said.
"Our plan this year is we’re going to run 8 or 10 races completely, come in early in 8 or 10 other races, and build for next year.”

The reason is money. Running the whole race will use up a motor worth as much as $80,000. Being without a sponsor, which is the situation for TRG and many other smaller teams, the prize money that would be won doesn’t cover costs that high.

“If you only run 100 miles, you can use the engine several times,” Buckler said.

It’s not his first choice, but he’s confident the TRG team can regroup for 2010 and be fully competitive by next year, when the team had originally planned to make its Cup debut. “I don’t think anyone wants to do this. But we’re miles ahead of the other guys. I need to survive this season and look to next season,” Buckler said.

For example, Buckler said that last week at Dover, the #71 car was fast and could have competed. Unfortunately, the math just didn’t work out.

“It pained us to come in. But there are places where we’ll race the whole way – Michigan, Sears Point, Texas, Indy and Watkins Glen, about 8 to 10 of the biggest races.”

Buckler, who first opened up a race shop out of his garage in 1992, currently owns a total of 6 cars between the Rolex and KONI sports car series. He said his sports car team is the “Hendrick of the sports car world,” having won the biggest races in that side of racing and, “We’re trying to carry our sports car success over to NASCAR.”

As a driver, Buckler has won major sports car events such as the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Porsche Cup.
“We run 4 cars in the Rolex series, 2 cars in the KONI series,” he said. “We went to the Daytona 24-hour race this year and I ran 6 cars, which is nuts. We ended up finishing 1-2, the third time we’ve won that race.”

About 2 years ago, Buckler decided to start a NASCAR team, and was able to get a group of investors together because of his sports car success.
“The goal was to go to Sprint Cup racing in 2010, but the way things went with the testing ban and other rule changes, we got together after Daytona testing and decided to give it a shot in 2009,” he said.

The fact that Buckler’s team is even on the track at this point in the season is a surprise to him, because, “we only thought we were going to do the first three or four races.”

So what would it take to be competitive all year? That’s simple: Sponsorship.
For example, if a sponsor came through with $5 million, Buckler said: “We could do about a half-season. We don’t have a lot of employees or high costs.”

Buckler, who has built a business himself, said there needs to be a new business model emerging that makes it easier for a smaller team to survive in today’s Cup series.
“NASCAR needs a new paradigm. They need a new business model,” Buckler said. “They need a small team that leads the charge in a recession, and that is going to be us.”

To the fans who might be ticked off when they see a car retire early, Buckler had this to say: “They have to understand that sponsorship is tough. We want to be here to entertain the fans. We’re doing our part the best we can. There are 10-15 guys back here who are struggling to compete, and we want to be a competitive full-time team next year.”


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