MONTEREY >> Kevin Buckler went from car guy to racer to racing team leader.
This weekend he returns home with a cadre of Aston Martins which are entered in two classes of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This is the first race weekend of the season at Laguna Seca and features several types of cars, in addition to Sunday's headline race of the new Tudor United Sports Car Championship series.
An amateur with a dream, Buckler, the 55-year-old chief executive officer of TRG-TheRacersGroup, is also the overseer of one of the most successful independent teams in Rolex sports car racing.
It all started in a Monterey garage that Buckler used like the archetypical Silicon Valley startup to begin a Porsche parts business that would finance his passion.
"We started in 1992 from our house in Bay Ridge across the road from the Laguna Seca," Buckler said. "I was the proverbial test dummy and parts developer in those early years. We needed to be innovative in everything we did. I made brake caliper adapters and Porsche 911 suspension parts. And for the next three years we traveled to every Porsche club event in the country selling our products.
"Even though (Laguna Seca) was our home as we started the company, it didn't have a business park and we eventually moved into a shop at Sonoma Raceway."
After a 10-year stay at Sonoma, Buckler moved his racing operation into 50,000 square feet of space in Petaluma. It houses Aston Martin Racing North America, Adobe Road Winery and a local church.
Buckler won the California Grand Prix in 1995. It was his first professional race. There were 42 teams entered. Today, Buckler's is the only original team from that event still in operation.
In 2002, Buckler and his team had a banner year, winning their first Daytona 24, the Porsche World Cup and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"Winning Porsche's World Cup meant a lot," Buckler said. "Usually the cup is won by some young kid from Germany and not some old guy from California. Getting to Le Mans wasn't easy either. It was difficult if you didn't have the right pedigree, connections or racing history. We weren't historical, we were more like 'Rocky Balboa and the Dirty Dozen go to France.' "
The ultimate entrepreneur, Buckler accepted an offer from General Motors to develop Pontiac's road racing program in 2005. The following year TRG and Pontiac won three titles, including the GT championship. He entered NASCAR's Craftsman truck series in 2008. They won one race and had 10 top-10 finishes in their first season. A year later Buckler assembled a one-car team for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. It was the only single-car team to finish the season in the top 30 in points. All this while still winning championships racing his Porsche and running his parts business.
In 2013, Buckler and Aston Martin developed a program to create a factory presence in North American road racing. They currently have four cars in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, two cars in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and two cars in the GT Daytona class of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. In two weeks, Buckler and his staff begin a standalone single-make series titled the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge North America.
"Aston Martin is the only European brand with a racing history that doesn't have a home in North America," Buckler said. "This is a very big deal for us. Taking the Aston Martin program back to Monterey is a big homecoming for me. Racing this weekend will be like coming full circle after 20 years of hard work."