The former IRL & CART driver Jim Buick recently contacted OldRacingCars.com about his entry on the site - http://www.oldracingcars.com/driver/Jim_Buick – and then kindly agreed to an email interview, which follows below. Thanks to Jim for his good nature, patience & time.
RJ= Richard Jenkins
JB= Jim Buick
RJ: What sparked your interest in motor racing initially?
JB: The speed, the machinery, the challenge of one on one competition on the track. It was not the crowds or the fans, although they are a definite requirement. I enjoyed open testing as much as, if not more, than race day.
RJ: How did you get started in the sport? What, if anything, prompted you to give motor racing a go?
JB: I drag raced as a kid (mostly on the track) and went on to race go-karts, midgets, stock cars, motorcycles, sports cars and formula cars, (SCCA), and anything that had an engine in it.
RJ: – You had a spell in the USAC CART series in 1981, which went very reasonably; -
- What were your own personal highlights from that time?
- Who would you say was the toughest competitor (or if you prefer the best driver) you raced against?
- What was the biggest challenge, for you, during this spell?
- Were there opportunities to extend your time there – was there a chance to race in 1982?
JB – Personal highlights from that time period was just racing with, and against, the big names in the IndyCar sport. Being scowled at as an unproven rookie and then later being accepted by the rest of the drivers and teams was a great feeling. We also surprised some of the competition at times and were faster than we should have been. We were, by comparison, a lower budget team trying to compete with multi-million dollar teams. They all treated us well however, and with respect and we enjoyed the different personalities.
The toughest competition was definitely the drivers that were SMART as well as fast. Drivers such as Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Tom Sneva, Chip Ganassi and there are others.
The biggest challenge during this time was, of course, money and also having enough time to get everything done. I was working full time as an airline pilot for a major US carrier and that took a considerable amount of time within itself.
In 1983-84 there was an effort by CART to outlaw certain engines and make the CART IndyCar Series an exclusive Cosworth powered series. Other aspects of the sport were also implemented and money just ran away with the sport. Each team racecar entry required millions of dollars. Without substantial sponsorship, safecompetition was not possible.
In 1982, we looked at offers to get into a number of cars at Indianapolis but passed them up because they were not, in our minds, competitive and/or safe. During qualifying in 1982, a friend was killed and that took what was left of the wind out of our sails for the rest of the month of May.
RJ – Unfortunately, you missed out on the Indy 500 in 1981 & 1983? What appealed/or appeals to you the most about the event & were there any other chances to compete later on?
JB – The Indy 500 is in a class all it’s own. To me, it was the Super Bowl, World Series, Daytona 500, and America’s Cup all rolled up into one event. It was – and still is -something very special. The opportunity to continue to race at that level past 1984 was limited for us. Time, money, and a commitment to my airline, and even my age, all had a part in my stepping back.
RJ: – You came close to racing in CART in 1994 in the Colorado Grand Prix in Emerson’s Fittipaldi old car. What, in the end, prevented you from taking part?
JB: Money, or the lack thereof, and the time ingredient always played a part in our racing. We wanted to race in Colorado because that’s where we lived and based our race team. But it was not to be.
RJ: You made one of THE surprise comebacks when you attempted the Walt Disney World Speedway race in the IRL’s debut season in 1996 – what prompted this comeback?
JB: I wanted to race one more year as a driver and have at least one more crack at the Indy 500 in 1996. Then the following year to move on to being a team owner and stay in the sport indefinitely. I was 55 years old. It was the first year for Tony George’s Indy Racing League (IRL) and I believed it was the the start of the new direction of IndyCar racing in this country.
It did not turn out that way but Tony George wanted American chassis, American engines and American drivers competing on America’s oval race tracks. The politics and the sanctioning by USAC hurt the IRL in its infancy but it struggled and competed with CART and not only survived, CART closed its doors and all teams that wanted to, joined the IRL. The IRL is today a healthy and highly competitive series and I wish I was still a part of it.
RJ: Were there any other opportunities after this to race in the IRL/CART? What other racing have you done since then & do you still race?JB: We raced a little in the American IndyCar Series (AIS) just for the fun of it but I have not been involved in racing since 1996.
RJ: You started in the sport a lot older than normal. Do you think that gave you any advantages or disadvantages?
JB: I was a rookie at Indianapolis in 1981 at the age of 40. It had both it’s advantages and disadvantages. I think I was as competitively driven as anyone but a little more methodical about my qualifying and race day strategies.
Because of money, we did not have a back up car so our approach to the chances we took were somewhat reserved. I would have loved to have been able to race all out without the equipment and money equations being a part of the day.
RJ: Were there any events or series that you would’ve liked to have the chance to drive in had time allowed?
JB: Yes, definitely. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to have raced 12 and 24 hour endurance races, Sebring, Le Mans etc. Getting into the groove and rhythm of racing the longer races was something I enjoyed and felt comfortable doing, although limited.
RJ: Would you ever have raced full-time or was that never an option?
JB: I made a decision when I was 21 years old to pursue the profession as a commercial pilot and was fortunate enough to get to the top of that profession – that being an airline captain and instructor pilot for a major carrier.
If I had taken a longer look and thought about it more, I might well of had a different profession. Even as unstable as a race driving career can be, my brief time in it was one of my fondest experiences.
RJ: You often entered your own cars – did you find this more of a challenge as a result or did it give you a bit more freedom?
JB: Being an owner/driver was definitely more of a challenge because you didn’t have all the big team knowledge and experience to fall back on. Other teams helped us with setup sheets for our car at that track, however. The plus was that you didn’t have all of the politics and posturing the larger teams had to deal with. I saw that at other teams and thought it very time consuming and distracting. We had to make sure that all the time, energy and monies were focused on the racing.
RJ: You still follow the sport – what series do you currently enjoy watching the most & who do you rate the most driver-wise?
JB: I enjoy being a spectator for all forms of racing. F1 with its high tech approach and unlimited finances is mind boggling. It reminds me of aviation. IndyCar has settled down now and is very entertaining and competitive. NASCAR still has it’s “bump and run” mentality and drivers like to lean on each other a lot. I was never very fond of that approach. NASCAR, however, is very popular and has been marketed well.
Who do I watch? Without a doubt that would be Mark Martin. He works harder than anybody at staying fit, being smart and giving 110% all the time. He is, I believe, a older gentleman that’s still teaching the “kids” a few things now and then.
RJ: Do you feel the future for US single-seater racing is positive despite NASCAR’s continued popularity & the current recession?
JB: Yes, I feel that single seat open wheel racing has a great future. In the IndyCar arena, IRL has to keep the costs under control and even lower them if possible because when the big money teams win week after week, that is boring racing and the fan base and ultimately the money goes away. They must try to level the playing field and make it exciting.
Dale Coyne Racing team, that comes from my days of racing, won an IndyCar race a few weeks back** and the fans went crazy. It was the most covered and talked about race in long while. It was Dale Coyne’s first win in 26 years of being involved in IndyCar racing either as a driver or owner. It was great.
** This interview was conducted in July 2009. Earlier that month, Justin Wilson earned Dale Coyne Racing their first ever win by winning the 2009 Camping World Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
RJ: You used to be an airline pilot for a major airline before you retired in 2001. Again, what sparked your interest to fly planes and how did you get into the industry?
JB: A friend of mine back in college days earned his private pilots license and flaunted it. I thought that anything he could do, I could do as well or better- very competitive, huh?! I started flying in 1961 and earned every license and endorsement needed to make me eligible for the airlines. (I started with my private pilots license and didn’t know when to stop!) I flew for the airlines for almost 30 years. I loved every aspect of the freedom that flying provided.
RJ: What were your best memories or highlights whilst flying?
JB: Flying as a flight crew; pilots and flight attendants, was almost always fun, at least in the earlier days. Flying for the airlines also allowed me to see a lot of this beautiful world. Flying in weather was always challenging as well as rewarding and I really enjoyed it.
RJ: How did your job evolve over the years? What, for you, were the major benefits & disadvantages (if any) by new technology coming into the industry?
JB: I flew everything from the old round motored airplanes to the latest Boeing 737-800 glass cockpit airliner. Today I fly a Piaggio Avante’ P-180, the worlds fastest turboprop airplane (380 kts.) and a new Beechcraft Premier 1A twin jet business aircraft that is “state of the art”. It was and still is a marvellous journey. The new technology in aviation and especially the airlines, were and still are a great benefit. Satellite navigation (GPS) and all the other improvements that the computer has brought to us, have made the job much safer, more reliable and more comfortable. I cannot think of a single disadvantage.
RJ: How do you see the airline business coping with the recession? What do you think will happen in the future from a technological point of view with commercial airlines?
JB: The economy, as well as other factors, have always had an effect on the airlines. The healthy, well run airlines with a great work force base will survive and probably become better and more efficient. The one item that sometimes scares me is the volatile fuel market we have experienced, especially lately. I can only imagine what technology will offer us in the future. If someone would have told me when I started flying that I would be flying with 17 computers on board, instant communication and weather data literally at your finger tips, and navigating world wide using 24 in-orbit satellites with an error of just a few feet, I would have said that were crazy. Imagine the future.
RJ: You are now a pilot & flight department manager & fly for a group of five corporations. What are the biggest challenges you currently face?
JB: The flying is still the fun and best part, however the responsibilities and duties involved are: making sure all data we use is up to date, pilots are trained, current and qualified, insurance parameters are all met, all maintenance and inspections are current and all aircraft are safe and clean.
RJ: What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself flying well into the future or do you have plans to stop?
JB: I plan to fly as long as possible into the future in some form. I can’t imagine life without flying.
RJ: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not flying?
JB: My free time is at a premium but I enjoy family and friends, riding motorcycles, boating and a little music. I also have an open cockpit biplane that I enjoy flying when I get the time. It does remind me, however, of a postman taking a walk on his day off!
RJ: What types of planes have you flown & which planes have you enjoyed the most?
JB: I have enjoyed the high tech aircraft the most. I think it matters only that you FLY, not what you fly. Flying everything from a glider to a high performance jet is an experience that not everyone gets to be a part of. I have been blessed.
RJ: Is there anything you would still like to fly if opportunity allows, that you haven’t already had the chance too?
JB: I would love to fly something supersonic. That probably will not happen in my lifetime. I also have a great respect for the airmen of World War II. I would love to fly some of the high performance fighters of that day. The P-51, P-38, Corsair and others come to mind. The flyers of that day were just kids taking great chances and accomplishing greater feats of success. An incredible time in the history of aviation.
RJ: What advice would you give to any aspiring pilots about a future in the industry?
JB: Flying in general and especially choosing a career as a commercial pilot, has to be a passion. The key words are work, work, study, study and don’t ever give up. One of my favorite cliche’s is “The three things to remember in the real estate business are location, location, location, and in the commercial aviation business, the three things to remember are education, education, education“. The horizon of commercial aviation is exciting and limitless and I can’t imagine what the future holds, but it will undoubtedly be incredible. Aviation is just over 100 years old. The next 100 years ??