Wheels in Motion
It only took one day for Bradley “Buzz” Calkins to realize he wanted a career in auto racing.
It was May 24, 1987, when Calkins, then 16, attended his first Indianapolis 500. It was his initial exposure to the glamour of auto racing, and the Colorado go-kart champion was hooked. He vowed that the next time he returned to the Indy 500, it would be as a driver.
After graduating from the University of Colorado in 1993, Calkins began racing in the Indy Lights Circuit, the minor leagues of racing. In 1996 Calkins showed up at the inaugural Indy Racing League event as a virtual unknown, said Mike King, anchor and chief announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.
He went on to win that race, the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World, and a few months later he returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to make good on his promise, racing in the first of six Indy 500s (1996–2001).
His best year, 1996, netted him a share of the Indy Racing League championship, with co-champion Scott Sharp, as well as $345,000 in prize money. It also sparked dreams of a rewarding career in racing.
“In the five races run in 1996, Buzz proved to everyone that he was a legitimate threat every time out, earning four top-six finishes,” King says. “Buzz and Bradley Motorsports captured lightning in a bottle in their first attempt at big-time racing. That’s a hard act to follow.”
But things changed for Calkins one August day in 1997 when, while testing new tires, he crashed into the wall, sending him to the hospital with a broken ankle, ruptured eardrum and fractured skull. Lying in the hospital bed, Calkins considered his future.
“I never wanted to get in the situation that happens often to people in pro sports where you don’t think about [your future] and then you’re out in the cold,” he says. “But that’s when it hit me: ‘Whoa, this could all end tomorrow. I better make plans for the future.’”
Those concerns led Calkins to enroll in the Kellogg School of Management in 1998, where he studied management strategy and finance while still maintaining his racing schedule.
After graduation from Kellogg Calkins returned to the racetrack full time but soon found his passion for driving waning. So in 2002 he switched gears and took over as co-owner of Indianapolis-based Bradley Motorsports, a racing team his father and now fellow co-owner founded in 1987. “That role fits him to a T,” King says.
Calkins oversees the budget and works to bring in sponsorship revenue to recruit drivers, maintain cars and enter races. Also, as a rare owner with racing experience, he is in the unique position to coach and mentor his team’s drivers.
“It was a way I could still stay involved and have an active interest in racing,” he says. “It was the next step.”
Currently, Calkins is analyzing sponsorship packages and driver combinations that Bradley Motorsports may feature this season.
Calkins is also working on a deal in conjunction with the racing sector. Though details are being finalized, he is set to take over as a partner of a three-franchise car dealership in California, an opportunity “too good to pass up.”
Although his new endeavor has taken “95 percent of his focus,” Calkins still tries to make time for his hobbies without wheels: mountain climbing and running. He and his wife, Meredith, married last November.
Though his ambitions in life are taking him away from the track, Calkins says he still races once in a while for fun, in amateur and charity events.
— Michael DePilla (J04)