Racing a family affair for Buckwalters

Gracyn Buckwalter, 6, changes a lugnut at her great uncle Rick's shop in Kenilworth. (Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury)

It was quite a foundation Richard and Betty Buckwalter laid almost a half-century ago.

Six of the Royersford couples seven children followed the lead of their father, a stock-car racer at various dirt tracks in the 1960s, to become active and proficient competitors in their own right. Five of them (Bruce, Brian, Gary, Judi and Sandy) raced micro-midgets while Rick followed a different route, campaigning a sportsman-modified car.

That legacy as one of the areas premier motorsports families is now borne by a third generation of Buckwalters ... and possibly a fourth waiting in the wings.

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Three Buckwalter cousins (Steve, Tim, Bruce Jr.) are making names for themselves in various racing venues. All three have been in action with the American Racing Drivers Club an open-wheel midget car sanctioning body that operates primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas though Steve also competes in events at various Central Pa. tracks and elsewhere, and Tim is a regular in Grandview Speedways 358 modified division.

If not for the involvement of my uncles, aunts and Dad, I dont know what Id be doing, Bruce Jr. said. Its a lifestyle.

It gets in your blood. Thats all you know, Steve added.

Just as Lanco and Lindas speedways were the principal stages on which their fathers, uncles and aunts showed their stuff, the current crop of Buckwalter hot shoes have been a quite noticeable presence with the ARDC.

Steve, the club champion in 2010, won its first three races this season, equalling his victory total from 2012. Tim is the ARDCs defending champ with help from three feature wins, and Bruce Jr. has one checkered-flag finish to date this year.

When youre talking about the ARDC, youre talking about the Buckwalters, Bruce Jr., driver of the No. 83 BDB Construction Special, said. Were a big part of it.

* * *

At 35 years old, Steve Buckwalter is the elder statesman of the Buckwalters motorsports trio. He also possesses a diverse resume covering three decades of competition.

From a youth racing quarter-midgets, Steve advanced to micro-sprint and midget racing. Describing himself as a full-time racer, he runs sprint cars at Williams Grove and Port Royal speedways as well as the United States Auto Club in events at Midwest tracks.

Were bouncing around, Steve said of a schedule that had him start the year racing in Florida, later competing at races in Oklahoma and New Zealand. I want to run big-pay races with the sprints, and with the midgets travel to big races.

Like his cousins, Steve gives credit for his early development as a racer to his grandmother, Betty Buckwalter, and uncle Gary Buckwalter. He described them as the drive behind it.

There were two, three, four nights a week she (Betty) and my uncle would take us around racing, Steve recalled. She was with quarter-midgets over 40 years.

Steve is way better than I was, Brian Buckwalter added. Gary used to work with him, taking him to the track and having him run as many as 200 laps a day.

Due in part to his on-track success, Steve has been dubbed the Royersford Rocket. Its a nickname he doesnt particularly fancy, however.

Barry Angstadt gave me the name 15 years ago, he recalled. I dont like it because its the nickname for Tony Stewart, and it takes away from that. But it is what it is.

The four-time micro-sprint champion is currently in his sixth year driving for car owners Clair and Jan Ritter. His goal for the future is to hook up with the World of Outlaws sprint-car organization, which will run nine dates at Pennsylvania tracks in 2013 as part of its ambitious schedule.

Sprints is where I want to be at, he said. I want to get to the Outlaws. They have good pay and run 120 races a year.

* * *

At the tender age of four, Bruce Buckwalter Jr. was known to twirl a wrench in his fathers garage on occasion. That wasnt always considered a blessing by his father, though.

One time he adjusted the front shock absorbers on the car, Bruce Buckwalter Sr. recalled. I took it out on the track and it was driving funny. I came back in to the pits and said What happened?.

That has been at the core of various spirited discussions between father and son over the years. Theyve had differing viewpoints on car setups and other issues, both firmly set in their individual opinions.

He forgets I was in his shoes, Bruce Sr. said. Thats where we get into arguments.

All the same, Junior has been around the racetrack for a good part of his life.

Now 28 years old, he got started in quarter-midgets when he was 10 and continued to age 16. A couple years of go-kart competition followed, then 3-4 years of micro-sprint action.

I was okay in micros, he said, but I didnt have much luck. You have to have a strategy when youre driving without a wing. If you can drive a midget, you can have success.

There wasnt much success associated with Juniors 2012 season. While going winless that year, he flipped three times and ended up in the hospital once with a concussion.

But theres been a turnaround of sorts for Bruce Jr. and his fathers BDB Construction racing team. His winless run ended on May 18 at Winchester (Va.) Speedway, where he rode to the checkers after taking the lead eight laps into the 25-lap feature.

When we finished, we had good finishes, Junior said after the Winchester event. But we had so many good runs where we didnt finish.

Top-10 outings in two of the early-season ARDC races won by Steve are also part of Juniors 2013 success story. He currently stands third in ARDC driver points with 539.

Beyond this season, nothing is set in stone.

At the end of the year, well talk about it, he said. Maybe Ill stick with midgets. I want to still be racing, and Im hoping to do the same thing.

* * *

Tim Buckwalter has packed a lot of racing into his 16-year career.

Following his cousins into quarter-midget racing, the 24-year-old Douglassville resident progressed through go-karts into 270cc and 600cc micro sprints, as well as three-quarter and midgets. His current racing plate is filled with running micro-sprints at Kutztown Speedway along with 358 modifieds at Grandview and Big Diamond speedways on the weekends for car owners Gary Spotts and Earl Fellin.

Whatever came about was Tims explanation for his checkered motorsports resume. It was a matter of what opportunity was available.

Everything is like a ladder, he added. I started in quarter-midgets, then go-karts, and slowly worked my way up. It was a matter of ability and performance.

Tim was coming off a notable three-year run with the ARDC, during which he was a Rookie of the Year and club champion. His involvement with the ARDC is scaled back this year to focus on mastering the 358 modified of car owners Gary Spotts and Earl Fellin.

At this point in 2013, Tim is currently 19th in Grandviews 358 modified standings through its most recent show of June 1. He stood 16th at Big Diamond coming into the past weekend.

Im trying to get the hang of the modifieds, he said. This is my first year driving them, so Im still learning.

Tim is still having success running the midget owned and prepared by his father, Rick. The most recent was Wednesdays Thunder On The Hill show at Grandview, where he headed the ARDCs 25-lap feature run alongside the USACs wingless sprints.

Its a lot easier now, Rick said about watching his son compete. When he first drove, I wsa worried. But I got experience watching him under my belt. Now its not a big a deal.

The Eastern Storm event marked only the second time Tim competed in a midget race this season. It was his second midget win at Grandview, the first coming in the Thunder Series 2010 season finale.

I would call this (midget racing) second best to modifieds, he said.

For the future, though, the 358 modifieds are the way Tim plans to go.

* * *

Suffice it to say the Buckwalter cousins have had opportunities to go head-to-head make that fender-to-fender on the racetrack over the years. In those instances, there are no family discounts for getting into Victory Lane.

The fastest guy wins, Tim said.

We dont let off, Steve added. We both want to win, but if we can help each other out, we will.

One joint accomplishment they havent yet pulled off is a 1-2-3 finish. They almost turned that feat in a race at Winchester some years back, but Bruce Jr. ran out of fuel.

This past week, another opportunity to put together a 1-2-3 arose at Grandview during a Thunder On The Hill doubleheader featuring the ARDC midgets and USAC sprints. Tim took the checkers and Steve placed third, but Bruce Jr. went by the wayside when a broken gas pedal throttle line relegated him to 23rd pace.

Theres something about racing family members, Bruce Jr. said. Theyll race hard, but they wont turn into you.

That connection is reminiscent of the one the second-generation Buckwalters had in their heyday. Put them together in a room, they could talk about racing for hours on end. And post-race stops at Zinns Diner (near Reading) were a regular part of their race-day routine, offering an opportunity to review the race results and figure out point standings.

After a race, Ill call Steve, or Steve will call Tim, or Steve will call me, Bruce Jr. said. Its a family connection. We help each other.

And memories of the familys racing matriarch remain strong, even with her passing in 2010. The clans scrapbooker who kept clips of everyones on-track accomplishments, Betty Buckwalters passion for the sport was legendary in the family circle.

Mom wanted to see Steve win his first 410 sprint race, Brian recalled. She died on Sept. 15, and two days later at Williams Grove Steve won the 410 race.

We like to think she did get to see him win.

* * *

While the third-generation Buckwalters are busy showing their stuff behind the wheels of their various racers, yet another generation is in the developmental stages.

Steves daughter, Gracyn, is in her second year of racing with the Doylestown Quarter-Midget Racing Club at Honeybrook Raceway. The precocious six-year-old has two wins to her credit in the early part of the season ... and leaves no doubt in anyones mind about her favorite aspect of the sport.

Winning, she said.

Shes coming around, Steve said with a grin.

Follow Jeff Stover on Twitter@MercuryXStover.