Racing is Buckles family affair
Father and son quench thirst for speed at Bristol Dragway

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com
Over the landscape of sports, family traditions are not uncommon, whether you talk about the Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. in baseball, the Barber brothers in pro football or the hockey Hull family. The one sport in where it is truly commonplace is auto racing.
Open wheel racing has the Andrettis, stock cars have seen three generations of Earnhardts drive, and drag racing features the Bernsteins. Up at the Blue Springs Community, James Buckles has passed on this same love of speed to his sons Jason and Justin.
"I've always liked racing," said James. "I used to go and watch the cars run when I was a teenager. Then I started racing a Fairlane in the trophy class. I was a nervous wreck the first time I drove. I still remember the first round I won. You get an adrenaline rush like crazy."
James, 46, began his racing career in 1991 when Jason, now 21, was just the right age to fall under the influence of high speed.
"I started racing when I was about 16," recalled Jason. "I like the adrenaline rush, going faster than before. This year has been great getting two or three wins and doing the best in points that I have ever done."
The boys aren't the only ones who participate at Bristol on weekends. Mother, Wanda, and Jason's girlfriend, Lucy Little, both lend their support at the drag strip.
Jason has been a quick study, already equaling his father's career total of three wins and finishing a family-best third place in the points. In fact, Jason is the most recent winner in the Pro Class at Bristol Dragway and currently sets third in this year's track standings.
"It makes you proud to see your son out there, doing so good in the points," admitted James. "There are just so many cars racing at Bristol."
Added Jason, who works as a repo man when he's not racing: "I'm going to try to get to first in the points, but I don't know if I can or not. There are only four races left. I would love to win the championship at Bristol. It's the nicest track I've been to."
There are fewer examples of brand loyalty than racing with the Buckles family. The only car you will see someone in this clan drive on the race track is a Ford. Their preferred weapons of choice under the hood of are rebuilt versions of the classic 351 Windsor engine.
The model James races is a 1995 Mustang that has been modified to look more like a 1997 Mustang. Jason is driving the family's original muscle car, a 1967 Fairlane, while Justin, 14, is anxious to get behind the wheel in the same vehicle Jason started in, a Ford Ranger that awaits as soon as he reaches the legal driving age.
Despite both the Mustang and Fairlane running in the Pro Division, each vehicle as well as the truck is set up with a different suspension.
"The Ranger has a metal bar suspension under the rear end," said James. "The Mustang has coil-overs and you can adjust them. The front suspension has what they call a drag shock."
Over the year, the set-up has even changed on the Mustang as it has a more level appearance than earlier in the season, when it was loaded heavy on the right side.
As we started the interview, James was hard at work getting the timing right on an engine. Such dedication has served the family well in their racing endeavors.
"We build our own motors," said Jason. "We check everything on the cars every weekend, the oil, the transmission fluid and all. We make sure nothing is broken."
Despite seeing his son top speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, James says he worries little about him at the race track.
"I'd rather seeing him race over at Bristol than out on the street," said James, a longtime employee at Snap-On Tools in Elizabethton. "He's surprised me on that, the way he has controlled himself out on the street."
Two times the father and son have competed directly against one other in elimination rounds with each taking one win. If there is a racing fantasy, James says he would love to be in the finals one weekend against his son.
"We usually try to stay away from each other," said the elder Buckles. "We were in opposite lanes the last time we had to run. I don't know how far apart we were and had to run each other. One time, I would like the finals to come down between us."