The Racing Group CEO brought his racing themed wines from Sonoma to Metro Detroit this week.
By Andy Reid
Photography by Derrick Martinez
Kevin Buckler has always lived life as fast as possible.
A sportscar racing legend, Buckler helped build his racing team, The Racing Group, into one of the most respected, successful operations in motorsports over an illustrious 27-year career, most of which was spent behind the wheel. Now, Buckler is chasing a new dream: wine.
The owner of Adobe Road Winery in Sonoma County, California, Buckler hosted a free public event called The Wines Of Adobe Road at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he was at Big Rock Chophouse in Birmingham to promote his newest venture, The Racing Series Wines. At the M1 Concourse, he was the main attraction — a racing legend willing to share a friendly chat and a toast with any fan who wanted it.
Buckler’s racing journey began in 1992, when he began entering regional Porsche Club of America races and working his way up through the circuit. Three years later, he and his team entered their first professional race, the International Motor Sports Association Grand Prix of California, and won.
The debut professional victory set the tone for Buckler and TRG to make a legendary climb to the top of the sportscar racing world. TRG is one of the most successful independent GT sportscar teams in the history of the sport, with seven series championships and more than 200 podium finishes in major sportscar competitions around the world.
“We were in the middle of it,” Buckler says during his stop in Michigan. “We rose to dizzying heights. It was very, very kind of cool Rocky Balboa story in that I didn’t start with a lot, and we got to the very top of the game.”
On TRG’s eighth attempt at the 24 Hours of Daytona race, an endurance race competition where the winning team drives the greatest distance during a continuous 24-hour period, Buckler and his fellow drivers Michael Schrom, Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister drove a total of 2,474.2 miles (an average 103 mph) and won. It was TRG’s first major championship.
With the win at Daytona, TRG earned an entry into the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race, one-third of the Triple Crown of Motorsports racing, along with Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. With the same team of drivers, including Buckner, TRG became just the second team in history to win Le Mans on its first attempt. The only other group to accomplish the feat was McClaren Racing.
While he traveled for his racing career, Buckler started to build a network of racing industry professionals and tastemakers for elaborate dinner parties surrounding the racing events. His love for wine grew and grew.
“Years ago, when we would be on the road, we started to discover this magic little secret sauce — no one used the ‘L’ word 10 years ago. Lifestyle, but now it’s all the rage,” Buckler says. “We were having some really crazy success, and we started doing these wine dinners. I would host a bunch of high-end guests from the racing world. I was starting to be interested in the wine world, and we started finding a chef and doing something special. Really, we were blending these two things together before there was the lifestyle of it.”
In 2002, Buckler and his wife, Debra Buckler, took their love of wine a step further. They opened their own winery, Adobe Road Winery in Sonoma County, California, shortly after the win at Le Mans.
“We were doing a really good job, but we were small,” Buckler says. “It is really hard to get traction, especially when the economy turned. But things really took off for us.”
The couple will soon break ground on a 16,000-square-foot facility for Adobe Road Winery on the Petaluma riverfront, where Buckler and his wife reside. The new facility will be complete with a classic car museum and other entertainment options.
“We’re about to break ground on one of the most epic new winery facilities in Northern California,” Buckler says. “We’re not building a new castle in Napa — we are building a new entertainment complex on the downtown Petaluma riverfront.”
Although auto racing and wine might not seem like a perfect match, Buckler has fused his two worlds into one: The Racing Series, a run of auto-inspired wines that blend Buckler’s two passions.
“I launched the Racing Series, and it is all about authenticity,” Buckler says. “It is based on our story and our racing and our successes and struggles. We crafted four really cool wines. … We tried to do everything. The label and packing really tie into the lifestyle of cars and car culture, motorsports racing.”
The Racing Series is comprised of four distinct wines in sleek, racing-inspired bottles: The 24, Redline, Shift and Apex. And he’s promoting his Adobe Road wines through the types of dinners and events that he threw as a racer with TRG.
After providing the wine at a three-day car event in Carmel, Indiana, run by Lucas Oil, Buckler brought his wines to Michigan. He used the attention at the events to get people excited about his new passion — delicious wines.
“Everywhere we go, we bring along the Racing Series Wines and people are going crazy for them,” Buckler says.