Buzz Calkins has had his share of boo-boos. A skull fracture
here. A broken ankle there. Once, on a notably bad afternoon, a
skull fracture and a broken ankle--plus a ruptured eardrum.
Calkins, a three-year IRL vet, started his career in go-karts.
Go-kart racers are good people, fine citizens and, in rare
cases, mildly concerned for their safety. But in between the
bumps, bruises and breaks, they see a nice chunk of hospital
time. It's all but inevitable.
Calkins tells of one day when his legs went numb, his feet
turned to lead, his vision blurred and his arms became Jell-O.
At the time he wasn't driving a go-kart but experimenting with a
different type of racing, which he describes as both the best
and worst undertaking of his life. "There's no other experience
like it, I'm guessing," says Calkins of running his first
marathon, last fall in New York City. "It's not completely
different from the Indy 500. Three hours is a long time to be
driving; four hours is a long time to be running. It's grueling."
The IRL has become unexpectedly grueling for Calkins. In 1996 he
tore up the circuit, winning its first event, the Indy 200 in
Orlando, and sharing the inaugural league championship with
Scott Sharp. Calkins had everything going for him: talent,
boyish good looks, aw-shucks charm. Then, quicker than you can
say Mark Fidrych, his luck turned. Throughout 1997 and '98 his
car was plagued by mechanical mishaps. In July of last year,
with no top five finishes in the previous 23 months, he bottomed
out. Buzz's father and car owner, Brad, pulled Buzz's team out
of back-to-back races at Dover and Charlotte and made major
changes in the crew. Calkins finished the season in 19th place.
In the only IRL race so far this year, the Indy 200, he finished
Given the turmoil at the track, it's no surprise that Calkins,
27--who has been running since he was an 18-year-old freshman at
Colorado and finds it an ideal way to ease stress--threw himself
into marathon training. He set a goal of four hours for the New
York race and just missed it, finishing in 4:06:13.
Though he's one of the IRL's more established stars, he's also a
full-time graduate student at Northwestern, where he is pursuing
an M.B.A. "I love racing, and I hope it lasts for a long time,"
he says, "but drivers get burned out. They get injured. I think
a lot of guys take the present for granted. They're doing well
driving, so they don't think about the future. I don't want to
criticize, but that's not smart."
Calkins occasionally misses a class for a race but has no qualms
about traveling with his school books. "My only condition is
that I don't want to be thinking school while I'm racing," he
says. "So if I have an assignment due Monday and a race over the
weekend, I'll make sure the assignment is done before I race.
You can only do so many things at once."
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL F. GERO/SABA