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Ronnie Bucknum

Full Name:
Ronald James "Ronnie" Bucknum
5th April 1936
Alhambra, California
23rd April 1992 (Aged 56)
San Luis Obispo, California, diabetes complications
Most recent race (in database):

Ronnie Bucknum was training as a surveyor when he first raced a Porsche Speedster in 1957. Dominant in regional SCCA events on the West Coast during 1962 and 1963 (winning 52 of the 56 races entered), Bucknum remained almost unknown outside America.

Formula 1 with Honda

So it was a surprise when he was chosen as Honda’s original driver when the Japanese manufacturer entered Formula 1 in 1964. That the crew-cut Californian had not driven a single-seater before just emphasised the fact. Their debut was at the Nürburgring that year and his Japanese engineers were a striking contrast to the existing European entourage.

Bucknum’s white Honda RA271 qualified last and he spun out of his F1 debut. It was the first of 11 starts during his three years as a Grand Prix driver with Honda. Having broken his right leg while testing at Suzuka before the 1965 season, his development work came good in the final race of the 1500cc formula – that year’s Mexican GP. The experienced Richie Ginther had joined his countryman that season and he led from start-to-finish to score a first victory for Honda, Goodyear tyres and himself. Bucknum also enjoyed his best result in the category by finishing fifth on a day that his car held together for once.

The team was not ready for the start of 1966 and Bucknum began the year without a drive. He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 but was more successful as part of Ford’s assault on the Le Mans 24 hours. It was the year that the "Blue Oval" finally ended Ferrari’s stranglehold on the event – filling the podium positions with the Holman-Moody GT40 of Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson in third position.

The end of Bucknum's F1 career and Indycar success

Bucknum started the two final GPs of 1966 when Honda’s new 3-litre car was ready. He then returned to America to race a Vita Fresh Orange Juice Gerhardt-Offy in 1967’s Indycar road races. The highlight came at St Jovite in Canada when Bucknum qualified on the front row and finished third behind Mario Andretti and A.J.Foyt Jr. He also returned to Le Mans in 1967 with Ford and co-driver Paul Hawkins led the opening hour but they retired in the morning.

Bucknum drove a Weinberger Homes-sponsored Eagle for the 1968 Indycar season and he qualified at the Brickyard for the first time. For a road course specialist (he qualified on pole position at Castle Rock only to retire while leading), it is ironic that his one such win should come on a superspeedway. That the inaugural Michigan 250 was only his second oval start made the achievement all-the-more noteworthy. He qualified the Weinberger Eagle-Offy in eighth position before outrunning Andretti to win by over a lap.

Bucknum only entered another handful of Indycar races before joining Penske’s Trans-Am operation in 1969. Sports cars were next and he drove a NART Ferrari 512S during 1970 when fourth at Le Mans with Sam Posey. He led the 1971 Daytona 24 Hours for the team but was denied victory by the Rodríguez/Oliver Porsche 917K and a faulty valve spring – the Bucknum/Tony Adamowicz Ferrari eventually finishing second.

Ronnie Bucknum’s last race was the 1983 Sebring 12 Hours when he retired a Ford Mustang. He died aged just 56 with complications to the diabetes condition he suffered. A decade later his son Jeff followed his lead and started a racing career that encompassed Indycars and endurance racing.