by Bruce Dover
James Buckberry was many things to many people. He was a caring and loving father…”hard on the outside, but good on the inside”, to his son Justin. He was a proud grandfather to Owen and had just been told, about a week before he died, that there was another grandchild on the way. To his co-workers at Dell and elsewhere, he went by the nickname of “London”. In conversation, he was always ready with a witty comeback, followed by a big smile and laugh.
To those of us who worked with him through SCCA, he was a conscientious Starter with a penchant for enforcing pit out blend line violations. He even had custom shirts printed with “Don’t Violate Me” on the front, along with a diagram of the Blend line at pit out. He had one for Carolina Motorsports Park, in Kershaw, SC and one for VIR and loved to attend the morning Driver’s meeting at both tracks to show them off to the drivers and warn them of the consequences for the violation. He served as Chief Starter at both of those tracks. And, drivers knew when they saw him in the Start stand as they rolled down the straightaway looking for a green flag to start their race, that if they weren’t lined up properly, all they’d see was that big cowboy hat shaking back and forth, telling them to go around and try again. To Jamie D., he was a mentor, who helped usher Jamie from raw rookie (and I do mean raw!) all the way to his National license. There were lots of bumps along the way, but James was always there for Jamie. He was a unique individual and he will be sorely missed.
James was born in London, England in 1950 to George and Gladys Buckberry. His dad worked in an art gallery in London and his mum worked in an office. At the age of 16, he joined the Royal Marines…something he was very proud of and really enjoyed. According to his sister, he basically joined because he was a loner. He served 4 years active duty and 8 years in the reserves. While living in England, he married Christine and had two children, Karen and Ian. In 1986, at age 36, while working for Decision Date, he transferred to the United States. Just one year later, he joined the Sports Car Club of America. In 1989, he earned his U.S. citizenship. He was married to Terri from 1987 until 1995. Son Justin was born in 1986.
After a lifetime of smoking cigarettes, he was diagnosed with COPD toward the end of 2015. That forced him to carry an oxygen bottle around with him and made just climbing the steps to the Start stand at VIR a major effort…something that would leave him out of breath when he reached the top. He made the decision, around Christmas time last year, to step down from his position as Chief Starter and try some other specialty. He then asked the NCR Board of Directors to appoint someone else to that position. However, before that could take place, he had a serious heart-to-heart talk with his good friend, Pete Romanowski, who convinced him that his many years of experience as an SCCA Starter could best be used to train new Starters. Consequently, he withdrew the notice of his intent to resign.
The last SCCA function he attended was the West Chapter meeting on July 5th in Greensboro. He showed up wearing a “boot” and was on crutches. He had broken his foot by tripping over a stump while Justin and he were cutting limbs down in his yard 2 or 3 weeks earlier. Despite all that, he was still talking about going to Charlotte for the Daylight Into Darkness race in August! That was a Central Carolinas Region race and he was their Chief Starter, so he would find a way! That meeting of the West Chapter was held in a building owned by Jerry Pell and the Chapter members were having a cookout around back on the ground floor. The meeting itself was to be held upstairs and there was no elevator available, so James left early, after he’d had a little time to eat and socialize with the attendees.
Two days later, he was cutting his lawn and apparently had a heart attack. His next door neighbor saw him lying in the yard and called 911. James had died. He had just celebrated his 66th birthday 4 days earlier.
His funeral/memorial service was held on July 12th at the Loflin Funeral Home in Liberty, NC and was well attended by many NC Region members who came by to say their farewells.
In the wake of his death, a big void has been created. The Start stands at VIR and Kershaw will never be the same again. Many of us who worked with him will never again see a car cross a blend line without thinking of James. I know I surely won’t.
(Below, left) The early days, prior to the Royal Marines. I’ll bet you could hear him coming a ways off with all that hardware dangling and jangling!
(Below, right) Newly recruited and all squared away!
(Below) With daughter Karen and son Ian in England.
(Below, left) Looking young and buff at Cherry Grove around 1989, with 3 year old Justin. Wait…Is that a shark?!
(Below, right) His first really big hat!
(Below) At Justin’s wedding with ex-wife Terri.
(Below) With newborn Owen.
(Below) Go ahead! I dare you!