Amy Henderson · Wednesday April 4, 2012
David Reutimann is really a nice guy. That’s the first thing that strikes you when you meet the Zephyrhills, Florida native. Reutimann took the tried and true route to NASCAR, following in his father, Buzzie’s, footsteps in the dirt and late model ranks early on. Through the years, that personality has caused many to mistake Reutimann’s calm demeanor for a less-than-competitive nature – but you’d be wrong. The man is a fierce competitor, a clean racer who will get all he can out of a racecar. He’s a member of an elite group of just 23 racers who have at least one victory in each of NASCAR’s three national touring series. He’s won the Coca-Cola 600, one of the sport’s most prestigious races. He’s also the only driver, to this point to succeed at much-maligned Michael Waltrip Racing, winning twice before his release at the end of 2011. Now, Reutimann is driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing this year, “splitting the seat” of the No. 10 ride with rookie Danica Patrick as part of a co-op deal with Stewart-Haas Racing. Both from short track backgrounds, Baldwin and Reutimann appear to be a perfect match on paper.
Of course, on-track they’ve had their share of troubles, Sunday’s DNF turning into the talk of NASCAR Nation this week. Just 48 hours before being caught in a hailstorm of criticism following a part failure in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, causing the ensuing late-race caution and restart which changed the outcome, Reutimann sat down with The Frontstretch’s Amy Henderson for a chat. It’s a revealing one-on-one that tells you much about the driver’s current state of mind, growing up as a third-generation racer… and what really makes him nervous.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com: You had two 11th-hour deals happen for this season with Ricky Benton’s truck team and with Tommy Baldwin Racing. Can you talk a little about how those deals went down?
David Reutimann: Well, you know, Tommy’s deal, we talked off and on throughout the offseason, trying to figure out which direction we were going to go. Tommy’s team is a small organization that’s growing, that he built from the ground up. Like a lot of situations you see, we’ve been really struggling to find the funding to do what we want to do. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of how things are. Ricky’s deal, Jason Overstreet and I had worked together on a Truck deal my rookie year and all through my Truck Series deal. He just gave me a call one day and asked if I’d be interested in coming down and talking to Ricky. We just went in and talked. So the two negoatiations were, when I went to Tommy, and he said, ‘Here’s what I have, here’s what I want to do, do you want to drive?’ And I went, ‘Yeah, OK.’ And it was the same thing with Ricky, so there was no big 36-page contract or anything like that. It was kind of the way things used to be done, and you wish they still could be done that way.
Henderson: Do both teams have similar goals? You mentioned that Tommy Baldwin Racing is still growing. What about your truck team?
Reutimann: Ricky’s been building his organization, getting different people and updating his trucks, something like that, so, yeah, I think both organizations are trying to improve, and trying to get bigger. Obviously Ricky would like some help too, sponsor-wise, so we can run more races. The good thing about it is the races he does run, it’s done the way it needs to be done, and that’s important.
Henderson: How many races are on your Truck schedule right now?
Reutimann: I think we’re looking at roughly twelve or thirteen, right around that range. Obviously that could change if we get a little bit of help.
Henderson: It seems like that’s the same boat a lot of teams are in.
Reutimann: Yeah, exactly. There’s a lot of that going around!
Henderson:: You and Tommy Baldwin, while you come from different parts of the country (he comes from Modifieds in the Northeast, you from dirt racing in the South), you seem to have a similar background.
Reutimann: Oh yeah. Tommy’s dad raced, and he grew up around it, and with myself doing the same thing, there are a lot of similarities. Obviously, we’ve come through different kinds of racecars, but some things are universal.
Henderson: Is there a difference in how you approach a Truck race versus a Sprint Cup race? The Truck races are shorter with a different vehicle… but do you approach the races any differently?
Reutimann: It’s not really any different, I don’t think. There’s a little different mentality in the Truck deal. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a Truck race, so I have to adjust to it again, you know?
Henderson: You’re one of a pretty elite group of drivers who have won races in all three of NASCAR’s national series.
Reutimann: I’ve been fortunate to do that. It is really, really cool. That’s some pretty good company there, for sure!
Henderson: Which of the vehicles do you like driving more?
Reutimann: They’re quite different. Again, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a truck, so I don’t really know what I prefer. The Trucks were always a lot of fun. It’s a great series and a lot of fun to drive, so I’ve always enjoyed that.
Henderson: As a third-generation racer, having literally grown up in the sport, how does that differ from someone who comes from another type of racing, like open-wheel, or off-road?
Reutimann: I don’t think it makes me any better, or that much different. You know, you’ve had different upbringings and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to sit down in that thing and drive it, and you either can or you can’t, no matter what your upbringing was. So yeah, everybody has a different way of getting here. I’m proud of the way I got here. It certainly wasn’t because anybody was throwing money at me. It’s because you just keep your head down and keep going, and that’s just what you keep doing.
Henderson: So you’re living proof that it’s still possible to get into NASCAR that way. A lot of people think you have to have money.
Reutimann: You still can. It’s really, really hard, and it’s difficult to get there from here doing it that way, but at the same time, it can still be done.
Henderson: Your background is in short tracks with the dirt cars and late models, but, your Sprint Cup wins have both come on the big intermediate tracks. Which type do you prefer?
Reutimann: I definitely like the intermediate tracks better. Coming up from a short track upbringing, you’d think I’d really love the short tracks, but I really like the intermediate racetracks because a lot of times on a really short track there’s really only one place to run. I like to be able to move around. I think that comes from a dirt background, where you can run the top of the racetrack or the bottom, and you could move around and search around and try to find where you’re better. A lot of places like here at Martinsville, you probably should be on the bottom if you’re going to be successful.
Henderson: Is there a track you’d like to see in NASCAR that currently isn’t?
Reutimann: I hated to see Nashville Superspeedway go off the schedule. That was one of my favorite racetracks. I would love to be able to go there again; I’m really going to miss not having the opportunity to go there.
Henderson: Finally, tell me a little bit about yourself away from the track. You have a daughter, Emilia. What is she into?
Reutimann: I still work on a lot of dirt cars in my shop. I build some dirt cars for my dad, so I enjoy that. Emilia is ten, and she loves horses.
Henderson: So you get to spend time with both your dad and your daughter doing things they enjoy.
Reutimann: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun doing that. Emilia rides, she does a lot of Western pleasure stuff, and she currently barrel races.
Henderson: So she’s still into racing, just with one horsepower. Do you get nervous watching her?
Reutimann: One horsepower and that’s way too much! I get real nervous!
Editor’s Note: After this interview, Frontstretch asked Reutimann to expand on his Sunday comments following the Martinsville event. After his 35th-place run, which ended with several slowly driven laps before the car came to a complete stop, on-track with less than three laps left the driver said the following: “Number one, I just hate it. I don’t even know how the race ended up finishing, but I just hate that I was involved in anything that changed the complexion of the race so I got to apologize to the guys that it affected. It broke a tie rod or something like that. I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish next couple of laps to try to stay in the top 35. Then the motor had been breaking up for the last couple of laps. Broke a timing belt or whatever down the back straightaway, and the motor just quit. I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack. I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do. The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn’t stop there intentionally. I know it sucks. I hate it for everybody that it affected, but I mean I can’t get out and push the thing. You know, it shut off. It’s that simple. Gosh, I can’t believe I’m — I was just trying to finish the day out and trying to stay in top 35, which is why we were trying to limp around out there. They gave me the black flag. We were coming to pit road, and it shut off. And that’s far as I could go.”
Beyond those comments, Reutimann declined Frontstretch’s request for a follow-up.
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