HARRISBURG, N.C. — The auto-racing world is full of fascinating individuals, and Buzzie Reutimann is definitely one of them.
The 81-year-old modified racing legend recently took a break from preparing his race car to talk with us about his victories in the first two editions of the event now known as Super DIRT Week.
The first of those marquee wins came 50 years ago and that story appears elsewhere in these pages.
In addition to his Syracuse success, Reutimann shared details about the beginning of storied career and he discussed his ongoing passion for the sport.
“My dad raced when I was little,” Reutimann said. “He raced what they called hot rods. All it was was a motor, a frame, a steering wheel and a seat. That’s all there was back when they first started. My dad raced those, he raced the old coupes and then he drove a sprint car at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Wayne (Buzzie’s brother) and I both, it was just natural that we would race, I guess.
“Dad would let me warm his car up when I was 12 or 13. When the track was muddy and the cars would have to run the track in, he would let me take the car out and drive it round and a round,” Reutimann continued. “When the track would start getting run-in, I would get a little faster and a little faster, and he would walk out to the edge of the track and make me come in because I’d start going too fast.
“We had a Chevrolet business. I knew every morning my dad went to the post office. He would come back to his little office and he would open the mail. So I went up to the door one day when he was opening the mail and I said, ‘Dad, I want my own racer.’ He kept opening his mail and he looked up at me and said, ‘Well, get out there and build it.’
“There was a wrecking yard behind the Chevrolet dealership and there was an old either ’39 or ’40 Ford coupe out there. Me and my buddies drug it around the corner under a big old oak tree. We stripped it down and started building my first racer. One of my dad’s friends had to drive me to my first race with the old car because I was only 13 years old.”
A longtime resident of Zephyrhills, Fla., Reutimann spent countless summers racing modifieds in the Northeast.
Today, he makes the 200-mile, round-trip tow to Volusia County Speedway as often as possible.
“I race at Volusia and they run every other week or so. We’ll run 10 or 12 shows this year,” he said. “These new cars are not nearly as much fun to drive as our old cars. You’ve got so much suspension that they jump up and move around. I’m either second or third in points at Volusia right now because I usually can run in the top five. They usually have 20 to 25 cars each night.”
The level of competition has certainly changed over the years.
“When I used to go to a track, if I wasn’t half a second or a second faster than everybody, I would really get worried,” Reutimann noted. “But now we’re working in one-hundredths — I need a hundredth here or a hundredth there. If you can be four tenths faster than everybody you can really win the race. The competition’s that close.
“I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t have to win to enjoy it. If I win, OK. If I don’t win, it’s not earth-shattering. I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
“But sometimes I think, ‘Why am I still doing this, you know?’ Racing, you lose a lot of your Saturdays and Sundays, because it consumes you in a way,” Reutimann added. “Sometimes I think I don’t need to do this anymore; until I pull out of the pits on to the track and then I’m 18 years old again.”
And 18 is a long way from 81.