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Buzzie Reutimann

 

Emil Lloyd "Buzzie" Reutimann was born in Dade City, Florida, just north of Zephyrhills on May 7, 1941.  Since his house was adjacent to the Zephyrhills Auto company, I'm sure that his father and mother, Agnes, had problems keeping the toddler out of the garage.  The nickname, "Buzzie", could easily have been conjured up as the youngster would play with toy cars around the house and garage.  Actually, he got the name while in the hospital as the nurses heard the baby making buzzing noises and called the infant "Buzzie".

Time passed and Buzzie witnessed his father's progress in racing.  He remembers going to the one half mile Fair Ground track with his family and Dad disappearing only to be seen in the line-up in a flat-head powered sprinter.  When Buzzie was 13, he told his father that he wanted to race, so Mr. Reutimann told him to build a car.  He pulled a 1939 Ford coupe out of the junk yard to be his first racer.  The original engine wasn't any good so he found a Sears and Roebuck rebuilt engine to replace the original.  The interior of the car was stripped, a roll bar added, bumpers welded on and the number B-00 painted on the original black paint of the old Ford.  B-00 was for Buzzie's 00, but we called it the "boo" car.

Uncle Lowell Steve was the shop foreman at the Chevrolet garage and  helped Buzzie with the car and raced it a few times to get it set up.  Then, at the one fourth mile dirt track in Lakeland called the Silver Dollar Speedway, Buzzie got in the car, started seventh and finished fifth.  A very winded Buzzie got out of the car and sat on a rear wheel until he could catch his breath.  He finished the season with the 'boo' car, but during the off season, Mr. Reutimann purchased a racer with a used up body, but with a Canadian block flat head that was hot.  From then on, the 'boo' car was a front runner.  Mr. Reutimann's strategy was to have Buzzie drive an under-powered car to develop Buzzie's skills and now it was time to add the power and help him to be competitive.

 

We towed the car to the races with the "shop coupe" which was a 1938 Chevrolet coupe with a pick-up type floor where the trunk used to be.  This coupe was used to pick up parts and run errands at the garage.  Even though we were too young for a driver's license, we drove it all over and never got stopped.

As competition became more even, the modified class that Mr. Reutimann drove began to go with lighter cars.  To meet the challenge, Mr. Reutimann built a new frame from scratch utilizing a cross spring Ford front end and a quick change rear end to go with a very nice '35 Chevy coupe body and a stroked 283 Chevy engine.  This made Dad's old '35 available for Buzzie to use as his Sportsman.  The sportsman class could be flat-head Fords or any in-line 6 or 8 cylinder, but only one carburetor was allowed.  Since Mr. Reutimann had tons of experience and success with Chevy 6's it was logical for Buzzie to use a 261 cu. in. truck engine of 1954 or later model to get the full oil system and insert rod bearings.  The block was bored to 283 cu. in. and a roller tappet cam from Harmon Collins was used.  The other goodies were Cadillac valves, pop-up pistons, balanced assemble, home made exhaust headers and an "enlarged" intake manifold with a Stromburg WW carburetor.  This would be the car that was virtually unbeatable in the Sportsman ranks and competitive against many modifieds.

The first time out was a 500 lap race at Eau Gallie, a one forth mile paved track.   Mr. Reutimann drove the first 250 laps and Buzzie finished the race.  The 00 car was 32 laps ahead of the second place car when the checker fell.  We affectionately called the car a small "Sherman Tank".  The frame was fish plated and the front end, rear end and transmission was Chevy truck.  The only problems we ever had was if we put to much "pop" in the alcohol in order to beat a modified in a match race and burned a piston or if we got hit hard on one of the front wheels and sheared a spring centering bolt.  The car took Buzzie through the late 50's and into the early 60's.

The Reutimann mystique features several major characteristics:

    The cars were clean, well built and well maintained

    The cars usually finished the race and had very little mechanical problems

    The drivers had an uncanny ability to stay out of trouble by seeing the problem develop and avoiding it.  They had great reactions.

    Innovative ideas where used to be more competitive.

    The drivers were cool and unflappable and never appeared nervous.

Buzzie has many of the characteristics of his father.  He is an excellent mechanic and fabricator and is a cool driver who has the uncanny ability to stay out of trouble.

After we graduated from high school in 1959, Buzzie was very involved in racing while my parents insisted that I go to college.  I was able to hitch hike home on many weekends and go to the races Friday and Saturday nights, work in the garage on Saturday and then catch the bus back to school with food money in my pocket on Sunday.  After a year of the activity, it was necessary to stay at school so my direct contact with Buzzie was lost, but Mom would send me news clippings and keep me up-to-date.

Buzzie's history after leaving Zephyrhills to race in the northeast is well documented in magazine articles and in the information in the Hall of Fame.  This web-site, for example, lists Buzzie's accomplishments that include Orange County Fair Speedway, Nazareth, East Windsor, and the New York State Fairgrounds.  Buzzie's induction into the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997 is well documented in the Special Edition of "Dirt Trackin' Magazine '97."  His accomplishments at Reading, Five Mile Point, Islip and Syracuse as well as the tracks listed before are mentioned.  The injury in 1985 was scary to say the least.  To see Buzzie with the "halo" brace fastened to his head unnerved me but he smiled and talked just like old times and that made me feel more at ease.  After his recovery, he went on to race well locally and on the northern circuit finally putting his stamp on the 1995 Can-Am speedway Pabst Shootout winner list.  My little sister tells of going to a Tampa track with her husband and cheering Buzzie on while some fans around them talked about Buzzie being over the hill.  Little sister just sat back and said "watch him".  One by one from the back of the field, Buzzie picked off the competition and won the race.  At this writing, Buzzie is almost 59 years old and is still competitive at his most recent events at East Bay in Tampa.

To say that Buzzie is a great driver and mechanic/engineer is an understatement.  The side of the man I want to focus on is the person, Buzzie Reutimann.  In high school he was friendly, but quiet and unassuming.  He never bragged or changed his demeanor even though he was very successful by the end of high school.  Magazine articles say such things as friendly, loved by a legion of fans, most popular, respected, highest regard, admiration and well liked.  To realize the extent of his popularity has come home to me.  My racing buddy, Herb, is a Reutimann fan from New York who retired to South Carolina.  Herb watched Buzzie at many of the tracks up north.  Now as we go to the tracks where Buzzie and son, David compete, it is normal to meet someone in the stands who was a Buzzie fan in Florida or up north.  We even met one of Will Cagle's crew who had come to a Slim Jim All Pro race to watch a third generation Reutimann compete.

One of the finest articles about Buzzie Reutimann, the person, was written by Todd Drew in "Trackside" in November of 1996.  The article is entitled "Elements of Style".  Mr. Drew describes an evening at Rolling Wheels Raceway when he was a small boy standing beside the fence before a race next to a blue and white coupe number "00".  A driver named Buzzie Reutimann talked to him and make a difference in the boy's life.  Buzzie has certainly lived up the slogan on his racers as he continues to "Go First Class".

Buzzie also has a sense of humor that many fans may not know about.  For example, he used to paint the front springs on his modified different colors each week to keep his competition guessing.  He has been heard to say, when someone chides him, that they shouldn't talk to a "legend" like that.  Or quietly telling the crew to wear their team shirts since he had spent a lot of time washing and ironing them.  You have to be quick to hear some of his humor because most of the time he is absorbed in his business: thinking - planning - trying something different - sounds like his Dad, doesn't he.

I have asked Buzzie a number of times who he thought was the greatest driver he had driven against.  As you might expect, he will not pick a person, but will name many drivers as great.  Names like Cagle, Balough, Tasnady, Schneider, and Tobias just to mention a few.  Buzzie will admit, however, that his toughest race was a flag to flag, side by side battle with Will Cagle at the Eastern States 200 in 1972.

Buzzie has a great deal of admiration and respect for his only son, David. He told me a few years ago that David is better then "the old man" was (meaning Buzzie's dad).  In his own modest way, he won't compare himself to his son or his father or any other driver for that matter.  Maybe one of the reasons Buzzie has been so well liked is that he doesn't have a macho or attitude problem.

Thankfully, the last chapters in Buzzie's book have not been written.  While he is concentrating on David's career and team, it is refreshing to see that he still wants to drive and compete.  Those of us who have known him most of his life wish him well no matter what the future holds.  Of course, I would like to see him progress and use his skills and abilities to help David continue to advance to higher levels of NASCAR of whatever circuit they wish to race.  The family is quality - first Class.

"The Tradition Continues"