Zephyrhills native David Reutimann's quiet demeanor is overshadowed by outgoing team owner Darrell Waltrip.
By BRANT JAMES
Published February 13, 2004
DAYONA BEACH - They hardly could be a greater contrast.
There was Darrell Waltrip, the three-time Winston Cup champion, a winner of 84 races, his jaw humming up and down like a piston. And there was David Reutimann, the rookie in the Craftsman Truck series, the quiet one smiling at the praise his new boss heaped upon him.
Days before the Zephyrhills native was to make his debut in Waltrip's No.17 Toyota, he was trying to play catchup - with the pace of a full-time NASCAR driver, with the thrill of having his lifelong dream come true, with the words careening from Waltrip's mouth.
"Look at him," Waltrip said. "He's young, he's a good-looking guy, he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and he's done a lot. We can help him, and he can definitely help us."
Where does he get this stuff?
"DW was always a flashy guy," Reutimann smiled. "He didn't mind telling you his opinions, and I'm pretty much the exact opposite. I'm reserved and sit back and pretty much don't say a lot, and he was the thing I wasn't."
But things might be changing.
"(Waltrip's) somebody you want to be but don't know how," said Reutimann, 33. "He's helped me come out of my cage a little and bring me out a little bit, and he's been a lot of fun to be around.
"I think he'll be a lot of fun to work with unless I start tearing up his stuff."
Waltrip has taken steps to prevent that. Or maybe that was just a case of a driver who desperately misses racing being unable to resist sharing some experiences. At worst, Waltrip will be hands-on, between being an owner and driving the occasional truck race.
Reutimann found out how this process would work early on in a relationship that began in November and resulted in a three-year contract.
"He calls and checks up on things, and he's been to all the tests with the exception of Lakeland," Reutimann said. "The first laps I made at Talladega were beside him in a Cadillac. He was driving. He wouldn't let me drive."
But he will eventually. Waltrip has put too much faith in the NASCAR newcomer not to give him a chance.
Nextel Cup regular Michael Waltrip pointed his older brother toward Reutimann, and after watching him race a few times, Darrell Waltrip was sold.
Reutimann had two fifth-place finishes and a sixth in six Busch starts for NEMCO Motorsports and attempted to qualify for the Brickyard 400 in a Morgan-McClure entry. In between, he ran in the NASCAR Southeast series and ARCA.
In October, Reutimann won his first career pole for the Busch Series Sam's Town 250, but did not run the race. He was substituting in qualifying for Greg Biffle, who was in Martinsville, Va., qualifying for the Winston Cup race, then returned for the Busch race.
Reutimann had not driven a NASCAR truck before agreeing to work for Waltrip and never imagined he would begin his full-time NASCAR career in one. But a lot of unexpected things happened after a special phone call one morning.
"When we started getting a little notice in the Busch Series, I had actually gotten some phone calls from people I would never have thought would have called me in a million years," he said. "Then Darrell Waltrip calls me at home. The guys in the shop mess with me all the time, and I checked the caller ID on the phone to make sure it was a legit."
A third-generation driver, Reutimann is postured to take his career far beyond where his late grandfather and his short-track legend father, Buzzy, went. He knows how hard it is to get there and that the stay can be short. When thinking about it, he recesses back into the likable guy from Zephyrhills, suggesting his personality still is more David Reutimann than Darrell Waltrip.
"There's a huge amount of pressure to perform," Reutimann said. "Racing is a performance-based sport anyway, and if you don't (perform), you will find yourself in the grandstands. I don't want to be over there anymore. I was over there for a lot of years and I like the other side of the fence a whole lot better."