tampabay.com

Biggest step well in reach

David Reutimann still has sponsor meetings, but he seems likely to jump from NASCAR trucks into Nextel Cup full-time in '07.

By BRANT JAMES
Published August 29, 2006


David Reutimann is far too unassuming about his NASCAR career to consider anything a done deal, that anything will come easily or, by the self-effacing tone that underlies his voice, that anything is truly owed to him.

Especially the opportunity to drive in Nextel Cup.

But the 36-year-old possesses a spirituality that leads him to figure things work out for a reason. So when the truck series standout flies to Michigan today, his mind will wander back to watching his father and dirt track legend, "Buzzie," build race cars in their backyard shop in Zephyrhills. He'll think about the black-and-white photos on the wall and the albums full of pictures of him, his father, uncle and cousins. In every snapshot of grinning men and gleaming trophies, there is the familiar, comfortable number "00," on thecar, born from the one his grandfather first fashioned of masking tape on a homemade hot rod that changed family history.

Reutimann's mind will flash forward again. In a few hours he'll meet with executives from Domino's Pizza. If they like him, consider him someone who can deliver wins and pizza sales, they could sign a deal that would make him a Nextel Cup driver next season, by coincidence or providence, in the No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

"Man ... it's crazy," said the 2004 truck series rookie of the year. "I thought I'd never get the shot to go Cup racing, much less have my own number. Those two things there together blow you away. I mean, I prayed about it, but I don't think I deserve it. But this isn't a done deal. We've got a long way to go."

Indeed, this story could be too good to be true. NASCAR journeyman Travis Kvapil, a former truck series champion who has two top-10s in 59 Nextel Cup races, is reportedly also being considered, but Waltrip said this weekend that Reutimann was atop his list.

Reutimann's hiring would be historic for Tampa Bay motorsports. According to NASCAR, he would be the first from the immediate area to race full-time in the 57-year history of its top series.

Several bay area natives ran at least one race in the 1950s. Buzzie Reutimann competed once in the 1960s and David entered his lone Cup race last season, finishing 22nd at Charlotte.

Reutimann was content with the contract he had with Waltrip to drive a full Busch Series schedule in 2007, though he had casual conversations months ago with Waltrip general manager Ty Norris about his Cup ambitions. Reutimann, who made his Cup debut last year with Waltrip, always made it clear he had them. Waltrip asked him a few weeks ago if he would consider running the Busch and Cup series in conjunction. Reutimann was receptive but assumed Waltrip was just floating an idea.

It wasn't until Reutimann and Waltrip were driving to a summit with Waltrip's sponsors in Asheville, N.C.,on Thursday that Waltrip told him he was about to be introduced to executives from Burger King, which will share the No. 00 sponsorship with Domino's. And that these were his potential sponsors. "We just started talking about it," said Reutimann, who is third in the truck series standings. "He let me know I was the choice, he wanted to try and put me in the car if the sponsors agreed to it and today was my chance to try to make that happen. I didn't know going in that was going to be the case, which I'm glad he didn't tell me. I wouldn't have slept the two weeks leading up to the deal."

With some advice from Waltrip and Dale Jarrett, who will drive for Waltrip in 2007, Reutimann made what both Cup veterans felt was a favorable impression. It was enough to earn a second meeting. He needs to make the same impression with Domino's executives.

"They told me it was not like a job interview; you don't have to go pitch yourself," he said. "The powers that be just want to talk to me and get to know me a little bit and share a little time, maybe see if I'm the guy they think can do the job or not."

The Reutimanns have built their lives around the weekly rhythm of racing since Buzzie's father and namesake, Emil, started building cars in the 1930s. David's father, uncle, cousins and nephews race and his cousin, Shawn, spots for his truck series team.

Buzzie Reutimann, with more than 1,170 short-track feature wins in 40 years, is legendary throughout the East Coast, at 65 still full of the verve to race with hotshots on weekends at East Bay. The thought of his son reaching Nextel Cup slows him to a stop.

"I am afraid," he said, "I'm going to wake up some morning and find out I was dreaming."

In this area, the 00 is as associated with Reutimanns on the short-track circuit as any number with a Nextel Cup driver. The legend began when Buzzie's grandfather happened upon his father working on a pieced-together hot rod in the back yard and declared the slaw of car and airplane parts "the nearest thing to nothing" he had ever seen. His father taped the number on the side and his family has never taken it off.

Reutimann double zeroes are always red and slant backward - "so the wind would flow off, Dad said," Buzzie remembered - placed against a white car with blue top.

The fabled number may have actually helped convince Waltrip that Reutimann belonged in his 00.

"At some function, somebody had a photo album of me and some of my cars when I was racing back in Florida, the Reutimann red, white and blue 00, and I don't think Michael was even aware that was my family number," he said. "He was like, 'Is that David in the 00?' And Michael said, 'That's got to be an omen.' "

Waltrip may not have known about the Reutimann numbers, but the guys in his shop do. Reutimann hardly ever misses a chance to point out that Waltrip's zeroes were the wrong color and didn't lean properly.

Maybe next year he'll have a lot more say in the matter.