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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Dream of generations fulfilled
It's official: David Reutimann, latest in a Zephyrhills driving family, is in Nextel Cup full time.
By BRANT JAMES
Published October 11, 2006
ZEPHYRHILLS - Buzzie Reutimann had thought about this day for decades, but he still was having trouble keeping his composure. Four days earlier his son, David, had been officially signed to drive a car beginning in 2007 at NASCAR's highest level, Nextel Cup. For a family that had raced since the 1930s, and at 65 himself a legendary short-track racer with more than 1,200 feature wins, this was, as Buzzie told the gathering in his back yard Monday night, the "pinnacle of the deal."
"I still don't know if this is real yet," he said, smiling and leaning against one of his race cars as more than 250 friends and acquaintances jammed into a reception thrown by Reutimann's new Michael Waltrip Racing team. The people responsible for helping Reutimann realize the dream of a family of racers would be told first, just feet from the garage where David first learned what racing was all about, and where his father, uncles and cousins still gather to talk shop and prepare for the next weekend on local tracks.
"I hope I don't disappoint anybody," David Reutimann said. "This is my shot. This is where it all started in those bays."
Michael Waltrip said that he wanted Reutimann to drive his third Nextel Cup car when he realized driving in two series is beneficial, and that Reutimann was eager to do both. Reutimann had already signed a two-year deal to drive Waltrip's No. 99 Busch Series car and now has a one-year-deal in the No. 00 Toyota Nextel Cup entry. The deal was finalized Friday. Burger King and Domino's Pizza will co-sponsor the car.
Brothers in the process of merging their race teams, the Waltrips were drawn not only to Reutimann's ability (he was the 2004 truck series rookie of the year) but his sense of family and commitment. The Reutimann Racing garage beyond the big oak tree reminded Darrell a lot, he said, of the house in Owensboro, Ky., where their careers began in the back yard.
The Waltrips, born toastmasters, guffawed with the crowd, Michael wondering if it comprised the entire population of the East Pasco town. Darrell explained why they came to the back yard where it all began.
"It was important for us to come here tonight and for them to see David Reutimann made it," he said.
It is not lost on either family how a rebuke in the 1930s by Reutimann's great-grandfather may have helped him make it. One afternoon in the garage of the Zephyrhills Chevrolet dealership the Reutimanns used to own off U.S. 301, Buzzie's grand-father happened upon his son Emil, Buzzie's father, wrenching on a pieced-together hot rod and called it "the closest thing to nothing" he had ever seen, "double nothing," which spurred his son to paint a 00 on its doors. The family has used the number ever since.
Michael Waltrip knew he wanted Reutimann to drive his 00 (a number chosen for no particular reason) but was convinced he had been given a mandate from somewhere higher when a fan showed him a photo album of Reutimann driving a No. 00 Late Model in 2001.
"I didn't even know," Waltrip remembered. "The gentleman let me have the picture and I took it and showed it to Burger King and said, 'Look, this is David's number. It's been his forever.' "
Behind the stage, Reutimann turned for what must have been the hundredth tap on his shoulder and, as with each before it, his eyes lit with recognition. Raymond Cheshire and wife Debbie had fielded a NASCAR touring series car for him years ago in Ocala.
"I need a hug," Debbie Cheshire said, drawing Reutimann in.
"I am so glad you made it," Reutimann said, at the same time shaking her husband's hand. "Hey boss man."
Debbie Cheshire framed Reutimann's face in her hands and beamed, "We're so glad you made it."