It’s been eight years since David Reutimann was introduced to a crowd at a NASCAR Cup Series event.
For some drivers, the retirement process can be taxing, with the urge to hop back into a stock car still at an all-time high.
Since his retirement from stock car’s highest level, Reutimann hasn’t given NASCAR much thought, as he’s felt content with life away from the garage area.
“Once I left the sport, I left it,” Reutimann said. “I haven’t really watched any racing. I haven’t really paid much attention. Obviously, you can’t hardly look at anything without seeing people talk about the cars. I understand they’re quite a bit different than the stuff that I drove, for sure. Honestly, it’s something I haven’t really kept up on. I just don’t have the time or really the interest. I’m not in the sport anymore, there’s some good guys in the sport. But I’ve got to try and focus on what I’m doing here. I’m not going to go Cup racing anytime soon, so it’s better off for me to just focus on a little bit of dirt racing and helping these guys and try and build a business model around that.
“It’s not that I have anything against NASCAR, or that sport, because it was very, very good to me,” Reutimann continued. “It gave me more opportunities than I probably deserved. I’m kind of an all or nothing kind of guy. So, it’s like if I can’t be involved in the sport, the way I would want to be involved in it, it’s kind of an act of self-preservation, to keep myself from going completely nuts. I just choose not to focus on that, and not because I have anything against it, it’s just because it’s just not my thing anymore.”
Reutimann keeps busy at his fabrication shop in Sherrills Ford, NC, where he builds various types of race cars.
“I’ve been building dirt cars, building UMP, and IMCA modifieds,” Reutimann said. “That’s been pretty much what I’ve been doing since I left, it’s what I did before. I got the opportunity to be in NASCAR, so I did that before. It’s the only thing I knew how to do, so I went back and did that.”
The Florida native has also dabbled with being a crew chief on the local level, where he’s helped call the shots for late model driver Ryan Rackley.
Reutimann, however, believes setting up a race car has become more technical than it ever has been, making it difficult to find a good balance in any type of car.
“Sometimes guys call and I’ll help them out a little bit with little things,” Reutimann said. “I don’t do that too much anymore, because quite frankly, everything’s so technical anymore. Whether it be on the pavement, or surprisingly on the dirt side. People a lot of times associate dirt stuff with being even more redneck than the pavement stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pavement stuff is very technical, and the dirt cars anymore are crazy technical. You either have to try and stay on top of one or other. But It’s almost impossible for me, with my limited intelligence to do both. I kind of decided to just stick with one that I knew more about, which was the dirt stuff.”
Recently, the two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner has been helping kids who want to get a feel for what it’s like to get started in dirt race car.
“(I) got some kids that I love taking. They just kind of arrive and drive type of thing,” Reutimann said. “They show up, and I have a fully prepped car ready. I race them at night, and at the end of the night they go home, and we do a fair amount of that, on top of the building of race cars and stuff like that.”
Though Reutimann is still around racing, he doesn’t typically find time to hop back into the driver’s seat.
“I maybe run 10, 12 times a year, which is really all I really have time to do,” Reutimann said. “Whenever there’s an opportunity, and it won’t conflict with our other obligations, I’ll at least sneak off and race a little bit here and there. It happens less and less as the years go on.”
Reutimann’s journey to the NASCAR Cup Series was more unconventional than others. He competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series in his mid-30s, before getting first full-time Cup Series ride in 2008 at the tender age of 38.
“In all honesty, by the time I got to Cup racing, when I finally got the opportunity to do that, I feel like I was past my prime at that point,” Reutimann said. “I feel like I’d peaked and I was starting to go back downhill a little bit when I got that opportunity. We still managed to squeeze off a couple wins. I wish I would’ve been younger and had that opportunity, like a lot of other guys. I’m just grateful that I had the opportunity to begin with. There’s not too many guys my age come into the sport and get those kind of opportunities.”
Reutimann’s big opportunity came in 2007, where he ran a handful of races for newly formed Michael Waltrip Racing. It was also the year that the Car of Tomorrow was introduced for 16 Cup Series races.
“I think when MWR started, I don’t really think they could’ve started at a more inopportune time,” Reutimann said. “You had the COT coming on, but you still had the traditional car. So, they had to build a team from scratch essentially, and they had to build two different types of cars, for a three-car team. It was a huge undertaking. Looking back now, I don’t know how they ever accomplished it. It was a huge transition. It’s a big enough transition just coming into the Cup Series from another series, period.
“It’s a big transition, there’s a lot to learn, a lot to wrap your arms around, it’s difficult.”
After driving the majority of the 2008 season in the No. 44 MWR entry, Reutimann moved over to the No. 00 Aarons Dream Machine Toyota.
The following year the team began to hit its stride.
“The cars were getting better, they weren’t fighting the cars,” Reutimann said. “Changing the weight, building them lighter, I feel like building them better. They worked really hard, and actually came a very long way in a short amount of time when you think about it. When I first went and looked in the shop, when they were building it, it was raining, it was wet. The place didn’t have a roof on it at the time.
“And there was a skid steer stuck in the middle of the shop because there was no cement floor or anything, it was just clay and mud and just such a mess,” he continued. “I’m thinking, ‘Man this is never going to happen.’ And they got it done. So, to come from that point, and then in a couple years to be at least competitive, getting more competitive, I felt like that was huge. That was a big deal.”
Reutimann broke through to earn his first Cup Series victory in one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events — the Coca-Cola 600.
The race was red-flagged for rain just past the halfway point and Reutimann’s crew chief Rodney Childers made the race-winning call.
“It was a race that it never seemed like we would get to race, or even to get started with all the rain and all the things that were going along with that,” Reutimann said. “I just remember being out there, just typical deal, I’d been in rain situations before where you stop and they restart and all that stuff like that.
“When my crew chief, Rodney Childers, told me to stay out, it was kind of a surprise. I figured we would come in, we were running 11th or 12th, we were decent at that point. I’d also managed to get up there and get the fence with it a little bit, so Rodney knew we were going to have to pull on the right-front fender some. He figured we were going to lose track position anyway, fixing the fender.”
Then, it rained, setting the stage for an unlikely victory.
“He had us stay out and the next thing you know, we come down pit road and man it took forever,” Reutimann said of the decision to call the race official. “Part of me thinks I should still be sitting there on pit road waiting for it to quit raining as long as everybody seemed to drag their feet on it. They finally decided to end the deal.”
Underdog winners are typically praised in any form of sports. However, this particular victory didn’t please many.
“Truthfully, I knew that whole deal was not going to go over well,” Reutimann said. “I wasn’t leading the race when the rain came. Rodney just took a gamble and it obviously paid off. I knew there was a lot of people unhappy about it. The drivers, not so much, because they all got it. But, from the fan’s perspective, yeah there was a lot of people upset about it. Either I wasn’t their guy, or they didn’t figure I deserved it or whatever. I get it, for sure. I 100 percent get it. But it’s the way the rules are written, and Rodney played it perfectly.”
Looking back on the unpopular victory, all Reutimann can do is sit back and smile at the moment.
“At this point, you just have to laugh,” Reutimann said. “I still got paid, I still got the trophy. It’s like getting paid for a full day of work and only working half the day. That’s kind of what it comes down to.”
Earning a victory in NASCAR’s highest level, in any circumstance is a game-changer. However, the pressure Reutimann felt to notch another victory, was constantly on his mind.
“What I felt like was, ‘do it the right way,’ Reutimann said. “That’s the way you want to. Whenever you think about your first win, your first Cup win, rain is never associated with it. You’re thinking about outdueling guys like Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, all the great guys. That’s what you envision.”
That victory came at Chicagoland Speedway in 2010.
Reutimann led 52 laps, outdueling NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon to collect his second Cup Series victory.
“Whenever we went to Chicago, (we) had a good car, and we ran well, we just had the best car,” Reutimann said. “We did what we needed to do that day. Between the Coke 600 and that point, it seemed like we were starting to belong. People should’ve expected us to run up front, or run in the top-ten, and be consistent. That’s what we expected of us. It didn’t always work out that way. It was kind of a good time to be a part of that organization. Guys were working well together, cars were getting better. I felt like we were making some gains. Everything felt like it had the possibility, to click at that time. I hadn’t really felt like that before.”
Reutimann ran one more season with MWR and bounced between various other teams before calling it a career in 2014.
As he looks back on a career filled with struggles and triumph, Reutimann looks to the relationships he had at MWR as memories he’ll hold forever.
“The guys that I started with then, the vast majority of them were the same guys I finished with on the Cup side,” Reutimann said. “We all kind of went together. I think that’s probably the thing I miss most about the sport, is the group of guys I had. When I was in the Busch Series, even when I rode the 99 car in the Busch Series, I had a great Busch team. I had some really solid guys on the Cup team, and actually ended up having a really good Cup team as well. So, I just miss that aspect of it.
“The guys that you could rely on, the guys you enjoy being around, genuinely enjoy being around and cared about,” Reutimann continued. “I think that’s rare a lot in sports all the way across the board in a lot of situations. I just enjoyed the comradery and they always had your back even when you were wrong. They’d fight for you, even if you were wrong and knew you were wrong, they’d still make sure they were on your side. I don’t think you can put a price on that I think that’s probably what I enjoyed the most and what I probably miss about the sport.”