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REUTIMANN RACING

"The Tradition Continues"

 

A History

Authored by Ben Smith

Part 1

Reutimann Racing has itsí roots in Zephyrhills, Florida back into the 1920ís. Emil F. Reutimann Sr., began a repair shop called "Zephyrhills Auto Company". The family was from Switzerland and had a heavy Swiss/German accent. In about 1925, one of the first Chevrolet dealerships in Florida was established by Mr. Reutimann, Sr. A year or so later, Ferman Chevrolet was established. The name Reutimann Chevrolet came into being in about 1954 when ownership of the dealership went from Reutimann Senior to Junior.

Actual stock car racing in the Reutimann family goes back to 1938 when Emil, Jr. raced a "hot rod" at the Ben White Speedway in Orlando. According to Emilís brother-in-law, Lowell Steve, race cars were called hot rods in that period of time and were just stripped down family cars. There were other times when a bunch of "racers" would meet in a pasture or down at Zephyr Lake and compete. There is no telling how many races and race wins Emil, Jr., had. My first association was in 1954 and there was already a house full of trophies then.

Emil Jr. was called "Boobie" by his friends. As far as I can tell, his parents gave him the nickname as a Swiss/German word for "son" or "baby boy". He was the only son in the family and had three sisters.

Emil Reutimann, Jr. was a slightly built, wiry man with dark, straight hair that he combed straight back. I met him in 1954 when Buzzie began racing and was hired by him the following summer to work in the Parts Department of Reutimann Chevrolet. Emil, Jr. was always Mr. Reutimann to me so, whenever I refer to Mr. Reutimann in this history, I am referring Buzzieís dad Emil, Jr. (Buzzie is Mr. Reutimannís oldest son, Emil Lloyd Reutimann). Mr. Reutimann was a quiet bespectacled person who usually appeared to be deep in thought about something. I was able to observe him as he tried to balance the responsibilities of the dealership with his true love of auto racing. He quietly allowed us teenagers to do important jobs without standing over us, but when he spoke to us, we listened and said "yes, sir!" He commanded respect.

The story of the "00" number has been told many times, but according to verbal and written statements, Mr. Reutimann brought a "hot rod" to his father who said something like the car was the nearest to nothing he had seen. In fact, it was double nothing. So the "00" began and has stayed in the family for three generations of racers. "00"was the Reutimann number long before Freddie Smith or Buckshot Jones.

Emil Reutimann, Jr. raced all over central Florida at tracks in Winter Haven, Lakeland, Sarasota, Orlando, St. Augustine, Eau Gallie, and the tracks in Tampa at the fair grounds, Phillipís field and Golden Gate Speedway. He raced successfully against the likes of Will Cagle, Buzz Barton, Pete Folse, Jimmy Riddle, Frankie Schnieder, Pancho Alverez, Dick Hope, Wild Bill Larson, Phil Orr, and Bobby Dawson just to mention a few. Lowell Steve (we call him Uncle Lowell) remembers many stories about racing in pastures where most of the cars got stuck in the sand before making many laps. Also about Mr. Reutimann "borrowing" the dealershipís demonstrator when his folks were away and racing it. Or a time when there werenít enough cars to have a good race so they talked a friend into driving the tow car, the dealerships shop coupe, and the car wrecked twice before a lap was made thus ending a friendsí race car driving career and creating a real problem back at he garage with the senior Reutimann. Perhaps Uncle Lowell can write a more complete early history than what will be written here.

Mr. Reutimann was an innovator and, as Uncle Lowell says, was a man ahead of his time. It may be impossible to list or describe all of the ingenious things that he did. Uncle Lowell and Buzzie both remember him making full flow oil systems in Chevy engines long before Chevrolet did it in 1953. The problem with the old "dipper" system was slinging the dippers from the rods and keeping enough oil pressure to make the engine live during racing conditions. He did this by drilling holes in the crank and block and helping the lubrication problem by putting a filter in the system. To help the six cylinder breath, he bought a "Wayne" twelve port cylinder head that helped air flow by having the intake come in the left side of the head and the exhaust out the right side. Purchased in California in about 1950, this head was the only one if itís kind east of the Mississippi at that time. He also solved the old babbit rod problem by adapting inserts to the journal surfaces. There was also a running gear bearing problem that he solved in a unique way. He went to a paint manufacturer and bought lead that was used in paint. He them mixed the lead with gear lube. Transmission and rear end bearing failure was greatly reduced.

 

I saw Mr. Reutimann as the ultimate craftsman. He could build engines, running gear, bodies, frames, and machine, weld and paint. The most impressive thing was that the things he did were all first class. His workmanship was the best. Before multi-carburetor manifolds, for example, I saw him make a four-carb intake with linkage and it worked great. To "Go First Class" is a slogan that has appeared on three generations of Reutimann cars and was begun by Mr. Reutimann as one of his first sponsors, Miller High Life, had the same slogan. By the craftsmanship that was displayed by Mr. Reutimann and passed on to his sons, truly "going first class" was the way of life for the family.

Other things that he did were to have his engine components balanced. His engines rarely failed. His built his own tube frames and machined axles for some flexibility and better traction. He was the first racer to use fuel injection and as his class of car, the modified, got faster and lighter, he narrowed a Crosley body to replace his standard í35 Chevy coupe body. He also experimented with power steering in his cars of the 50ís. He adapted large Buick finned brake drums to his racecar.

 

Not only was he an innovator, but he was a great driver, too. He had the ability to run up front and stay out of trouble Ė a trait he passed along to his sons by impressing on them the importance of racing one half lap or so ahead of the car. He was smooth. He raced hot rods of the 30ís and 40ís to the fast modifieds of the 50ís and 60ís. He even raced flat-head powered sprint cars at the one half mile dirt track at the fairgrounds in Tampa. He raced a car with a Ranger airplane engine. Truly, he was a man ahead of his time. Perhaps his Swiss heritage had something to do with his extraordinary deeds.

In addition to the mechanical skills he passed on to his sons, Mr. Reutimann employed a successful way of establishing driving skills in his sons. According to Uncle Lowell, he started his boys out in under powered cars to make them drive to the full extent to be competitive. Then as they progressed, the power would be increased. A prime example of this will be illustrated in Buzzieís history.

There are other sides of Mr. Reutimann that many folks knew little about.  For example, he helped other racers keep racing.  In earlier years, it was normal for the top 5 drivers to get a part of the purse.  If he did well, it was not unusual for him to give his winnings to the drivers who placed below the top 5 and so helped keep the drivers together.  He also helped promote racing and was sought by others for advice.  Uncle Lowell  remembers at least two occasions when Bill France, Sr., came to Zephyrhills to talk to Mr. Reutimann when NASCAR was a fledgling organization.  Mr. Reutimann was civic minded as he served multiple terms on the city council.  He was also a volunteer fire fighter who brought many technical innovations to the fire service.  My sister, Ann, can tell you that when the siren blew, the streets between Reutimann Chevrolet and the fire department would clear because Mr. Reutimann was on his way.  He normally drove the fire truck, but that shouldnít surprise anyone who knew him.  He also taught himself to fly an airplane, but thatís not a surprise either.  Lastly, he was a dedicated family man who helped, encouraged, advised and supported his family in a quiet, unassuming way.

Tragedy struck in 1973 when Mr. Reutimann was riding to a race in Tampa with his youngest son Dale and Daleís close friend, Gordon Stone. On highway 301, a drunk driver crossed into the opposite lane and ran head-on into the tow truck and race car, killing all three in the truck. Even though one of the greatest racingís innovators/drivers and his son and friend were lost, the Tradition continues.