Authored by Ben Smith
Reutimann Racing has its’ roots in
Zephyrhills, Florida back into the 1920’s. 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 Emil’s
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
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 Buzzie’s dad Emil, Jr. (Buzzie is Mr. Reutimann’s
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
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, Phillip’s 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 dealership’s demonstrator when his
folks were away and racing it. Or a time when there weren’t
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 friends’ 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 it’s 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
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
was the way of life for the
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
’35 Chevy coupe body. He also experimented with power steering
in his cars of the 50’s. 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 – 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 30’s
and 40’s to the fast modifieds of the 50’s and 60’s. 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
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 Buzzie’s 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 shouldn’t surprise anyone who knew him. He also taught
himself to fly an airplane, but that’s 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 Dale’s 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 racing’s innovators/drivers and his
son and friend were lost, the