When David Reutimann walked away from NASCAR a quarter of the way through the 2014 season, he never looked back.
After his last race as a driver in late April of that year at Richmond for Front Row Motorsports – he finished 29th – Reutimann’s era in NASCAR was done.
Since then, the same man who made 235 career Cup starts between 2005-14, earning two wins and 26 top-10 finishes, has never returned to even one NASCAR track.
Nor has he watched any races on TV, save for the final five laps of the 2017 season finale at Homestead when good friend and former teammate Martin Truex Jr. won the Cup championship.
“When I walked away from the sport, I just walked away completely, cold turkey, done,” Reutimann told NBC Sports. “The reason for that was whenever you’re focused on a sport for as long as you can and you no longer have that focus, you just torture yourself by staying involved in some way, shape or form, as far as NASCAR is concerned.
Reutimann called leaving NASCAR “more of a self-preservation thing.”
He also said: “It’s not like I have a problem with the sport. The sport was very good to me, but it’s just a situation where in order to not go crazy, I have to focus on other things.”
Reutimann’s focus since has been to return to his roots. He built and opened his own race shop – Beak Built Chassis near Mooresville, North Carolina. He builds between 12-20 dirt modified cars each year for customers around the country.
Having turned 50 on March 2, Reutimann is basically a one-man band, from building each car by hand to balancing the books. He still gets behind the wheel to race about 10 times a year, driving dirt modifieds in both the Southeast and Midwest.
And he couldn’t be happier.
“I’m just here in my shop, just building dirt cars for customers,” Reutimann said. “In a sport like NASCAR or any other sport, it’s not forever. A good portion of the time I was in the sport, you prepare to do things when you step out from behind the wheel.
“I built a shop and had bought equipment and had been messing around building dirt cars in my shop, with the plans that eventually when I wasn’t in the sport anymore and retirement wasn’t an option, I had to do something. I just went back to what I knew what to do, which is my background, and that’s building dirt cars.”
Even though he’s put NASCAR in his rearview mirror, one thing Reutimann hasn’t put away is the wit he was noted for in his NASCAR days, like when he was asked why he went back to his racing roots and hung out his own shingle.
“To be truthful, I don’t feel I’m smart enough to do anything else,” he said with a chuckle. “From an early age, probably from the first time I can ever remember having a thought of my own, everything revolved around racing. I was basically just born and was at a race track in some way, shape or form.
“My dad (Buzzie Reutimann, who at 78 remains active racing primarily in and around his home state of Florida) had always raced for a living, so there were no options, that was his job, that was my life and that’s what I did. My dad and I still joke what it would be like to be a normal type person and have a 9-5 job and come home and flip some burgers on the grill and things like that.
“That just wasn’t us, that’s not what we did. My dad raced around Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and places like that, you could race Thursday through Sunday at a minimum. There wasn’t much of a week that you weren’t at a racetrack.”
There technically is a third generation of racers on the horizon in the Reutimann family, but instead of 700 or more horses under the hood, David’s only child, daughter Emilia, races with a different kind of horsepower.
“She’s more on the equestrian side of things,” David said. “She has a full scholarship to be on the equestrian team at (University of) South Carolina.
“I’m very proud of her. She’s amazing and does real good stuff. Her interest has always had something to do with four hooves on it. She’s more into single horsepower.”
With the month of May and the Coca-Cola 600 around the corner, Reutimann has mixed feelings and memories. It was on May 25, 2009 that he earned his first career Cup win in a rain-shortened 600.
Instead of the typical 400-lap event around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, Reutimann went to victory lane after just 227 laps when NASCAR ruled the race official due to rain.
A late strategy call by crew chief Rodney Childers – who would go on to win a Cup championship with Kevin Harvick five years later – to leave Reutimann on the track and forego a pit stop put the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in front, where it would stay for the final five laps before the sky opened and the race was called.
Reutimann recalls that day as if it was yesterday, both for the good and bad of the outcome.
“Over the years, I’ve heard – especially every time there’s an anniversary for the Coca-Cola 600 – that ‘it wasn’t a legitimate win, he lucked into it, he should never have won it,’” Reutimann said. “I don’t have a problem with that. We lucked into it. Rodney Childers made a great call and I did what he told me to do, which was to stay out on the racetrack.
“Other than that, my contribution was minimal in that particular race. I just look at it as yeah, I’ve got the trophy, I got paid for it and in the record books it says I won.
“I think people were genuinely upset with me. I caught a lot of flak because I won the race. I’m like, I don’t make the rules, Rodney made a good call, I stayed out and it all worked out like he planned on.
“I remember standing on pit road in the rain, waiting for them to figure out what was going to happen. I just thought to myself, ‘Well, this is not going to go over well. People are going to be upset.’ I get it, I don’t disagree. People confronted me about it, they were genuinely upset about it, saying ‘you didn’t win that race’ and I said, ‘I know, no kidding.’
“At the end of the day, I get it and really don’t have a problem with it (criticism of his win). Also, the fact of the matter is I don’t care. I was at the right place at the right time. Yeah, ok, so it worked out for me that time, but there were plenty of times where it didn’t work out for me.”
Just over a year later, Reutimann felt some semblance of satisfaction and vindication when he earned his second and final Cup win of his career (July 10, 2010 at Chicagoland Speedway) – this time with no strings attached.
“We had a real good car that day, we raced really good guys like Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, guys that were legitimate and who had won a lot of races,” Reutimann said. “That was our day.
“To me, that was a legitimate win, we were the best car, no rain came, we didn’t win it because of somebody breaking or falling out. We went out there, drove past guys, drove to the front and stayed there, just like you want to win a race. That’s one of the races I’m more proud of.”
With NASCAR expected to return to racing in May as the country slowly emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host the Coca-Cola 600 without fans on May 24.
But that day will be just another day for Reutimann, even though he was once king for a day there.
“I’m just a guy that was in the right place at the right time and got a lot of cool opportunities,” he said. “When those opportunities were gone, I just faded away and went on and did something different.
“That’s really it in a nutshell. I didn’t feel the need to be involved in the sport just to be in it. I was comfortable going and doing something else and that’s just what I did.”