OAKS, PA – The 31st edition of the Pioneer Pole Buildings Motorsports 2016 Fueled by Sunoco Race Fuels and Distributed by Insinger Performance Race Car and Trade Show takes place here at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center from January 22-24. And a featured car in the exhibit that will pay tribute to the 123-year history (1903-2015) of auto racing at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse will be the red, white and blue No. 00 1937 Chevrolet coupe that Buzzie Reutimann twice drove to victory (1972-1973) in what became Super DIRT Week’s main event.
One of the most-recognized cars to ever compete in Northeast Dirt-Track Modified Stock Car Racing, the iconic machine – which is displayed at the Dirt Museum & Hall of Fame in Weedsport, New York – will be a focal point for Motorsports visitors as they view one of the best examples of the cars that raced during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
And the ever-popular 74-year-old Reutimann will be part of the autograph session on Saturday January 23 with some of the other drivers who made history on the old 1-mile dirt track.
When you talk about auto racing history at Syracuse it’s hard to forget Reutimann’s two wins in DIRT Motorsports founder Glenn Donnelly’s most-significant event and how they helped to make the New York State Fairgrounds the place to be each autumn for 44 years (1972-2015).
A professional racer from Zephyrhills, Florida, Reutimann came to the Northeast in the mid-1960s and quickly became a winner. And when the racing-season resident of Asbury, New Jersey, arrived at the Fairgrounds with his patriotically-painted Chevy coupe for the Oct. 1, 1972, running of the inaugural Schaefer International 100, he was well-prepared for the challenge of the unforgiving, hard-and-slick Syracuse track and that of the other competitors out to win the $5,000 ($28,566 in today’s money) first prize from Donnelly’s $30,000 ($171,395) purse.
Built on a Reutimann-modified 1954 Chevrolet frame, the Dover Brake- and Kendall GT-1 Racing Oil-sponsored entry had a nicely-trimmed 1937 Chevrolet coupe body that continued to be Reutimann’s trademark even after more-modern Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin sheet metal began to be used. And it was powered by a 513-cubic-inch Chevy V-8 engine with one 4-barrel carburetor that Bud Friend prepared and Reutimann assembled.
The exquisitely-built race car with “GO FIRST CLASS” lettered in white on its blue roof over the rear window also had: coil-over shocks on its solid front axle and parallel leaf springs on the rear; finned-aluminum Buick drum brakes; and, hand-grooved M&H Racemaster Tires, including the same 17-inch-wide rear ones that Reutimann used on the 5/8-mile “hard-clay” Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, New York. And even though some Modifieds had gone to a center-seating position, the car’s builder-driver opted for the left-side location.
In effect, Reutimann’s ride was just like the other 131 cars that had signed-in at the Fairgrounds; weekly-used short-track machines that were “tweaked” a little for competition on the legendary Syracuse Mile. But the savvy bespectacled-racer was able to do one additional thing to give him an extra edge that most everyone else could not do.
As the result of having two virtually-identical cars at his disposal, a month before the big race Reutimann took one of his machines out of service and spent considerable time thoroughly going over it and preparing it for what he knew was going to be a rugged test.
Plus, his race-long plan was to “drive his car” through the sweeping Syracuse turns while the other drivers “slid their cars” through them as they did at their local tracks. And Reutimann’s method of getting around the “Moody Mile” helped to save his tires and paid great dividends.
There was a slight problem, though, in 1972 that had to be dealt with as after 93 teams made Friday practice runs all-day Saturday rains – imagine that at Syracuse! – forced the time trials and heats to be run on race-day Sunday. So, after early-morning practice, 102 cars ran against the clock with Kenny Brightbill posting the quickest lap of 38.359 seconds at 93.850 mph.
Then, once the heat races helped to fill the 45-car main-event field, track crews did their best to smooth out the rough inside and outside lanes during pre-race awards ceremonies. And when all was ready Reutimann and his “Double-O” race car took the starter’s green flag from the 10th position on a track whose infield was so wet that no one was allowed to park there.
In order to be in place for a run to victory, Reutimann made his mandatory pit stop for gas at about half-way and that allowed him to build a lead while others made later stops. And after a long day and race was finally over – one that saw nine yellow flags and only 25 cars running at the finish – a tired but jubilant Reutimann led Jerry Cook (in one of his NASCAR Asphalt Modifieds) and Stan Ploski – the only two drivers he did not lap – across the finish line in 1 hour and 39:23 minutes at an average speed of 60.372 mph followed by Mike Grbac and Will Cagle.
The second Schaefer 100 was held on Sept. 30, 1972; the purse was upped to $50,000 ($276,249) with a winner’s prize of $6,000 ($33,150) and some 18,000 fans turned out to enjoy the race and the overall improvements – including a new 16,000-seat covered grandstand – which Donnelly had made to the New York State Fairgrounds.
When qualifying was finished, Tommy Corellis won the pole with a lap of 37.079 seconds at 97.093 mph that was 1.28-seconds quicker and over 3 miles-per-hour faster than Brightbill’s 1972 mark. Yet, while he led the most laps, the 35th-starting Reutimann – who again made an early gas stop but also had to deal with overheating problems in his No. 00 – repeated as the winner in his trusty coupe as he bested Corellis, Cagle, Bill Wilson and Gerald Chamberlain.
“I got more ink out of winning the two Syracuse races than I have for winning any other race,” Reutimann said this past October at Super DIRT Week XLIV before he and his historic No. 00 led the ceremonial pace lap at the “Finale at the Fairgrounds.”
“There’s nothing more rewarding than building something with your own hands and winning with it. Winning a race like that boosted my confidence because I figured I could go anyplace and win if I could win at Syracuse. The best of the best are always at Syracuse. It’s our Daytona.”
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Buzzie Reutimann – who was the first to install a power-steering unit in a Dirt-Track Modified and the last to field a winning car with an “old-style coupe body” – won the Modified titles at: the old half-mile East Windsor (N.J.) Speedway in 1966; the old half-mile Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway in 1972 & 1973; and, at Orange County in 1972 & 1974.
And, in addition to his two Syracuse victories, the Eastern Motorsport Press Association and DIRT Hall of Fame member’s major extra-distance dirt-track wins include: the 1970 Daniel Boone 200 at the old half-mile Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds; a 150-lapper at the old 1-1/8-mile Nazareth (Pa.) National Speedway in 1971; the 1972 Eastern States 200 at OCFS; and, the 1975 National Dirt Track Championship 200 at the old 5/8-mile Flemington (N.J.) Fair Speedway.
But how many knew or remember that Reutimann – who is still racing and winning with a more-modern “Double-O” Open Wheel Modified at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Florida – took his Dirt-Track Modified No. 00 1937 Chevy coupe and won a 100-lap All Star Racing League contest with it at the old one-fifth-mile-asphalt Islip (N.Y.) Speedway?
A driver with previous asphalt-racing experience, Reutimann was one of the stars of the old All Star Racing League (1967-1973) which had teams of dirt and asphalt racers from eight tracks in the Northeast and two in Canada that competed in special mid-week events. So when the ASRL scheduled an event for Islip on Wednesday night July 18, 1973, he setup his No. 00 – the same car that he had used at Syracuse – for the rigors of the tight Long Island speedway.
When the race started, Reutimann was in the rear of the lineup with 30 slow-slung Asphalt Modifieds as his competition. But he and asphalt specialist Charlie Jarzombek moved up through the pack and by lap 39 they were in fourth and fifth place and just kept coming.
On lap 90, pole-sitter Jim Landry continued to set the pace but a spinning car forced him to go wide while Jarzombek and Reutimann slipped by. Then the two back-starters ran the last 10 circuits in a spirited battle that ended as Jarzombek’s engine blew in the first turn of the final lap.
With just three turns remaining, Reutimann had to avoid a stalled car before taking the checkered flag ahead of Landry and Bill Greco, while “Charlie J” was credited with finishing sixth.
As Reutimann said then and still says today, this was one of his most-satisfying victories, especially since he and two-time (1968 & 1971) ASRL Champion Lou Lazzaro were the only drivers to win on dirt and asphalt in the ASRL’s 37-race history on 18 paved and 17 dirt tracks.
Reutimann’s unexpected victory was the first time that an All Star asphalt event had been won by a dirt-track car. The $1,125 victory ($6,215) also gave him the point lead and that helped the eventual “AARN Driver of the Year” win the 1973 ASRL title after four runner-up finishes.