SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The list reads like a Who’s Who of DIRTcar Big-Block Modified racing. They are the former winners of the SEF Small Engine Fuel 200 presented by Ferris & Snapper at Super DIRT Week.
From Buzzie Reutimann’s victory at the first Super DIRT Week in 1972 to Stewart Friesen’s amazing drive to the checkered flag last season, the drivers who have celebrated a win at the Moody Mile are an impressive bunch.
Going into this year’s event at the New York State Fairgrounds, there have been 22 different winners over the previous 39 years of the week’s marquee Super DIRTcar Series event. At least 16 of those former winners are scheduled to attend this week’s 40th anniversary of Super DIRT Week, including Buzzie Reutimann (1972, ’73), Gary Balough (1976, ’78 spring, ’78 fall, ’80),Jack Johnson (1979, ’84), Alan Johnson (1983, ’89, ’03), Brett Hearn (1985, ’90, ’91, ’93, ’95),Jimmy Horton (1987, ’94), Kenny Brightbill (1988), Richie Tobias Jr. (1992),Danny Johnson (1997, ’06), Billy Decker (1998, ’00, ’01, ’05), Kenny Tremont (1999), Vic Coffey (2002, ’07), Tim Fuller (2004), Frank Cozze (2008), Matt Sheppard (2009) and Stewart Friesen (2010).
“The first time I ever pulled in there, we came through the tunnel, we didn’t have big rigs or anything like that, just an open trailer and the car on the back,” said Reutimann, whose son is current NASCAR Sprint Cup racer David Reutimann. “We got through the tunnel and parked in the pits and I said, ‘Where’s the track?’ You could see the stands but you couldn’t see the back straightaways or the corners. I said, ‘Well, there’s only one way to find out what it’s like.’ So the first time I saw it was when I pulled down pit road and pulled out on the track. It was breathtaking to be on a track that big. We’d never been on a track that big before.”
It didn’t take long for Reutimann to get up to speed. He went out and won in 1972 and again in 1973.
“I got more ink out of winning the two Syracuse races than I have for winning any other race,” said Reutimann, who still competes on dirt tracks in his native Florida. “That one I got the most ink out of. 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.”
For Reutimann, the memories of racing at Syracuse are still vivid. He’ll recount many of them this week at the Moody Mile, especially during the autograph session with former winners at noon on Saturday before the Nationwide Insurance 150 event for DIRTcar 358 Modifieds.
“It doesn’t seem like 40 years, I don’t know where 40 years went,” Reutimann said. “You always race because that’s what you love to do. You never think about the rewards you would get from your fans. When you stop and think about that, it means a lot to me. A lot of drivers don’t realize how many lives they touch. … I don’t know if anybody still remembers me up there or not. I always got along really good with the fans. Without them we’re nobody. I’ll enjoy that part of it.”
Knowing Reutimann still likes to race — he’s won three races at Florida dirt tracks in the past two weeks — it’ll be tough for him to be a fan at Super DIRT Week XL.
“It’s sort of hard going back without being able to get behind the wheel, but you wouldn’t want to just go run Syracuse without having run some previous races to get back into the swing of things,” he said. “It will be a whole lot less pressure on me, and I’ll probably enjoy myself a lot more if I just come up there and watch.”