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Zephyrhills' Brian Pattie starts first full season as Sprint Cup crew chief

Buzzie Reutimann’s dirt-track car, which longtime family friend and Sprint Cup crew chief Brian Pattie helped to prepare.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Buzzie Reutimann’s dirt-track car, which longtime family friend and Sprint Cup crew chief Brian Pattie helped to prepare.

DAYTONA BEACH — Some of his peers spent much of this offseason in a state of nervous agitation. A NASCAR testing moratorium created mysteries and questions.

Brian Pattie could, arguably should, have spent December and January jotting ideas on napkins at family dinners, fretting details in extended hours at the race shop.

He was, after all, about to embark on his first full season as a Sprint Cup crew chief. His team, Ganassi Racing, had merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc., laid off around 70 employees, changed engine manufacturers. His boss, Chip Ganassi, demands high performance and makes personnel moves when he doesn't think it's coming fast enough.

But as the Daytona 500 approached, there was Pattie, 33 — tasked with making mechanical and tactical decisions for a multimillion-dollar program — in his spare time, fabricating sheet metal for an open-wheel modified car in a small garage with fellow Zephyrhills native David Reutimann, now a Sprint Cup driver. The thought of having the race car ready for Reutimann's father, Buzzie, a 67-year-old winner of more than 1,200 short-track races, on Monday for the Winternationals at East Bay Raceway brought a wide grin to Pattie's face in the garage at Daytona International Speedway.

Pattie's long journey to the Daytona garage, after all, ran through the Reutimanns' backyard shop and around dusty speedways in Gibsonton and Ocala. This wasn't so much a hobby as an affirmation that he very much loves what he does.

That was never more apparent than on his sojourn to watch Reutimann's familiar No. 00 rolled into the garage area for practice at East Bay.

"I want to see jaws drop. I want to hear, 'Holy moly, look at Buzzie Reutimann's car,' " he said, laughing. "I live for that stuff."

At age 13, Pattie began helping Shawn Reutimann work on his cousin David's dirt cars and took four years of auto shop class taught by Wayne Reutimann (David's uncle) at Zephyrhills High.

"In between soccer and football and basketball in junior high I would go out there with Shawn and start tinkering on the dirt car," Pattie recalled. "When I became a freshman I had to stop sports because I really, really enjoyed racing and started running two nights a week, so you didn't have time for sports.

"I skipped a lot of Fridays my senior year to make sure our cars were ready on Friday night, won a lot of big shows and learned a lot."

Pattie's entry point into NASCAR came between his junior and senior years when he attended a one-month course at a training center in Charlotte, N.C., and was instructed by Bob Leonard, then an engineer for Lakeland-raised Cup driver Joe Nemechek. After graduating high school, Pattie moved to Charlotte to work with Nemechek's Nationwide series team beginning in 1994. He then landed with Hendrick Motorsports before returning to Nemechek and eventually moving to Ganassi in 2003, where he worked his way to crew chief and oversaw 19 poles and 18 Nationwide victories.

Pattie benefited from Ganassi's impatience last spring when he replaced Jimmy Elledge as Juan Pablo Montoya's Sprint Cup crew chief. He and Montoya amassed one top-five, two top-10, and four top-15 finishes in 25 races. Pattie might already have been ahead on his Sprint Car homework as he was helping fabricate sheet metal for Reutimann's dirt car.

Montoya seemed initially dismayed by the crew chief switch, but said after qualifying fourth for the Daytona 500 on Sunday that the partial season together in 2008 "really helps. It really helps coming together, we understand each other. It should make this year a lot easier."

But there is pressure. Ganassi has a long, personal, professionally successful relationship with Montoya, having won and Indianapolis 500 and Champ Car titles with him. He wants Montoya to succeed in stock cars. Either Pattie or someone else would get him there and Pattie had to catch up quickly last season.

"That took a little while, obviously, getting to know what Juan wants and likes," he said. "But I really started feeling comfortable (in) August (at) Indy, Watkins Glen, and we started running like we're supposed to be running with the guys that make the Chase."

Pattie and the Reutimanns remained friends as his and David's ascension to NASCAR roughly coincided. Pattie, whose father, Paul, died in 2007, seems to cherish opportunities to work with the Reutimanns when they arise amid busy schedules. Reutimann said they rarely talk NASCAR, mostly dirt cars. Pattie is obviously still close with the family, as evidenced by the classic Reutimann compliment/jab David delivered last week.

"In the right situation he can be a championship-winning crew chief," Reutimann said, then pausing, grinning. "I still think he's a punk. And you can quote me on that."

Tell him next winter.

Speedweeks schedule
Today 11 a.m.: Sprint Cup practice; noon: NASCAR trucks practice; 2 p.m.: Sprint Cup, final Gatorade Duels practice; 3 p.m.: Nationwide practice; 5 p.m.: NASCAR trucks practice
Thursday 9:30 a.m.: Nationwide final practice; 11:15 a.m.: NASCAR trucks final practice; 2 p.m.: Sprint Cup Gatorade Duels (two Daytona 500 qualifying races; each race 60 laps, 150 miles); 6:10 p.m.: NASCAR trucks qualifying
Friday 1:40 p.m.: Sprint Cup practice; 3:10 p.m.: Nationwide qualifying; 8 p.m.: NASCAR trucks NextEra Energy Resources 250 (100 laps, 250 miles)
Saturday 11 a.m.: Sprint Cup final Daytona 500 practice; 1:15 p.m.: Nationwide Camping World 300 (120 laps, 300 miles)
Sunday 3:30 p.m.: Sprint Cup Daytona 500 (200 laps, 500 miles)

Zephyrhills' Brian Pattie starts first full season as Sprint Cup crew chief 02/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 7:30am]
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