INDYCAR community remembers 'King Dave,' spotter and friend to all

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He became affectionally known as "King Dave," and always will be remembered with a smile on his face.

A gift for one-liners, timely quips and making people laugh endeared David Reininger to family and so many friends in the Verizon IndyCar Series community. But Reininger, who passed away last week at age 60 from cancer, was so much more than that.

"He was a big man, but he was almost bigger than life," said Allan Pagan, co-owner of Pagan Racing, which hired Reininger for his first Indy car spotting job for driver Roberto Guerrero in the mid-1990s. "He always had a smile on his face and he always had a story.

"I don’t know anybody in racing who had more friends than Dave."

When it was time for the long-time spotter to be serious, he knew when to talk and when to listen as the eyes up above for such drivers as Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. Reininger was the Turn 1 spotter during Indianapolis 500 victories for the two drivers in 2007 and 2013, respectively.

It was Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner, who came up with the nickname "King Dave."

"'King Dave' was a great man, fun away from the spotter's stand, but very serious on it," said Franchitti, shown above with Reininger following the 2007 Indy triumph. "I always felt safe with him in my ear, keeping an eye on things from above. During those crazy Indy Racing League pack-racing days, that was worth its weight in gold.

"I christened him 'King Dave' after we'd had a 'discussion' during one of our early races together about what was my responsibility as a driver and what was his as a spotter. He took it well and loved the nickname … I think!"

Kanaan enjoyed sharing his memories of Reininger. The two are shown at right following Kanaan's 2013 Indy 500 win.

Dave Reininger and Tony Kanaan"I've never seen Dave not smiling and I've never seen a guy so passionate about racing," he said. "You like people like that. They're like us. We love racing. He loved his job and always had something nice to say.

"We got lucky. I was on the (Andretti) team with Dario when he was Dario's spotter. I couldn't take Dario's spotter from him. Then Dario left, and by default, I said, 'Can I have him?' He followed me until we won the Indy 500 together (with KV Racing Technology)."

Reininger's passion for racing was unmatched. When he wasn't spotting, he was an award-winning writer and radio voice on motorsports. His Facebook page lists In The Pits Media, Scorpion Radio Group, Inc., as his most recent media outlet. And his amusing bio intro reads: "Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda."

Well educated with a master's degree from George Mason University, he could amaze people with his encyclopedia-like recall of specific details from races so many years before.

When he wasn't at a race, he was looking for one somewhere. Or searching for tasty barbecue.

"I think I've been to every big barbecue joint with him in the United States," said Marv Trietsch, a spotter for 45 years. "He loved barbecue. After practice, there's a place in Washington, D.C., that would rate barbecue places nationally. If it was on that chalkboard, we had to go see it."

Nothing was more important than family. Reininger always told Trietsch he was "the luckiest man on earth" to share his life with his wife, Laura. They were married 35 years, have two daughters and three grandchildren.

"David taught our girls if you love something, go after it and make a living from it," Laura said. "In other words, they didn't need to find a job to just have a job. It meant more to him to see them be passionate about life and make a living at it."

Dave ReiningerAlthough their residence was in Herndon, Virginia, the Reiningers enjoyed hosting racing parties at a home just beyond Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Lot 2. The man with such an appetite for life loved his cookouts. The family also enjoyed time at a cottage in East Hampton, New York.

The family is planning two memorial services, one at East Hampton and the other in Speedway next May before the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Reininger's father, Urban, recalled his son saying as a youngster that he wanted to grow up to win the Indy 500 as a driver.

Mike Ford, longtime spotter for reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud, marveled at how Reininger more than made up for his childhood ambition as a spotter. 

"If he didn't have the talent, he wouldn't have spotted for the guys he did, Dario and T.K.," said Ford, a friend of 18 years. "But I can honestly say I'm going to miss him more as a friend than as a damn competitor.

"He always landed the right gig at the right time, be it Indy Lights cars, the big cars. The dude was just money."

When Kanaan was preparing for the final, fateful restart in the 2013 Indy 500, the Brazilian decided he was speeding toward Turn 1 with an "all-or-nothing" mentality. It was Reininger who announced over Kanaan's radio, "Clear," when T.K. had taken the lead. When Franchitti crashed to bring out a final yellow to make Kanaan the winner, other spotters congratulated Reininger.

"I have been told if the tears don't run down your cheeks, it's not crying," Reininger wrote of the experience. "I'd be lying if I told you my eyes didn't well up."

Those closest to Reininger have shed their share of tears in the last week. He had amazed them again in recent months with an acceptance of his fate.

Ford recalled Reininger saying, "I'm done and I've had a great life. I wouldn't trade it."

"You've got rings and I don't," Ford said he told his friend. "You're going to beat me to the promised land, too."

Dave and Laura were driving home from May's Indy 500 when he phoned Pagan to advise, "I'm on my last lap."

"It was heartbreaking," Pagan said. "I didn't know it had accelerated that fast. He knew. But he accepted it."

Dave ReiningerAnd Reininger still made his friend laugh.

"He could take the worst situation and make you laugh about it," Pagan said. "I can't remember exactly what he said on that last phone call, but he cracked me up. Here was I crying and laughing, I didn't know which one to do."

Before the Iowa Corn 300 on July 9, Ford and his racing friends had a banner hoisted on the spotter's stand. Laura was texted to make sure Dave was watching from home. And he was, when a television camera focused on the 3-foot-by-19-foot banner bearing a portrait of Reininger wearing a headset, the words "King Dave" and a checkered flag.

Laura announced his passing on Facebook on July 24: "We had a great ride," she wrote. "I can't wait to see what he has planned for me when we meet again. I hope to see you all in Indy next May. Until then, keep the green flag flying."

The racing community will remember him.

"He was my brother from another mother," Trietsch said.

"He was one of my favorite people on earth," Pagan said.

"He's still my angel," Kanaan said. "He's spotting up there for some of our friends."

Dave Reininger


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