Dave Marcis: Everybody's Favorite NASCAR Underdog
One owner-driver stayed the course, and although he didn't enjoy the success of others, he did it longer than almost anyone, and did it on his terms. Dave Marcis. Born on March 1st, 1941, in a small town, located in north central Wisconsin, named Waussau. Truth is stranger than fiction, and it is also a well known truth that Dave shunned Nomex footies or even the cowboy boots favored by The King, for a pair of Wing Tip shoes. He wasn't making so much a fashion statement, as he was finding a way to keep from blistering his heels on the floorboards. If you have ever seen a photo of Dave minus his driversyear hat, please, guard it with your life. It may be one of only a few known to exist.
My budget for a season? That's simple: We spend everything we can get. Everything we win in prize money, everything we take in from the sponsors. Everything. It takes everything.
The Winston Cup schedule is awfully tough, but I assume NASCAR has its reasons for having it like it is. I don't like some parts about it - for example, having to go from Pocono to California to Daytona to New Hampshire - but I don't ask why it's that way. I just assume there's some reason for it.
I don't know how many years I went before I missed a race, but I remember the first one I did miss. It was at Bristol, and I missed it because a distributor wire broke. It was a bad, bad feeling.
Going home early, if you miss a race, is tough, but I just keep my head up and keep working. The difficult part is keeping my guys pumped up. They're a competitive bunch, just like everybody else in this garage, and to push that car onto the truck before the event isn't easy.
I don't think our system of provisional starting spots is right. The nature of this sport is competition; to me, you're either fast enough or you don't make the show. Do the Green Bay Packers get a free spot in the playoffs just because they won some Super Bowls?
I really haven't driven for too many people. I drove some for Roger Penske, but Roger's team didn't run all the races. I ran a Plymouth for Ray Nichels a couple times. I drove for Rod Osterlund before Earnhardt did, but it was a start-up team, a building situation, when I was there. Really, the only team I was ever with that made a full-fledged effort, with proper funding and experienced people, was the K&K Insurance Dodge team with Nord Krauskopf and Harry Hyde.
I enjoyed working with Harry Hyde. One time at Rockingham we were running drivers in practice, but I was having some trouble getting into turn one. I told Harry I just needed the car tweaked a little bit. Harry said, "Go on and get some lunch. We'll adjust it." When I came back, he had both front torsion bars, the sway bar, all four shocks, and the rear springs sitting there. I said, "God, Harry, I just needed a little tiny tweak." But, you know, we went out and won the pole.
In 1976 I won three Winston Cup races, a 125-mile qualifier at Daytona and a bunch of poles, and I earned, for myself, less than $30,000. That's in a very successful season! Of course, you can look at it the other way, too: You used to be able to buy a loaf of bread for a quarter and a gallon of gas for 24 cents.
One of the things that sold me on driving for myself happened at the end of that '76 season, when Mr. Krauskopf sold his team to Jim Stacy. Stacy put Neil Bonnett in the car which left me out in the cold. I said to myself, "If winning three races and all them poles isn't enough to keep a ride, I need to be on my own." It was a way for me to be sure I would have a job. NASCAR is the greatest racing organization there is. But if I was in charge of things, I think I'd call my troops together, all these guys in the garage, and have meetings with 'em a little more often. I'd get more input from 'em: "What can we do to make life a little easier for you guys? What's getting out of hand?" We've got a great pool of knowledge here that we don't use as much as we should. Of course, when you get that many people together, you're going to hear a lot of bullshit. But your job, as the boss, is to 'cipher the bullshit from the drivers.
A lot of people give me advice, and I realize they mean well. Like, they'll tell me, "You ought to hire an engineer." But, you know, you're talking $150,000 a year to do that, and I don't make that myself. We have 10 employees. Most of these big teams probably have more guys than that just cleaning up the shop.
Over the years, I've had quite a few offers from different owners for me to manage their teams. When Ricky Rudd started his own team, he was after me to come to work; Elliott has talked to me, too. I guess they know that I understand the business. But my problem is, I like to drive. I realize I'll have to do something before too long. I'm looking down the road at a few things, paying more attention to the young drivers coming along.
Back in Wisconsin, we raced seven times a week. We'd squeeze 90 events into a three- or four-month period. I won an awful lot of races; one year, I believe it was 1965; I ran 92 events and won 52 of 'em. I ran a lot against Dick Trickle. They started the fast cars in the rear, and he and I would always fight our way to the front. The spectators saw one hell of a show.
If I had to name the one biggest thing that's happened to me, it'd be just getting up the nerve to move from Wisconsin to North Carolina in 1969. Clyde Lynn, who used to race with NASCAR, had a wrecking yard, and he also owned a truck he would use to move mobile homes. Well, my wife Helen and I lived in a mobile home up in Wisconsin, and I asked Clyde if we could rent that truck. He said, "Tell you what I'll do. I'll sell it to you for a dollar, and we'll put it in your name for a while. That way, you're responsible if something happens." That was OK with me. So Helen and I drove it to Wisconsin, and hooked up our mobile home. Then we headed back south, me in the truck and her in a '69 Camaro we owned. She'd drive ahead to the next state line to be sure we had the proper permits, and that's how we made our way to North Carolina. We settled in Avery's Creek, and we've been there ever since.
Helen has sacrificed a lot to let me race. She put up without a house for 23 years. In fact, I built a shop for the racecar before I built us a house. She raised our children without much help from me; I was on the road most of the time, and when I was home I was working. She did a great job: Our daughter is a schoolteacher, and our son is an engineer for Detroit Diesel. Without Helen, I would have never been able to do this.
I guess I keep trying so hard because I'd like to end this thing on some kind of a high note. Some top-10 finishes, maybe even some top-fives. That'd be nice. I think the biggest reason so many people have followed me, and helped me, is that they know it's tough to do what I do. That's just the American way: Everybody's ready to help a guy who is willing to work. When you see people who won't work, with their hands out, I don't think those people should be helped. I believe in working, and I think that the race fans, like the American public, appreciate people who are willing to work.
Last Man Standing
Dave Marcis Racing is the final link to Winston Cup the way it used to be.
A 1977 publicity photo hangs on the office wall of the modest race shop at 71 Beale Road in Arden, North Carolina. Pictured are the five men who at that time were Martinsville Speedway's only active Winston Cup winners: Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough - and Dave Marcis. In those days Marcis kept stride with the sport's giants. Driving for Harry Hyde and Nord Krauskopf on the K&K Insurance team, he won four races in a two-year span and finished second to Richard Petty in the 1975 Winston Cup standings.
This may come as a shock to newer fans who view the Realtree Chevrolet as nothing more than an occasional field-filler. But Marcis made the most of his time as a hired hand, compiling more career Winston Cup wins than half the better-known drivers he competes against today, including John Andretti, Johnny Benson, Ward Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Hamilton, Matt Kenseth, Jeremy Mayfield, Jerry Nadeau, Joe Nemechek, Steve Park, Elliott Sadler, Ken Schrader, Mike Skinner, Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace, and Michael Waltrip.
But in most of the Winston Cup races he's run since making his first start, in the 1968 Daytona 500, Marcis has fielded his own car out of his own shop. Each year it has become more difficult to compete against the mega-teams, to the point where Marcis entered the 2001 season intending to run no more than a third of the events. "It's hard for a team our size," he says. 'We don't have the resources other teams have. We can't test at different tracks." Although only 125 miles or so to the west, Marcis's shop feels like it's in a different time zone than the shops along the Moorseville-Harrisburg corridor.
At Dave Marcis Racing, things aren't much different than they were when Dave first moved to North Carolina from Wausau, Wisconsin in 1969. His shop, which is nestled between the tiny Mt. Carmel Baptist church and the even smaller Trinity Church of God, feels like a family business. That's because it is: Dave's nephew, Bob Marcis, is his crew chief, and if you call the shop, Dave himself will likely answer the phone.
Despite his recent struggles, Dave Marcis remains a fiercely proud man. "We've never gone into debt," he notes. "We paid for everything as we went, including this shop." And although he turned 60 in March, he's still not ready to put away his wing-tipped driving shoes just yet. "It's my job," he says. "It's going to work every day, making a living. I've been doing it since I was 18 years old." And as long as Dave Marcis Racing remains in business, Winston Cup racing will retain a direct link to its past.
Marcis To Retire After '02 Daytona 500
After 34 years, 879 races, five wins and a lifetime's worth of memories, Dave Marcis, truly the last of NASCAR's independents, called it a day Thursday. "I will do the Chicago race, Indianapolis, Dover, Darlington, Atlanta and the Daytona 500 next year," Marcis said, "and that will be my final event. It's a decision I had to make, it's a drivers decision for me," Marcis said. "I'm still in drivers health and Marcis Auto Racing is still going to be in business to explore new ventures with up and coming drivers. I'm trying to free myself up to bit of hunting and fishing. I'd like to like to be more competitive than I have been," he said. "My goal has always been to be competitive, I've never given up."
Though Marcis thanked both NASCAR and the France family for giving him a life he'd never imagined. Still, Marcis acknowledged that his inability to compete with today's well-financed outfits played a large role in convincing him that it was time to step aside. "It's become very difficult to compete," he said. "You need to have the additional people, the engineering people that I haven't been able to hire. I've been really, really fortunate that Richard Childress Racing has helped us. But it's just gotten tougher and tougher as a one-car team.
Dave would finally hang up the wing tips in 2002. Qualifying 14th on the strength of a strong 7th place effort in the Gatordate 125 mile qualifying race, he would end it where it all started. The #71 Real Tree Monte Carlo would coincidently suffer the same fate his pickup truck did on it's way down to Daytona almost a quarter century earlier, leaving him with a 42nd place finish.
Dave began his racing career in the 60's, driving the Wehrs’ Chevrolet out of Bangor, WI. He made his very first start in the 1968 Daytona 500. The fact that he even made it to the race let alone competed in it was a miracle, as well as a testament to Dave's do-it-yourself fortitude. On the way down to Daytona, the truck he was using to tow his car (no multi-million dollar haulers back then, just a heavy-duty pickup truck, trailer, and a tool box) broke a rod. As Kenny Schrader would say, "one of the really important pieces inside the engine". Dave got under the truck and started working on the engine. On the side of the road. After performing some quick and dirty battlefield surgery that included literally duct-taping the engine together, he made it to the track. Looking more like Jed Clampett than a professional racecar driver as he rambled through the tunnel, legendary owner Smokey Yunick took pity on him, and offered the services of The Best Damned Garage In Town to help repair his wounded rig.
As Speedweeks wore on, many thought his efforts were pointless. Running a two year old car in the biggest stockcar race on the planet against the likes of Petty Enterprises, Holman-Moody, and The Wood Brothers was a daunting task, especially considering what it took to even get down there. Dave's perseverance and blue collar Midwest work ethic proved them wrong. He brought the car home in one piece with a 20th place finish. While being 25 laps down might not sound so great, back then this wasn't exactly unheard of. There were only 4 cars on the lead lap to begin with. The whole Daytona story set the stage, and became a microcosm of his career: Doing more with less, and doing it himself.
He would run a few more events for Larry Wehrs in 1968. In 1969 he would primarily drive the Dodge Chargers of Milt Lunda. Dave would often qualify well, but would rarely finish a race due to some sort of parts failure. Taking matters into his own hands, Dave drove his own #30 Chargers and Daytonas for the 1970 season. The performance increase was remarkable. He closed out the year with several Top 5s, and finished 9th in points. This was in the day of full-on factory racing involvement as well, versus some guy from cow country, wrenching on his own cars in a poorly lit garage with no AC.
The following year he would win his first poles at Richmond and Hickory, and while he didn't win a race running only half the schedule, he did finish 2nd to Richard Petty at Malta, New York, as the season wound down. The next few years were more of the same; running well, running mostly for himself as owner, but not yet winning. He would place as high as 6th in points in 1974 before he finally broke through with his first win in 1975. Ironically, it wouldn't be for his team, but rather for Norm Krauskopf, who had fielded cars for Buddy Baker and 1970 Cup Champion Bobby Isaac. He would win the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville that September. Dave and the #71 team were getting things figured out as the year wound down. Winning 4 poles in the last 11 races, and leading laps, finishing out of the top 5 only twice in the last 7 races, enroute to a a runner-up finish in the final point standings to Richard Petty.
Posting a win at Richmond, and winning 6 poles in the first 12 races that season, 1976 started off where 1975 left off. He went on to win the Talladega 500 from the pole, and posted another win at the end of the year at Atlanta. Engine woes plagued the #71 team the majority of the year, but they still managed to finish 6th in points. The late 70's were drivers to Dave Marcis though. In 1978, driving for Rod Osterlund, out of 30 races started, he finished in the top 10 an amazing 24 times, posting another top 5 finish. He would abdicate the ride at the end of the year.
Dave would go winless from 1977 through 1981. Driving for mining magnate (and racecar magnate, pretty much everyone drove a J.D. Stacy car at some point in the early 1980's) J.D. Stacy in 1982, Dave won at Richmond and ended the year 6th in points. From 1974 to 1982, he finished out of the top 10 in points on only two occasions. In 1983 he finished 11th. From there on, the struggle became more intense. As the 80's and 90's wore on, the performance dwindled. Top 10 years replaced by finishes of 18th in points…then 25th…then 35th…began to take it's toll. He was able to survive as long as he did with some help from his friends, like Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress.
In reward for helping test cars for them, Marcis would be supplied cars, engines, technology, spare parts, and even sponsorship. With all of the testing Marcis was doing for Childress, this left precious little time to do work and apply knowledge gained to his own effort. Marcis returned favors to his hunting buddy Earnhardt as well. At the final IROC race in 1999 at Indianapolis, Dale Earnhardt hit the wall hard, damaging his car. Falling way back in the pack, Marcis would not pass Earnhardt, keeping his position behind him to ensure that he would win his 3rd of 4 IROC titles. Marcis also did most of the testing for IROC, along with fellow Wisconsin natives Dick Trickle and Jim Sauter.
The pilot of the No. 71 Chevrolet, Marcis was already in a type of semi-retirement this season. He came into the 2001 campaign planning on competing in between six and 10 races, at places that played to his driving strength — particularly superspeedways — and where he's had success in the past, venues like Daytona, Talladega and Michigan. Unfortunately, through a combination of tight finances, small sponsorship and equipment that can't match up with the better-financed teams, Marcis has appeared at only a handful of races this year. Even worse, he's sadly qualified for just one race — Talladega, where he started an impressive 15th, but finished a disappointing 38th. He also failed to qualify at the season-opening Daytona 500, where he would have set a record for starts (he currently shares the mark of 33 consecutive starts with Richard Petty) had he made the field.
A tough and grizzled a competitor, Marcis was always a thorn in NASCAR's side with his outspoken ways and criticisms. And despite how non-competitive he's been for the last half-dozen years or so, Marcis will be sadly missed. What's more, I'd be willing to bet that as tough as he's been in 33 years of competition, Marcis, the so-called "Wausau Wonder," is going to do something you might not expect from the 60-year-old competitor: he's probably going to get choked up and shed a few tears when he announces his career is over for drivers.
Many fans have no idea who Dave Marcis is. The growth of the sport has highlighted those who have won a ton of races and championships, but has missed those who helped build it to what it has become today. Even most fans who have been watching maybe for the last 10 years or so might only recognize Dave as the old guy with the glasses who would be running 6 laps down every week. A lot of people have a misconception of competitors like Marcis, and aren't aware of just how drivers these guys were in their prime, running against absolute legends of the sport, not just driving for an owner with the biggest checkbook and a car with the most downforce.
Marcis has been around NASCAR for 33 years. Hell, current drivers like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jeremy Mayfield, Jerry Nadeau, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch, Casey Atwood and Andy Houston weren't even born then. And even though he's only won five races in his career, Marcis has never lost the drive, the fire and the passion it takes to be a successful driver. While the record books may not indicate much success, you better believe Marcis is one of the most respected and admired competitors in the garage.
Probably the two things I like most about Marcis are his independence and his outspokenness. He admittedly is a perfectionist and likes things done his way. That's why, even though he's driven in the past for such successful owners as Roger Penske and Larry Hedrick, he's been a team owner for most of his career, mainly out of design because he's the only person to which he has to answer. Yes, Marcis has a long streak of stubbornness in him, but that just further adds to his charm. Going hand-in-hand with his independence is Marcis' penchant for speaking his mind. He doesn't care who he criticizes or how important a position racing. If he sees something wrong, he's going to let people know. The last few years, Marcis has continually blasted NASCAR officials for cow-towing to high-dollar sponsors and teams that have the greatest funding, while forgetting the few remaining low-budget, independent operations.
But Marcis doesn't want an unfair advantage just because he's on his own — all he wants is an even playing field. He's complained the last couple of years about what he perceives as unnecessary rule changes, particularly those that alter a car's chassis or body style, rule changes that cost Marcis money he can ill afford to spend. He also complained about NASCAR's previous system of allowing the top 36 drivers to qualify on the first day of qualifying, and then let the remaining seven either battle it out on a second day of qualifying or use provisional points. Marcis' arguments and constant chiding of NASCAR eventually helped cause the sanctioning body to make changes. Unfortunately, due to a shortfall in funds, Marcis hasn't really been around much this season to take advantage of the new system. If there's anything Marcis has to be sad about, that would probably be No. 1 on his list. One thing is for sure, Marcis will be missed as a driver. But something tells me that, while he won't be driving, we haven't heard the last from the Wausau Wonder.
Today Dave is still building racecars out of his small shop in Asheville, North Carolina. Streetrods by Dave Marcis specializes in hooking up hotrods with Chevrolet Nextel Cup engines. You might not catch him at a track, but you might find him at a walleye tournament somewhere in Wisconsin. Just look for a dark blue driversyear hat with a red Chevy bow tie pin on it.
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